Signs of getting older make for uncomfortable moments. Whether it’s a physical activity you’re no longer equipped to handle, or hearing of an inconceivable anniversary (“Stop it, ‘Manic Monday’ cannot possibly be 35 years old”), aging isn’t all that enjoyable.
Such a moment occurred over the summer during a family trip to Universal Studios in Orlando. Roller coasters have never fazed me. Years ago, at a corporate outing at Six Flags Over Texas in Arlington, I rode Batman: The Ride seven times in a row. Would’ve been more if my friend hadn’t insisted on stopping at seven.
At Universal, there was enormous anticipation for the new VelociCoaster ride, which was in soft-opening mode. With Jurassic World theming, a cool design, a high speed of 70 mph and a ton of hype from YouTube vloggers, we were amped.
(Side note, and it must be said: Velociraptors dominate far too much of the Jurassic Park/Jurassic World universe. Yes, they’re smart, they can open doors, they work together. And sure, they teamed up for a sneak attack on the game warden in the original film, leading to his “clever girl” remark right before he was devoured. But there are tons of other dinosaurs we don’t get to see. In that same movie, my childhood favorite, the triceratops, was reduced to a tummy ache while it lay next to its enormous pile of waste. C’mon.)
We approached the VelociCoaster with appropriate excitement, but as we snaked our way through the queue, nerves set in. My 9-year-old daughter’s anxiety rose as we got closer. By the time we were near the front, she was sobbing.
We assured her that she did not have to get on the ride, and no one would be upset if she skipped it. She decided, through her tears, that she was going to do it.
She sat down in the seat next to me, and I gave her my best Ted Lasso pep talk.
Then the ride began. Son of a brachiosaurus, this was crazy fast right from the start. That didn’t bother me, but something felt off almost instantly. I quickly realized it was the lack of a shoulder harness. The mechanics of a ride had never perplexed me, but an over-the-shoulder harness locks you down in a way that helps you feel secure no matter how many twists and turns a coaster brings. VelociCoaster just has a lap bar.
That may not seem like a big deal. But it felt flimsy by comparison. And during an upside-down moment — of which there are several — your rump lifts off the seat and your weight pushes against the bar.
It felt like a slow motion Looney Tunes scene, where Wile E. Coyote mistakenly dashes off a cliff and then looks down. “Oh dear, now we’re upside down. Did the bar just shift? What … how … um … wait!” And then you zoom off again.
It was a completely unnatural feeling. I knew it was safe, and that it was designed, tested and approved by people much smarter than I am. But the feeling lingered.
It’s good to know I’m not the only one. A June Tampa Bay Times story had this headline: “Universal’s newest thriller VelociCoaster has just a lap bar. How safe is that?”
It’s safe, the story explains. It just didn’t feel that way to me.
Meanwhile, my daughter screamed. Not excited, hands-up, “woo!” screaming, but sheer-terror screaming. I shook off my bewilderment to offer encouragement — “You’re OK. I’m right here. I’ve got you.”— while in my head, I was bellowing, “WHO FORGOT THE SHOULDER HARNESSES?!?!”
My worry for her outweighed my discomfort with the physics involved, but the two combined to make me eager for it to all be over.
At the ride’s merciful end, my daughter, with tear streaks down her cheeks, and I met up with the rest of our family members, who were gleefully bouncing and squealing about the ride.
“Good for you,” I thought. “I’m getting too old for this.”
Weeks later, my coaster companion approached my wife with a sad face. “I’m afraid I ruined the VelociCoaster for Dad,” she said sweetly. I sat down with her about it and explained that my job is to take care of her, that I don’t care at all about the ride and that she shouldn’t dwell on it.
Later that month, we reminisced about our favorite moments from the trip. I asked my partner-in-worry if she would ever ride VelociCoaster again — maybe the second time would be better — and was swiftly rejected. But everyone has a price.
“What if I gave you a dollar? Would you ride it then?”