My dad was a great man. Of course we didn’t realize it growing up, but what kid does? I still credit my Dad for saving my life. I thought he was off his rocker at the time (Popi had some quirky ways), but he dropped some random thought in my lap that helped me avoid certain calamity.
True story: I was seventeen, and the two of us were sitting in his room. I was watching TV, he was lying across his bed, reading the newspaper. I can’t recall just what I was watching, but whatever it was, it was interrupted by, “Judykins, whatever you do, just don’t panic! You can always get out of any situation if you just don’t panic!”
I don’t know if he’d read an incident in the paper or not, but wanting to get back to my TV show, I answered with a simple, “Yes, sir.” Didn’t give it another thought … until …
The very next day, I went to work at the amusement park, but decided to get on a few rides before dressing for my shift. I got on the old, rickety wooden roller coaster and sat in the next to last seat in the very last car (everyone knows the last car likes to jump more than the others). I was alone in my car, with two teen girls sitting behind me.
In the front of the roller coaster, a rider hadn’t latched the bar in the “down” position, so the operator unlocked the bars (remotely) and said over the loudspeaker, “Now push it out and pull it down.”
Being seventeen and stupid, even while knowing my bar was locked in the down position, I lifted it up and heard the “click” sound—meaning the ride was now secure and ready to take off. Now I’m the idiot with the bar in the up position and the ride is slowly pulling out of the station.
Of course the operator doesn’t see me because his attention was at car number two, which was originally not secure. As we pull out, I’m wondering to myself, Self … maybe you can just jump out … and I realize we’re out of the platform with an immediate forty-foot drop below. Jumping out is not an option.
Ever so slowly, the coaster creeps up the ninety-foot hill.
(Clicketa-clicketa-clicketa-click … )
I hear the clicks of the thick, iron chains which hold this antiquated heap of junk onto the tracks. I look at all the people below. They look like ants.
My God, how did I get here? I’m thinking to myself.
Behind me, the two teens are screaming, “Oh my God! She’s gonna die! She’s gonna die!”
“Shut up!” I yell back, determined to get out of this alive, because my Mom and Dad are gonna kill me otherwise! I was supposed to be at work!
I say to myself, Ok, Dad said I can get out of anything if I don’t panic!
(Clicketa … click-eta … )
Just hold on! To what? That’s what the bar’s for—and it’s UP!!?
(Click … e … )
You only have to make it through the first dip … the rest are a breeze! Just make it through the first dip! Oh my God, how will I make it through that first dip? … I know!
I used my left hand like a suction cup against the side of the car, while holding on (literally!) for dear life with the right hand! I tucked my head down as far as humanly possible … and that’s when I heard it …
The last clink before … !
She’s gonna die! She’s gonna die!
Shut up! Shut the …!
Swoo-o-o-o-o-o-o … ! It was the longest dip in roller coaster history! I rode this thing almost daily for two summers and it’s never taken this long to reach bottom! Swoosh! Ok, made it through the first dip. I was exhausted. I’m gonna live, thank God … just a few small bumps along the way … I can relax now.
Then I looked up and saw …
Uh-oh, forgot this part! Suction! Grab hold! Head down! Whish! The snapper! (I don’t know what YOU call it, but it’s the part that whips the coaster back in the direction of home base—it actually whips the last car—which is why everybody fights over that seat.)
Oh no! Aaaaaahhhh!!! Followed by … clicketa … clicketa … and a sudden … Scree-e-ech!
We’re jolted to a halt on the platform. The two poor girls behind me were totally spent, devoid of any joy in watching my plight … poor things (wonder where they are today?).
As we pulled into the station, the operator, now noticing my bar up, runs over and says, “Are you okay?” to which I answered, “Uh, yeah … my bar was stuck,” quickly high-tailing it out of there to save myself from embarrassment. (Gotta tell ya, I’ve never been so happy to put on that greasy uniform.)
And so it was that Popi’s random insight instilled in me two life lessons I’d carry with me even today: Always put in a full day’s work. And never panic.