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THRILLING IN THE NAME OF ...
My Emotional Roller coaster with literal roller coasters.
By Alex Springer
- Salt City Photography
I often wonder how many great accomplishments have been achieved by people who simply didn't want to look like a pansy in front of everyone else. I've thought about this a lot when I consider how many of my own fears I confronted and eventually bested because I didn't want to appear weak or incompetent in front of someone who I was trying to impress. I found myself in such a predicament at School Lagoon Day back in 1998.
Since just about birth, I was possessed of an overdeveloped fear that pretty much everything that I didn't understand was designed to kill me. I like to tell myself that it was biological—humans are hard-wired to fear the unknown for their own safety, right?—but as I watched many of my childhood friends jump off of homemade bike ramps and sneak into horror movies, I realized that I was scared of anything that didn't exist within the boundaries of my neighborhood.
Roller coasters were one of the worst offenders. More than one Disneyland trip found me freaking out in the middle of the line for Space Mountain because I couldn't handle the fact that I was about to trust my life to an unfeeling machine governed by a pattern that I didn't understand. I was totally fine with avoiding roller coasters for the rest of my life, when something unexpected happened during that fateful spring in the late '90s.
I was in ninth grade, and our particular school held a Lagoon Day to celebrate the end of junior high. I had spent that particular year successfully socializing with the opposite sex, and the only thing that I really understood about teenage girls was that it was of utmost importance to look cool in front of them. It wasn't until the bus ride to the Farmington theme park when I realized how uncool wimping out on a roller coaster would be at this particular moment in my life. So, I swallowed my panic and quickly learned to enjoy the ride. Conquering my fear of roller coasters butressed every interaction I've had with a woman since then—and I'm almost positive I've managed to look cool.
As I'm sure that teenagers the world over have had a similar, socially defining moment with a roller coaster, it seems appropriate to acknowledge the work of S&S Worldwide, a Logan-based company that builds these complex machines for theme parks all over the world. According to Executive Director of Sales Gerald Ryan, building roller coasters is a challenging—but entertaining—line of work. "We are in a very small industry, and competition is very intense," Ryan says in our chat via email. "It requires that we stay ahead of our competition with the next great thing."
When S&S acquired Arrow Dynamics in 2002, they solidified their status in the industry—Arrow Dynamics just so happened to pioneer the design of tubular steel coasters that led them to design and construct a little ride called The Matterhorn in a little park called Disneyland. In addition to working with the almighty Disney, S&S has coasters at Universal Studios, Six Flags and even Dollywood. "We currently have 27 major projects on the books through 2019," Ryan says, "and we have rides go into Southeast Asia, China, Japan, Central America, Europe and the Middle East."
As roller coasters move into the future, S&S designers and engineers are on the lookout for new ways to freak people out. "Virtual reality and ride interactivity are popular right now," Ryan says. Roller coasters such as Six Flags' Galactic Attack, which was unveiled earlier this year, use a Samsung Gear VR visor to project images of an interplanetary dogfight while the roller coaster zips riders along its twists and turns.
While the modern gadgetry available to today's roller coaster designers provides more entertainment options, people will always be attracted to them on a more primal level. "It's about the thrill, the screaming, the speed, the barrel rolls and the unknown," Ryan says.
Though I didn't realize it at the time of my first foray into actually riding them—I was too busy trying to look cool, if you remember—roller coasters satisfy a very visceral need for us humans. We've succeeded at developing a society that is generally safe and devoid of the unknown. But every so often, we need to throw ourselves into that abyss—and roller coasters help us get there.
It's very liberating to trust the engineers with our safety. We know that it's going to take us on a wild ride, but we also know that it will keep us safe—which is precisely why they embody the spirit of summer.