It is after ten o'clock on the night of Sunday, May 20th. I am closing down my computer, ready to go to sleep in my room for the last time. It is now bare, stripped down, all posters off the walls and all boxes packed away. All my possessions are in boxes, save the essentials. I have moved the furniture into the center of the room. All is ready for my departure. Then I get a text summoning me to a friend's room. I perk up, grab my sandals, and take off.
I walk in to a council of war. Three of my best friends--John, Guy, and Noah--are discussing plans very intently. We are going to an amusement park, and roller coasters are Serious Business.
Every year, apparently, Oberlin sends a bus full of seniors to Cedar Point on the day everyone else (except for commencement workers) has to move out. I am a commencement worker, so I don't have to leave campus, but I have to change rooms. However, my move time isn't until 6:30; everyone else has to be out by 9:30 in the morning. This means I can go along with the seniors and ride roller coasters all day. Noah has a car, so we are unconstrained by the bus schedule. "We" here means Noah, John, Guy, me, and Connor. Connor, like me, is a junior. He's still packing, so he can't make it to this conference.
If this is a council of war, John is the battle-hardened veteran--he's been going to Cedar Point with his family "twice a year since when I was too short to go on anything." He lays out the plan: get to the park as early as possible, go to the far side, and work our way forward, opposite of the crowds. We will have one backpack between us, containing non-valuable things that cannot go on roller coasters. This will be stored in a bin when we get on the roller coasters. We will travel light and without any set plans, adapting to meet any short lines we can find. All agree that this is a good plan. We play cards for a bit and then I go off and go to sleep.
I wake up at seven, eat a packet of oatmeal I remembered not to pack, wash up, throw all my last-minute things into a final box, and am ready to vacate my room. I grab sunscreen as I go out. This is one of the things that will go into the backpack or be left in the car. (Honestly, I don't know what we had in the backpack in the end.)
On my way out, I pass the Free Box in the entryway. Oberlin has this thing called the Big Swap at the end of every school year. Anything that people don't want anymore, but is in decent shape, can be placed in the free boxes. Each building has at least one "free box." People come around a few times a day to empty the boxes and take their contents to the Big Swap in the student union building. You can search through the free boxes individually or go to the Big Swap itself, where things might be a little bit more picked over, but there's still tons of good stuff.
The free boxes appear at the beginning of finals week. At first, they don't have much in them, but as time goes on and people finish classes and start packing, they get fuller and fuller. Generally there is more clothing than anything else, but there are also tons of plastic hangers (those things are a pain to pack), the occasional yoga mat, office supplies, shoes, boots, textbooks, candles, headphones, hand lotion, shampoo, Pop Tarts, Tupperware, pillows . . . .
This being the morning of the day all non-seniors have to move out, the free box is overflowing. Actually, it's been overflowing for several days now, with items piled high in the cardboard box itself and covering more than half the bench the box is sitting on. Now, though, the bench itself is too small to contain the profusion of free stuff. It covers several feet of the floor in front. I pick my way around it, marveling at the diversity and the sheer amount of random crap people are getting rid of.
I arrive at our predetermined meeting place--a small parking lot--earlier than anyone else and begin stretching, limbering up for an exciting day of walking along in the sun (it's supposed to get up to ninety degrees) and getting my organs jounced around in an exciting manner. John shows up next. I tell him about the free box explosion in my dorm. "There was a hard guitar case, and a mattress pad, and at least one full set of bedsheets, and the frame of a bike! No handlebars or pedals or anything, just the frame."
"What could you make out of those things?"
I think for a minute. "A rudimentary hang glider, maybe. But I'm not sure what the guitar case would do." (Wrap bedsheets around bike frame to make glider; leap from tall building carrying mattress pad; drop mattress pad when near ground; land on mattress pad.)
"That's where you sit, obviously. Good job, MacGyver Junior."
Guy and Noah show up next. Guy has brought his own sunscreen, but Noah and I do not trust it and use mine instead. Guy's is a clear, sprayable liquid. It looks like bug spray. I have no objections to sprayable sunscreen, but why is it clear? Sunscreen must be white goop (or possibly purple goop, I think, recalling a friend in first grade who had fun-for-kids-gimmick purple sunscreen that everyone was jealous of). It is not supposed to be clear.
