Young at heart

Published 11:33 am Thursday, May 23, 2024

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“It says here,” I said to Paul, pointing at the list of requirements for the Fire Chaser Express rollercoaster at Dollywood, “that riders must be a minimum of 39” tall.”

Paul eyeballed me. “Not a problem.”

“And that it’s a risk if pregnant—“

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“Definitely not a problem.”

“Or if you have high blood pressure or cardiac issues.”

“Do you?” Paul asked.

“Pretty sure I don’t, but I guess we’ll find out,” I replied and was directed to the third car by an attendant.

I’m going to guess that most couples, should they find they have that rare day off together, generally choose a leisurely drive, perhaps to the lake, for a relaxing lunch out before returning home and pointing out the front yard needs mowing. Our yard and both fields need bush hogging, but we were determined to have a bit of fun and opted for the 2 1/2 drive to Pigeon Forge, Tennessee—home of Dollywood. 

It’s a funny thing strolling around an amusement park in my sixth decade and catching the eye of the only other senior couple in a sea of teenagers and young families. It reminded me of the thumbs up or little wave one gives when passing someone driving an identical car to their own, particularly if it’s a vintage Corvette or Roadster. That sort of ‘wink, wink, nudge, nudge’ recognition of similar tastes with that smug, self-congratulatory smile. Except for us, it was the unspoken acknowledgment, or at least I thought, that we were both young at heart enough to board an audacious ride when they suddenly peeled off and headed to a bluegrass show in the theater. 


This left Paul and me being met with pitying glances and a couple of muffled giggles by riders behind us attired in crop tops, shorts and flip-flops. The trepidation I was feeling about this 2-minute and 19-second ride began to dissipate and was replaced by steely resolve. Speaking loudly over my shoulder to the snarky teens directly behind us as we sat down in our car and pulled down the safety bar, I groaned, “I sure wish I hadn’t eaten that funnel cake. Y’all might have to duck.”

I then turned back to say something clever to Paul, but all that came out of my mouth was ‘JAYZUSSS!’ as the ride, instead of slowly trundling out to begin its route as do most rollercoasters, shot out with such force and speed that our heads jerked backwards with a whiplash motion.

I’ve never wished for 2 minutes and 19 seconds to pass more quickly. Even more so than a 2-minute warning on an endless football game. The Fire Chaser dove around impossibly tight, looping turns and plunged downwards, resulting in a moment of negative g-force suspension until finally coming to rest in what appeared to be a barn tricked out with boxes of fireworks. 

“Is it over?” I whispered hoarsely to Paul. “Please let it be over.” 

I felt sudden heat on my leg and, with a start, saw flames leaping up on the side—all part of the ride— and a giant mock rocket tipped over, pointing directly at the first car. The next thing we knew, we were hurtling backwards: up, down, looping left and right— and while I was oddly comforted by not knowing what was coming, for the sake of our audience behind us, I screamed like a banshee for the final minute.

I always judge the success of a thrilling ride by the expressions worn by those who’ve just finished it and are exiting down the adjacent ramp. I saw nothing but flushed, doughy faces looking slightly ill and not at all amused. Whereas Paul and I were jubilant: No A-fib or dizziness affecting we geezers, and as also listed as a prerequisite for boarding the ride, we demonstrated the ability to control our upper body, i.e. core strength, to prevent ourselves from being flung around inside the car.

I said a silent prayer of gratitude for every barrow of manure I push each morning.

Feeling cocky, we took on the log flume, which gave us wet bums but was rather tame, and my all-time favorite, the Scrambler—mostly because Paul was sitting on the inside and was obliged to absorb the full weight of my body crushing against him with every revolution while I laughed hysterically. We had a wonderful time and as there was no one else our age to congratulate, we fist-bumped each other before heading home. 

Rock on!!

And were fast asleep in our bed before it was dark.