Another day in Brooklyn started with the gym and no other particular agenda. Ahh, that is the life. I knew I wanted to hang with my niece, and that I wanted to go to Coney Island. She, however, wanted to get a pedicure first. I sometimes forget that she's 24 now, and the condition of her hands and feet are important tools in attracting men that my brothers and I would later intimidate. Recalling that I very recently (and accidentally) shredded my girlfriend's sheets with my feet, I elected to join her. It was relaxing, and right after we made our way to the train to Coney Island.
My niece and I went to the same high school, twelve or so years apart. As we passed it on the train, we both fondly remembered some of the neighborhood's food options, largely consisting of bagels and pizza that I can confirm are simply much better in Brooklyn than anywhere else. It's the tap water. After that, we watched as the Q train pulled up past Brighton Beach and the iconic Parachute Jump came into view at Stillwell Avenue. Welcome to Coney Island.
I hadn't been to Coney Island since 2008. Know what? That's too far to start in the story.
I'm a contradiction: I'm terrified of heights, but I love roller coasters. I grew up with one of the most famous ones in the world in my own backyard, so to speak. I last went to Coney Island in 2008 with a good friend of mine, and while the rides mostly sucked, the corn dogs were tasty and the log flume ride wasn't so bad (okay, okay, I screamed like a little girl and it was caught on camera). But it was Coney Island, Astroland as it was called then, and it's heyday was well, well past. Before that afternoon, I hadn't been to a real theme park, on a real roller coaster since 2004 or so.
A couple of years ago, Astroland closed and the area was almost completely razed except for the three landmarked spots: the Parachute Jump, the Wonder Wheel, and the world-famous Cyclone. In its place was Luna Park, with upgraded and updated rides and attractions. There were two that caught my eye: the Soarin' Eagle ride, and the New Thunderbolt.
My niece accompanied me to Luna Park, and it's nice to hang out with her as an adult. She had been like a little sister for so long, it was interesting and refreshing to finally interact with her as an adult and a peer instead of as a really smart kid. I kept that in mind as I watched her descend into a terrified mess on the Wonder Wheel. To be fair I wasn't much better. It's a 94 year-old Ferris Wheel with selected cars that swing on a track. We were on a swinging car. I won't pretend like I was brave, but I couldn't panic the way I wanted because my niece was freaking out (Jesus, take the wheel, and such).
So after five minutes of protracted circular terror, I decided to venture on to the Thunderbolt. Coney Island was going to be an abbreviated visit this time as we were meeting friends for drinks later that evening. I had to decide between the Thunderbolt and the Soarin' Eagle, and the Thunderbolt looked interesting. To me, at least; my niece decided that she would sit this one out.
Remember what I said about her being really smart?
From a distance, the Thunderbolt looked interesting. It had a 90 degree initial ascent and a 90 degree initial descent, and loops and twists and the like. There had been a couple of steel coasters in Coney Island's past, but they were mostly designed to scare seven year-olds. I assumed the Thunderbolt was just a cool-looking continuation of this design sensibility.
Then I got up close and saw the thing got up to about 120 feet. And it moved along at a pretty good clip.
Still though, I thought, this is New York City, where in the past a coaster of sufficient size and speed to actually be a thrill ride couldn't exist alongside the Cyclone, simply for reasons of not enough real estate. How bad could it possibly be?
Spoiler alert: bad. Very, very bad.
The thing about a 90 degree ascent is that the car pointed straight up. You were basically on your back, looking straight up. The chain pulley towed the car straight up. Most roller coasters drag out the terror with a gradual incline. Even the legendary Cyclone, whose terror is based in its age and its composition (90+ years, made of wood, I believe it's the oldest wooden coaster still standing in the US) only had an initial drop of 58.1 degrees, and that drop was 85 feet. Not this nightmare. Nope, the Thunderbolt would not delay gratification. It went. Straight. Up. After the hump, it went straight down.
Allegedly. I had my eyes closed on the drop.
There were twists and turns and zero gravity sensations abound, and when it was over, all I could muster were a vacant stare and a constant drone of "Oh $#!7. It went straight up." My niece, the smart one, laughed.
Afterward, we grabbed a quick bite to eat. Neither of us had much in the way of food, and it was a long train ride to Park Slope, where we would meet old friends of mine for food and drink. She had a knish, and I had a funnel cake. Bits of happy all around.