Connor shows up in the middle of this. He too has brought a bag--he wasn't present for the plan the other day. He is, however, the only one of us who thought of bringing a bottle of water.
Noah, meanwhile, is on the phone. We met by this parking lot so we could pile directly into his car and go. However, there is a slight complication. He lent his car to someone to help her move yesterday and it appears she decided to go to bed at her new place and return the car when she woke up. Trouble is, she didn't wake up until Noah called her, asking where his car was.
It doesn't take her long to bring it back, fortunately, and we are soon on the road, chatting and rehashing our plans. And then we arrive at Cedar Point.
We begin with a smaller coaster that I don't remember the name of. The wait is only five minutes or so. Shortly after we get in line, a large mob of people materializes after us. We've timed it perfectly. John says this always happens to him. Someone vomits on the ride before us, so we have a slightly longer wait than anticipated. (I ask John if this also always happens when he's around and get a dirty look in response.) Before long, everything's sanitized and we're ready to go. All the roller coasters here have at least two sets of cars, so they can load people in one while the other is still going. It comes in handy in this scenario as well--they don't have to shut the roller coaster down. It's a good warm-up roller coaster: not a huge drop, fun, fast, and swerve-y. We get off happily and proceed further into the park, toward Millennium Force.
When it was built in 2000, Millennium Force was the tallest roller coaster in the world. Now it's the third or fourth. It's the big draw at Cedar Point, the one thing you "have to" do, and the wait for it is only an hour--practically unheard of, John assures us. John, Connor, Guy, and I get in line while Noah, who cares a little more for his survival, goes off to meet some friends with similar tastes. (Remember, there are a lot of Obies at the park today.)
There are many reasons it's more fun to go to amusement parks with friends than by yourself, and waiting in lines is one of them. The hour passes fairly quickly in jokes and conversation. John asks me if I scream on roller coasters--if so, he wants to sit in front of me, so the sound won't carry back. I tell him I do sometimes, but not always. It depends.
The truth is, I act oddly when I'm scared on roller coasters. When I scream, it is usually not a full-fledged scream; it is in fun, a "Wheee!" kind of scream. When I'm really frightened, I go oddly silent. I don't put my hands up, either--every time we go over a big initial drop, even if I have my arms up at the beginning, I find myself pulling them in, grabbing the harness or the bar on the seat in front of me, and pushing back. My feet press against the bottom of the car, shoving me upward, arching my back, bracing myself. I also, for some reason, tend to hold my breath. None of this is intentional; I would actually rather like to have my hands up on some of these drops. Intellectually, I know that bracing myself will do me absolutely no good if I'm plummeting toward the ground from 310 feet at an eighty-degree angle (which is what Millennium Force does). I also know that nothing is going to happen anyway, that the roller coasters are designed and tested with extreme paranoia and that these particular ones get used every day with no problems. But my body does not listen to my intellect, and it fights the fall downward instinctively.
This is doubly odd because I love the feeling of dropping, the lift you get when you go over the top of a hill and fly before you land. Many of the roller coasters at Cedar Point don't have a lot of that, though--they aren't going fast enough at the top to get that initial hovering point, so the falling feeling isn't a continuation of that, but a simple forced drop. (This is not to say they weren't excellent. It was just a different kind of experience.) Millennium Force is the biggest and most dramatic instance of this; it goes up very slowly, giving you plenty of time to look around.
For me, this also means more time for the nervousness to build; actually going over the enormous drop is far less nerve-wracking than the suspense preceding it. I distract myself from it by taking in the view. Cedar Point is built on an isthmus, a spit of land thrusting into Lake Erie. Inland, there's the maze of Cedar Point itself, with brightly-colored towers and streamers and spines twisting in and out around each other. Surrounding this chaos are acres and acres of blacktop parking lots. I prefer to look the other way, over the lake.
I keep forgetting that the Great Lakes are actually much, much larger than my own Puget Sound. Because of where I live, I am conditioned, on seeing any large body of water, to look for the mountains on the other side, their tops shining over the clouds if I'm lucky, their bases concealed by the darker, nearer mass of a tree-covered island. Even going to a beach on the ocean is momentarily disconcerting. This, perhaps because the shoreline reminds me somehow of the place where I live, is even more so. The water seems to go on forever, with a dark smudge on the horizon that I assume is either clouds or Canada. I stare out over it, taking in the boats on the lake, the nearby crowded marina, the bright blue of the sky . . . .
