John Carlson: Being Taken for a Ride

Arms and hair flying, this captures my look riding a scary roller coaster.Arms and hair flying, this captures my look riding a scary roller coaster.

By: John Carlson—

In the wake of closures due to COVID-19, plenty of families are happy that amusement parks such as Cedar Point remain open.


I’m way too old to care.

My age isn’t the only reason, though. I also blame the lingering psychological effects of the cruel deception played on my sister Patty and me, one that tainted our formative years in the pivotal area of amusement park appreciation. See, we grew up about an hour east of Cedar Point. The fact that the amusement park was built on land jutting from mainland Northern Ohio into Lake Erie was common knowledge to any adult with a road map.

But to us kids? Not so much.

Those in the know knew they could drive there. Another way to get there, however, was to park lakeside in Sandusky and ride the ferry over.

There was only one thing our father, being a former sailor, loved more than reliving his nautical youth with his family by hopping the ferry to the park. That was spending as little money as possible while doing so.

When we docked at Cedar Point, all the other giddy passengers rushed off the ferry like there was something to do there. Meanwhile, assured these folks just needed to pee really bad, Patty and I naively remained seated, entertaining ourselves by watching the dead carp float past before heading back to Sandusky on our ferry’s return trip. Aiding in our deception was the fact that, it being years before the advent of thirty-story roller coasters, you couldn’t see the amusement park from the dock due to thick stands of trees along the shoreline.

As I recall it was my first day of junior high school when, killing time until classes started, our homeroom teacher asked about the highlights of our summer vacations. Wanting to make a good first impression, I shot my hand up.

“We went to Cedar Point a couple times!” I bragged.

“Nice, Johnny!”my teacher answered, all jolly like. “Did you enjoy the rides?”

“Uh, what rides?”

Let’s just say when Dad got home that night, before poking a fork into Mom’s meatballs, he had some serious explaining to do. But the damage had been done. In our minds, Patty and I were already amusement park losers.

As noted, though, Cedar Point was a vastly different place back then. I still remember them putting in that wooden roller coaster called The Blue Streak. It was a big deal at the time, being long with lots of ups and downs to inspire heartfelt screams of “Wheeeee!” over and over again. But compared to modern rides, it was a snoozer. These days, girls probably ride it while painting their toenails.

That’s because rides back then were built to entertain. Modern rides are built to convince you you’re about to die.

Proof? Consider these new roller coasters. The Decapitator. The Fatal Attraction. The Terminal Tummy Upchucker.  Would you dare trust your life to those rides? OK, don’t worry about it. They don’t exist. I made up their names.

Even so, the names of roller coasters operating at Cedar Point now aren’t meant to comfort cowards, inspire tranquility, nor kindle hopes of retaining the chili-cheese fries you stuffed down your throat for lunch. You won’t find excited kids lined up to ride wimpy-sounding coasters like the Pinky Wave, the Have a Nice Day, or the Namaste.

Instead, kids line up for rides which threaten to tie knots in their giblets. There’s the Top Thrill Dragster, Corkscrew, Millennium Force, Steel Vengeance, and Wicked Twister, among many others. You want speed? The Top Thrill Dragster goes zero to 120 m.p.h. in 3.8 seconds, which is IndyCar acceleration. One of the coasters hauls you up to a nose-bleeding altitude of 420 feet. Another features a 90-degree free fall, while yet another popular coaster whips you upside down four times in mere seconds.

And that’s all great. There was a time as our kids were growing up when Nancy and I enjoyed such rides as much as they did. Well, almost …


It’s been a while, and I’m not sure I could still handle them. Unless your name is maybe Gen. Chuck Yeager, one physiological change linked to aging is an intensified “pucker-factor” affecting that body region medical experts have identified as the “booty.” This is hardly surprising. Complicated though it may be to explain, once a certain advanced age is attained, what’s ahead of us wheezing geezers seems increasingly irrelevant. Instead, the height of our interest begins centering upon what we’ve got going on behind us.

You know … back there.

This is why you can’t go wrong giving Depends gift certificates as presents at old people’s surprise parties.

Pitiful? Sure!

Nevertheless, we seniors still have our pride.

So, yeah, I’d like to ride the Corkscrew one more time. Then – once I manage to hoist myself up on my personal barstool back at Guardian Brewing Company – brag about what a fearless individual I am. But I’d hate to strap into it with a bunch of pipsqueak kids, end up screaming louder than they do, then be removed from the ride by EMTs while babbling incoherently about dead carp and my mother’s meatballs.

Not that it would necessarily happen …

On the other hand, it probably would.


John’s weekly columns are sponsored by Beasley & Gilkison, Muncie’s trusted attorneys for over 120 years.

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A former longtime feature writer and columnist for The Star Press in Muncie, Indiana, John Carlson is a storyteller with an unflagging appreciation for the wonderful people of East Central Indiana and the tales of their lives, be they funny, poignant, inspirational or all three.  John’s columns appear on every Friday.