In Praise of The Beast

As a small boy, I dreamt of being a bigger boy, so that I could be tall enough to ride The Beast at Kings Island. The Beast was ominous and secluded and the line was always three miles long, snaking through the park three people wide with slouching teenagers in jean shorts and shirts with Motley Crue or Bon Jovi on them.

The park had stenciled orange beast tracks in paint, clear back to the Eiffel Tower, to show the way. All the other rides you could see before you rode them; you could circle each one as many times as you liked, gaping at the hills and searching the faces of people getting off, staring for signs of trauma or nausea. Not The Beast. All you could see was the station where the trains left and came back.

I'd heard that it wound into the forest - three miles, they said - with giant wooden towers off which you'd fall and long, banked turns weaving between the trees and - I wasn't sure I believed this part - you actually, at one point, went underground.

For two or three years I tried to get on; the first two I wasn't fooling anybody but the summer I turned six I really thought I might be tall enough, or could at least stretch a little and make it seem like I was. I wasn't. Of course we came back the next year, and finally I'd hit my personal goal of 48 inches. I waited in line for two hours, wide-eyed and silent, as the teenagers smoked and cursed and lounged coolly on the handrails. I assessed every aspect of the ride's construction from what I could see by poking my head through the bars. The unevenly cut planks on the ride loading station worried me. I started to hope they would tell me I was still too short.

Clanking up the hill, my tiny heart was pounding in my ribcage, and I gripped the lap bar firmly at eye-level. The hulking stranger beside me kept looking over in detached amusement at this little boy riding all by himself. He held up his hands as the train inched over the top of the hill, but I didn't. I just held on and gasped as the Ohio forest spread out below me and saw a thread of brown wooden track, The Beast, for the first time.

The first hill on The Beast is the physical incarnation of a scream. It's not like falling off a cliff; it's like being forcefully thrown down at the ground, and when you finally get there you don't hit but instead shoot *inside* it, down into a tunnel with a rocky opening that surely will smash your head off.

And once you're in that tunnel, under the ground sure enough, there is an unholy noise of screaming riders and groaning tracks, echoing off the rocky walls as you fly up toward a square of sunlight, then out you pop and you're flying along through the woods, good as new.

After that, The Beast goes on for several more minutes, featuring just before the end a harrowing shriek through an endless covered bridge that keeps turning left and upward until you run out of breath to yell anymore. Then it's not long before you're pulling into the station, dazed and sore, and there's always somebody still yelling at the back of the train. The people inside the station lean over the gates, peering down the tracks at you as they wait for their turn.

It takes five minutes and fifteen seconds. That's just about one one-hundred-thousandth of the available minutes in a year, and there is no better way to spend them. Not everyone loves The Beast the way I do, and I guess I understand. But oh, how I love it.

You should ride it at night.

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