I will grant you the premise. As you reach the top of the second hill on The Intimidator, somehow your lap bar comes unhinged and, as you learned in physics class so many years before, you continue on, rising out of your seat and into the crisp black night air on an unencumbered trajectory, still rising upward as the shackled-to-the-track coaster car dips below you; everybody down there is looking up at you as you hurtle headlong through the blackness, knowing that when you start to arc downward, you will meet an abrupt end when you hit the asphalt or a camper in the Carowinds parking lot. I can see how that would be a bad thing.
In all other instances, however, The Intimidator will not kill you. It will merely leave you gasping, sweating and, frankly, intimidated. I have largely outgrown amusement parks; the tilt-a-whirl, bumper cars and even the big pirate ship don't really have an effect on me now. Put me in a roller coaster, though, and I turn back into a shrieking 10-year-old boy, hands in the air, hoarse and grinning from the excitement. Last night at Scarowinds, we rode The Vortex (a short stand-up coaster with no apparent popularity), The Carolina Cyclone (a run-of-the-mill loop-de-loop), The Nighthawk (a headfirst Superman-style ride that made my girlfriend giggle throughout the entire run) and The Hurler (a tamer, all-wood version of Thunder Road that could conceivably shake you into a concussion). They were all solid offerings, but all felt like coasters I had ridden before.
Not The Intimidator. You can see the cherry red track and sequenced lights climbing its side from anywhere in the park. The coaster car is not so much a car but a collection of individual seats bolted to a rolling platform. There is no shoulder harness or lap belt; the only thing holding you down is a small plastic wedge that fits into place over your legs. You think to yourself, that's it? That's the only thing separating me from certain doom? But by the time you think to ask , you are already halfway up the first hill.
I love the ride up. It puts your mind into a fight-or-flight frenzy, even though flight is not an option. So, as the chain clinks in rhythm with your heartbeat, you are forced to look around. Last night, on the way to the 232-foot-tall peak, I could see an ominous misty fog clinging to the ground, with orange lights in clusters around the neighborhoods and parking lots nearby. Uptown Charlotte twinkled in the distance. I pointed all of this out to my girlfriend, who was squeezing her eyes shut in the seat to my right. She informed me that she would not be opening them until the ride was over.
I don't scream. I yell. It is my attempt to show that I am not scared, that I will not let a roller coaster intimidate me. After I flew over the second hill, my arms went up. By the time we hit the fourth hill, my legs were kicking and I fist-pumped the air, the coaster twisted, turned and contorted its way over more ups and downs. Tears streamed from my eyes from the speed. For three-and-a-half minutes, I dropped 20 years from my age and all of the weight from my body. I was a hollering, adrenalized immature child and there was not a damn thing you could do about it.
We rounded the last turn and came to a head-snapping stop, and it was over. My girlfriend opened her eyes. She hated it. I tried my best to sympathize, but I was smiling with every muscle in my face, and my words didn't come out right. All I could do was grunt "oh" or "wow." I took her hand but the blood was pumping so hard through me that I feared I would squeeze her delicate little fingers clean off. "We made it! You survived!" I said, offering all of the empathy I could muster. I was trying. I really was.
But then I went skipping down the stairs and out back into the park and could not stop smiling for the rest of the night. I bought a ridiculous looking picture of myself. I wanted to do it again. I annoyed the hell out of the grown-ups. They were wondering what got into me. I wished I could tell them, but just like any other boy who has broken the laws of physics, I found it too hard to explain.