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Top Thrill Dragster is a steel, hydraulically-launched roller coaster located at Cedar Point Amusement Park in Sandusky, Ohio. It was the first "Strata Coaster," loosely defined as a complete circuit coaster that is between 400-499 feet tall. It was built by Intamin AG and debuted to the public on May 4, 2003. It is one of only 2 stratacoasters in existence, the other being Kingda Ka (2005) at Six Flags Great Adventure in New Jersey.
Due to aviation safety concerns, for the purpose of warning air traffic, the tower is equipped with four dual strobes: three mid-way up, and one on the highest point on the coaster.
While you're waiting in line to ride the Top Thrill Dragster at Cedar Point, you have the chance to watch the process happen to lots of other riders ahead of you. They sit there on the starting line, listen to the sound effects of a massive engine revving up, freak out in some cases, then suddenly launch forward at tremendous speed and soar up to the top of a huge platform that towers over Lake Erie. After that the car turns left a bit, pauses for a brief moment and then zooms back down to the ground, twisting and plunging earthward at a completely vertical angle. Then it speeds into the station again, about 17 seconds after the whole thing started, and all the riders grin and shout and turn to one another, laughing and gaping in disbelief.
You see all this happen, dozens of times, in the staging area for the ride as you wait your turn.
But when it actually happens to you, you're not even remotely prepared. It's still completely overwhelming -- the experience is literally more than your senses can handle, and as you shoot toward that tower and the lake beyond it at 120 mph, struggling to keep your eyes focused as the track bends up and carries you to twice the height of Niagara Falls, all you can do is scream.
You yell the whole way back down too, eyes wide in disbelief, arms waving, fingers numb, whole midsection of your body clenched tight as you brace for impact. And when it's over, you're just like those people from before -- no longer the cool, bored-looking guy standing in the queue, pretending not to notice the many other people standing within arm's length of you (always an absurd charade, in my opinion, like staring ahead in an elevator and politely ignoring each others' existence). No, now you want to share your experience with everyone, and can scarcely contain your joy as you wriggle around in your seat, shifting against the restraints and smacking your co-riders on the leg. "Man, that was really something, wasn't it?" you cry, adjusting your hair and looking around wildly. It's almost like your brain is desperate to find something else to marvel at, some release for all this energy. You look over at the people still waiting to ride and want to scream to them that it's worth it! ...That it's amazing! ...That there's nothing else like it in the world! In some cases, you actually do. But most of them are still cool, still composed, still playing the elevator game and waiting for their turn.
It's an "out and back" coaster, in thrill-ride parlance, and that means that when it's over you're right back in the station where you started. In the case of Top Thrill, there aren't even any zig-zags or figure eights or loops of any kind along the way -- it's out, up, down, and return. A simple loop.
And because of the scrambling my brains received courtesy of the Dragster, as well as the preparation leading up to it (the four-hour drive to Sandusky, the packing, the leaving when it's still somewhat dark out just to get there in time to ride all the rides you possibly can, the hustling through the rain when you first arrive, hoping it will let up so they'll reopen some of the cooler stuff soon...) I actually forgot to call my friend Ryan on his son Simeon's first birthday.
It wasn't until almost 10 p.m., on the way home, that I finally remembered to call. And of course by then it was too late, so I sent a text message -- a measly clump of characters in a cell phone window, like you'd use to remind somebody to pick up English Muffins at the grocery -- to congratulate my friend and his wife and their son on a whole year of adventure and discovery.
But here, a day or so later, I'm starting not to feel so bad. Because when I started to think about this first year with Veda, who is already almost six months old herself, and thought more and more about the Dragster, which is over so quickly but so packed with amazement and so astonishingly effective at changing you completely from beginning to end, I started to think maybe I was still celebrating Simeon's birthday after all.
I'll bet that on Thursday, after whatever hat-donning, cake-smearing adventures the little guy had on his big day, the three of them came home to the same pretty house on the same little street, behind the same little gate that stood there and swung open on the day they came back from the hospital. On, or perhaps a few days after, Simeon's original Birth Day.
The same house, in fact, that Ryan and Sarah must have left behind as they sped off toward the hospital, clutching bags and checking checklists and assuring each other that one of the two of them locked the door behind them.
It's one year later now. (Give or take.)
They're right back where they started.
But so different.
And it all went by so fast.
But the joy still glows inside them.
And they're bursting to share it with the rest of the world.
And now there's one more person to glow and burst alongside them.
And Happy Birthday, Simeon.
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