There are too few experiences in life that leave one actually, genuinely changed. One of them is, without a doubt, riding the Coney Island Cyclone on one’s own. Objectively the ride seems unsafe. It’s the oldest roller-coaster in the world, it’s made of wood, there is a lot of rust on the few remaining metal pieces, the structure creaks in the wind, the cars are dilapidated and are made entirely of hard metal. There are a thousand reasons not to get on line.
When it first begins moving, the ride seems surprisingly safe—it’s dark, the gears are working smoothly. But then there is an ascent. The car rises until you can see no track or carnival, or even beach but only water. The only thing that goes through your mind is that you’re staring into the abyss, that this is the infinite plane, the eternal, the unending, still rising profound that Nietzsche tells us to stare into before it finally stares back into us. It’s a moment of Romantic sublimity, enough to make you feel like Shelley or Byron standing on the edge of a rocky cliff before the raging ocean. You know, Roll on, thou dark and deep blue ocean—that sort of thing.
Then the car stalls for a moment. It crashes down. You are thrown to the side, your back is twisted, your legs are flying into the air, and you are falling at 90°. You realize that raising you legs even an inch higher could knock you off, and that you are, in fact, and perhaps for the first time ever, holding onto something for dear life. It is terrifying. It does not relent. Again, and again, it tortures you, and even when you think it’s over, there is still one fall after another. Not to mention that raising your hands in the air as you might at Six Flags will cause you to lose them—the beams on the ride hang low. Very, very low.
Although it seems unreasonable to have thought so after the ride stops, it feels like a near-death experience, which in small doses and at a distance from real death is exactly what everyone needs to get their own personal nonsense sorted out. It is the sort of thing that might have knocked the neurosis out of Woody Allen. The cyclone doesn’t teach you courage. It scares the crap out of you, and knocks some sense into you like a tough-love, Sicilian grandmother who doesn’t put up with American ideas on child abuse and teaching kids a lesson. It’s serious business. Also it’s $8 dollars, and dying is kind of scary. So it’s your call.