- The Washington Times - Saturday, June 3, 2006

A rare language emerges each summer, when the dazed and confused stand for 90 minutes in 90-degree heat with 90 other people for the privilege of plunging at 90 mph at a 90-degree angle for 90 seconds.

It is the language of the roller coaster, and it goes like this:

“Finally. How long have we been waiting? No, don’t get in the front seat. Why did you get in the front seat? I can’t get this bar down. Tell the guy I can’t get this bar down. Is it OK I can’t get this bar down? Uh-oh. We’re going. Honey, we’re going. Oh, look, I can see Aunt Madge down there. Aren’t we getting too high? Honey? Isn’t this too — (a brief pause) — o-o-o — (a briefer pause) — o-o-o-o-o-e-e-e-e-e-a-h-h-h-h …”

Note the distinct speech pattern. This sample clearly exhibits the o-o-o-e-e-e-a-h-h-h model with two pauses, typical of females and often accompanied by the accent expletives “oh” and “no.” Males have been observed using this pattern as well, though they affect a guttural trill, with epithets, which some experts attribute to certain primal simian instincts. Males also favor the partially vocalized w-a-a-a-h-h or y-a-a-a-h-h forms, with or without epithets.

Yes, well. Who can fault trills and epithets, not to mention teeth clenching, elbow locking, toe curling and knuckle whitening? Roller coasters foster both a distinct language and a distinct set of behaviors in all who board them — snickering and gesticulating in the face of doom.

Consider this: The fastest roller coaster on the planet goes 128 mph. Humans actually ride it, snickering and gesticulating in the face of doom and going o-o-o and e-e-e, with expletives.

The new Kingda Ka roller coaster at Six Flags Great Adventure in New Jersey accelerates from zero to 128 mph in 3.5 seconds, then catapults 456 feet up at a 90-degree angle. This is 45 stories high, the park explains, making it the world’s tallest roller coaster. Oh, and then it drops the snickering humans 418 feet, also a world’s record.

The Kingda Ka is not the longest roller coaster. That honor belongs to the Steel Dragon in Japan’s Nagashima Spa Land, which is 8,133 feet and 2 inches long, proving that the Japanese also like to snicker in the face of doom.

And when push comes to shove and o-o-o comes to e-e-e, roller coasters are a universal experience. According to the latest Roller Coaster Census Report, courtesy of the Roller Coaster Database (www.rcdb.com), there are 1,927 roller coasters on the face of the Earth — including 1,592 on which one sits down and 16 on which one stands up. There are 1,755 made of steel and 172 made of wood.

Unbeknownst to most gibbering humans, there are distinct varieties, too, of either steel or wood : Nine bobsled, 15 flying, 95 inverted, six pipeline and 21 suspended roller coasters dot the globe. There is only one labeled 4th dimension — defined as “a coaster with cars that spin on a horizontal axis” — at Magic Mountain at Six Flags in California. A rival is under construction in Japan, though.

At a cost of $31 million, the Eejanaika will open at the Fuji-Q-Highland amusement park in mid-July. Doubtless it will prompt a new e-e-e-ja-ja-ja variety of roller coaster language.

To add to the confusion, there also are 18 alarming design categories for roller coasters — including mine train, floorless, water, side friction, spinning and hybrid.

Who knew?

Historians credit Russia with inspiring the roller coaster in the 1600s — in warmer months, Russians managed to slide down the hills outside of St. Petersburg on huge blocks of ice fashioned into passenger cars and lined with straw. The French and English later experimented with wheeled cars. It was Americans who added mechanics borrowed from gravity switchback trains sometime around 1884, eventually dreaming up the clanking, banked track that held cars in place from underneath.

Who knew?

All this ingenuity ultimately will lead to higher, faster coasters or ones with smell-o-rama or built-in beds and fireplaces. And there’s certainly nothing stopping us from inventing roller coasters for dogs, because as everyone knows, dogs are supposed to experience everything humans experience these days, including sending greeting cards, going to psychologists and having birthday parties with other dogs.

Dog thrill rides. Sure. Why not?

We will depart on a reassuring note, however, for those weary of excess. The oldest roller coaster in the known universe is still in operation: Leap-the-Dips — built in 1902 — is still rattling along its white wooden track up in Lakemont Park in Altoona, Pa. It stands a mighty 41 feet high, reaches a top speed of 10 mph and boasts some swell Victorian appurtenances.

This beloved coaster, which has its own appreciation society and a worldwide fan base, was named a National Historic Landmark in 1996 and was completely restored three years later. Can’t get there? Take a ride on Leap-the-Dips via a home video, posted online (www.youtube.com). And don’t forget to go o-o-o-e-e-e-a-h-h.

Jennifer Harper covers media, politics and dog thrill rides for The Washington Times’ national desk. Contact her at 202/636-3085 or jharper@ washingtontimes.com.

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