And then, inevitably, inescapably, we reach the top of Millennium Force and go over, and the 310-foot drop claims us, and I brace myself instinctively and forget to scream until halfway down. Then we go up again, and around curves, whisking all over the park, plunging and rising again.
After Millennium Force we are all bouncing and laughing, floating on adrenaline. We look at our pictures. They are quite ridiculous. This is where I learn of Guy's game of maintaining a completely deadpan expression at all times while on roller coasters. "I won't let them get the better of me," he explains. This leads to some pretty hilarious photos later in the day, including one where his hair is blown straight back, making him look like a cartoon character--a very dynamic appearance coupled with an absolutely blank expression. Then there's the one where Connor looks utterly bored: sunglasses on, one hand halfway up, the other resting along the side of the car as though he were driving and putting an arm along the window. There is another one of John where he looks remarkably like Spock, leading to an amusing discussion of Star Trek characters at an amusement park. ("This exercise is entirely illogical, captain. Why is it necessary to put my arms up?")
There are many roller coasters. We go on the Magnum, part of which passes through giant tubes, letting you plunge over drops in total darkness. There was virtually no wait for Blue Lightning, a really fun wooden roller coaster. There's Gemini, an old wooden racing coaster that is not racing today, alas--there's only one track in use. We manage to convince Noah to go on this one; he reads us excerpts from a Douglas Adams book as we wait in line. There's one with loops that John and Connor (who has also been here before) both blacked out at the top of. We don't go on that one. There's another, the Dragster, that shoots you out at 120 mph to go over a single enormous loop. Sometimes the cars don't make it to the top of the loop and fall down backwards. We don't go on that one either.
Of all the roller coasters, though, my favorite is the Raptor. This is an inverted roller coaster, meaning you sit in a harness below the track, with nothing under your feet. It has no colossal drops, but it goes through two loops and inverts at least once more by the simple expedient of twisting the track. John says this is called a cobra roll, that this was the first roller coaster to have one, and that they've now become a standard feature on inverted coasters. John knows things like this.
After the Raptor, we meet up with Noah and the other people he's been hanging out with to go on the giant swings. These appear to be the standard amusement-park fare: a huge circle of swings that you sit in and go around on, rising into the air as you spin. But while the ones I've been on before have gone up fifteen or twenty feet, this one rises at least two hundred feet into the air, probably more. It's right next to the water and the breeze at the top is amazingly cool and refreshing. The view, too, is incredible, even better than the view from Millennium Force, because the ride turns and I can see everywhere. There's something soothing about it and the line is only ten minutes long. I go on it twice.
At one point, some of us decide to buy Dippin' Dots, the ice cream of the sixties vision of the future. I ponder aloud whether or not I should get a regular flavor like mint or chocolate, or one of the more bizarre varieties with chunks of non-ice-cream-pellet foods in it, like caramel fudge brownie or cookie dough. Guy, who doesn't like Dippin' Dots even in its more innocuous forms, overhears me and is appalled. Exasperated, he turns to chide me on this terrible idea--and calls me by his brother's name. "Did you hear that? You're being so ridiculous I thought you were him!"
By 5:00, we are thinking of heading back. John has Taiko practice around six, and I have to be moved out of my room and into my commencement/summer housing between six-thirty and eight. We are deep in the park, so we turn and head back toward the entrance. On the way, we pass a hammer game, one of those things where you hit a platform with a huge hammer and, if the little light goes all the way to the top of the pole, you get a prize. Connor does so, winning a large purple squid hat. We take turns wearing the squid hat. It has protruding eyeballs, which I squeeze.
John buys some "funnel cake fries," strips of fried dough with powdered sugar dusted over the top. We all steal some. The general consensus is that they're okay, but kind of strange. Near the entrance are more sources of food. Connor buys a real funnel cake and we all split that, burning our fingers and scattering powdered sugar everywhere as we rip off pieces. It is a most satisfying experience.
When we get back to Oberlin, John takes off for Taiko and the other three help me move. Noah manages to fit all my stuff into his car, airlifting some things in through the sunroof, and drives it over to Keep. We drag all my things up three and a half flights of stairs to my summer quarters. By the time we are done, it is around eight. It has been a very eventful--and very fun--twelve hours.