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Cedar Point

Wednesday, I went to Cedar Point.

It's nice having a world-class amusement park only a couple hours away from your house.  However, the last few times I've gone to Cedar Point, it's always been with . . . complications.  See, I like roller coaster.  Darwin (and Kala, when we were married) doesn't.  Maksim and Aran flatly refuse to discuss the idea.  Sasha ran hot and cold--willing to try one moment, running away the next.

This meant when we went to Cedar Point as a family, I was in a group of people who refused to do anything I wanted to do.  I was always stuck doing wimpy-ass little rides.  There were a few times when we'd say, "Okay, let's split up and meet back here for supper," but because the lines were long, that always meant I got through maybe two roller coasters before having to head back.

So this year, I announced I was going to Cedar Point on Wednesday.  "I'm going to ride roller coasters all day.  Anyone who wants to come with me, can, but keep in mind that I'm doing what =I= want to do.  So we'll be splitting up the whole day if you don't want to ride roller coasters."

After some discussion among themselves, everyone elected to stay--except Sasha.  Sasha wanted to come partly because he wanted to get out of his apartment and partly because he wanted to work on his semi-fear of roller coasters.

All right, then.

I picked him up bright and early Wednesday morning and we drove down.

It was a delightfully perfect day, weather-wise: sunny and low 80s.  I also splurged for the Fast Pass option, which let us be the elite snooties-snoots who bypassed most of the lines.

Okay, I know this creates a two-tier system of customers, and that people who can afford the extra are allowed yet more privilege.  But man--speaking as someone who has, all his life, been the one who couldn't afford the extra, it was wonderful to get it this time.  It slashed the waiting time for rides from hours to minutes.  It meant that on this day, when I wanted to make up for riding all those roller coasters, I was able to do it, over and over.  I loved it, unapologetically.  So did Sasha.

The Valravn, Cedar Point's new showpiece, was a fantastic ride.  It's the highest, fastest, steepest dive coaster in the world.  It's also a suspension coaster, meaning your feet hang over nothing and you can see everything beneath.  At the top of the first Everest-sized hill, the train comes to a stop for three seconds, dangling you over the edge so you can see how far down it all is.  Then--whoosh!

The Gatekeeper.  The Raptor.  Sasha and I rode them all in some serious father-son bonding.  Sasha got over his fear of roller coasters (though he wouldn't go on the Power Tower).  The only coaster we passed on was the Dragster, and that was because it broke down four times while we were at the park--once while we were in line for it--and we didn't want to risk it.  It was a great day!

We agreed the Mean Streak needs to go--it's a spine-jarring, tooth-chipping monster, and when you're on it, all you can think is, "When will this end?"

We rode other rides, too--the train, the giant swings.  Sasha rode the Witch's Wheel.  (I love spinning rides, but they make me sick now, to my eternal despair.)  The Fast Pass let us ride over and over, enjoying the rides and each other's company immensely.

The unexpected centerpiece of the day was the Iron Dragon, though.

The Dragon has become irrelevant.  It was the first suspension roller coaster in America, but now such coasters are common-place and the Iron Dragon has become dull.  Sasha and I shrugged our way through the ride, and when we got off, we found a booth that proclaimed the park was re-jiggering the Dragon with virtual reality.  They were looking for beta-testers.  If you wanted to sign up, they would assign you a time slot.  The ride would close at 6:00, you showed up at your time, and you gave it a go.

We signed up.

At the appointed time, we climbed up to the coaster platform with the other testers.  The workers handed us white VR helmets.  There was a moment of concern when the worker told me I couldn't wear my glasses under it, but she showed me a focus knob on the front and assured me I'd be able to adjust it as I needed.  Okay, then.

Sasha and I climbed into the car and pulled on our helmets.  (They were cushioned and comfortable.)  Suddenly, I was looking down at the back end of a horse.  My own "hands" were holding the reins.  A video game castle in video graphics was all around me.  This was weird.  As other people who have tried VR, I found it odd that when I waved my hand in front of my face, I couldn't see my hand, but I could still see the scene before me.

When the coaster jerked forward, the horse started running, jerking ahead the "wagon" I was riding.  Suddenly giants attacked from all sides! They tore away the bridge I was crossing, and the horse was swatted away.  Out of nowhere, a giant bat swooped down and grabbed my cart. It labored to get altitude.  The cart was climbing.  (Meanwhile, I could feel and hear the real world coaster climbing the first hill.  It was eerie in that I also felt hot sunshine on my face but all I could see was a night-time fantasy landscape.  I thought for a wild second the park had arranged for blasts of heat because a dragon was going to show up.)

As the coaster rushed down the hill, the bat dodged and swooped us past enemies--dragons that snapped at us, armies that flung weapons, avalanches of stone.  When I looked up, I saw the bat flapping madly above.  If I looked down, I saw the rocky ground rushing by below.  The helmet timed it all flawlessly.  Two spears hit the bat.  It died.  With its final strength, it threw my cart into a castle gate and safety before it crashed to the ground.

The entire experience was incredible!  I basically tried the roller coaster version of an Occulus Rift.

When I pulled the helmet off, I snapped from a night-time fantasy world into a day-time modern world, and it was disconcerting.  Sasha, who'd had the same experience I did, descended to the ground.  He loved it!  So did it.  It was a creative and fascinating way to update an old ride.

We filled out a short survey back at the booth.  ("How long would you be willing to wait in line for this ride?" "Would you recommend this ride to a friend?" "On a scale of 1-10, how well did you understand the story?"  "On a scale of 1-10, how important is the story to the ride?")

At last, we both decided we were exhausted and it was time to head home.  It had been a lovely day, filled with roller coasters and male bonding.
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