Coney Island? It’s a Real Scream

                                                                           BY

                                                            William A. Gralnick

More disturbing that Covid fatigue is political fatigue. After 2020’s election, 2022 brings us a host of critical elections at multiple levels of government that it is hard to keep track. It is even harder to figure out how one can sensibly donate, and even harder to figure out which of the important ones are the most important. An incorrect reaction to the Covid shot conundrum can be fatal; an incorrect outcome to the 2022 elections can be fatal in their own way. Thus I’ve decided this week to give us a break and honor the reopening of the the world’s most famous Ferris Wheel in the world’s most famous amusement park. Enjoy it. Next week we go back to the grind.

Even though I rarely did anything at Coney Island except go to the beach, walk the boardwalk, and eat at Nathan’s, it enthralled me. Looking at the rides I’d never go on, listening to the people screaming like Godzilla was about to eat them, the bizarre people I’d see who had nothing to do with the rides or the park made the place a visual exercise.

First of course was the Cyclone,. One could hear the clattering and chattering of the metal wheels reverberating through the wooden frame from blocks away. And of course, the screams. The closer I got to it, the higher my blood pressure went, at least that’s what it felt like. I was so afraid of it that I was perfectly content to wait the few minutes at its exit for my friends. After all, it was terrifying. Over 2,640 feet of track during which the monster did 12 drops, the grandest of which was 85 feet at a 60-degree angle. Nor did it ever give you time to get your tongue out of the back of your mouth because the bugger ran off 27 elevation change in roughly two minutes time. My friends? Their appearance and palor confirmed my fears. Then one night after graduation they jumped me, dragged me to a cyclone car, and held me down until the bar locked. I was screaming before it started; I uttered not a sound during the ride. If my fright was being measured by one of those fund-raising thermometers, the red stuff inside would have blown the top clear off. My fears became reality, and you can’t scream when every muscle in your jaw is locked down solid from fear.

Coney Island - Astroland
an 85ft drop is like falling off a small building

I never rode the Cyclone again. About that time a “mini-roller coaster” named maybe Mighty Mouse was installed. I rode it and survived. I never rode it again. Why? What’s the sense when you knew it was a very poor substitute for the real thing. Roller coaster was gone forever from my activity posting. I began to think about knitting.

Never having been in the military, the next ride that always captured my attention was the parachute jump. I’m not sure even having been in the military I would have volunteered to become a paratrooper. Some things make absolutely no sense to me. Jumping out of an airplane attached to an oversized bedsheet was high on the list. But looking at it from a distance, when the sun was in your eyes so you could barely make out the lines of wire holding the chutes, it was magical. White puffs in different stages of opening. It was like something from a fairy tale. Except for the screaming. I never rode the parachute jump and considering what my friends did to me on the Cyclone, I never walked anywhere close to it. Like I said, jumping out of an airplane makes no sense, even without the airplane and even if “only” 262 feet above the cement where stood gawking people praying for the safety of their loved ones floating out of the sky and simultaneously thinking, “Why would any lunatic do that?”

Now we come to the stimulant for writing this piece. The Ferris Wheel of all Ferris Wheels has re-opened. Back then, and now again, it is called the Wonder Wheel. This Ferris wheel’s technical name is an eccentric Ferris wheel. And that’s the wonder of it.  A Ferris wheel’s cars are attached to the wheel. They swayed back and forth as you went round and round. Every so often it would stop, and you were suspended in the air with only the car between you and the ground. If you were in the top car…well that’s where the screaming came from.

man standing beside store
I guarantee you this guy did not just float down 252 feet on a bedsheet and look like this. A not atypical sight at CI

Ahhh, but the wonder of this wheel is that it gave you that if you wanted it. But if you wanted more, it could give you that too. Some of the cars were on tracks; they were not stationary. As the wheel turned they rolled. Stopping at the top was a blessing because you got to catch your breath but once it began again your car started to roll forward and it looked like you were on the parachute jump, that your car would roll off into thin air, and float until it hit the ground. You want screams, from the Wonder Wheel you got screams.

Wonder Wheel In Coney Island
can you really focus on the sights if you are in that white car on the tippy top?

I’ve got A-fib now so the guilt of not riding the rails or floating through the air, or rolling to and fro 250 above the ground is gone, but the memories do they ever remain.

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