Coney Island’s irreplaceable Cyclone

July 8, 2022 William A. Gralnick
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The Cyclone has some years on me. After my first ride on it, not by choice, mind you, I felt lucky to be able to continue on with my life.

I wouldn’t say I was a fearful boy, but I was no adventurer either. A thrill ran through me generated by the unique sound the Cyclone made. You could hear the clattering (and screaming) before you could see it. Next to it, from the looks on the faces of those getting off, there was no way I was going to be one of them—pale, green, trying to get their legs under them. I had seen that enough times to know this was an experience I did not need to lead a full, productive life. If fact, I was sure a ride on it might produce just the opposite. The friends (or so I thought) who were with me that post-high school graduation celebration night had other thoughts.

If one of my friends said that he or she was likely to drop dead from fright if they took a ride on the Cyclone, it never would have dawned on me not to honor that. Thus, it never dawned on me that my companions might think the reverse. As we approached the monster for some of those heartier than I to get on, they scooped me up off the street, wrestling me like a roped steer into the front car. They held me there until the bar snapped shut. The starter seemed to be having a wonderful time watching this rodeo.

Even though I knew what was coming, the climb upward didn’t seem so bad unless you calculated the angle up and then the pitch down, a 60% grade, as it turned out, might be. Slowly we climbed, Clank, clank, clank. It was so slow and laborious that I wondered if it would make it. I must say, the view from the top was breathtaking and not because I was looking down. It was a glorious day, and it seemed I could see France, or at least forever. I never did get to look down. My head was horizontal to the car because I was looking out. It snapped back so viciously in a second that it seemed to bounce right between my shoulder blades. The car shot straight down, or it seemed. I saw two things. One was the tracks in front of me appearing to me like they would smash into the ground with enough force to deposit us in China or whatever part of the world is below Coney Island. The other sight was what was waiting for me. I don’t know which was more terrifying.

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Of course, one doesn’t end up in China. The reason is that just before that happens, one hits a turn so sharp one’s head swivels as it does on a ventriloquist’s dummy. Regretfully I was the dummy. As the train of cars hit the turn, making the skin on one’s face stretch, another slated mountain faced us. Again, the clanking. I don’t remember much after that; my brain was probably oxygen-deprived. Let me share the stats with those of you who didn’t or don’t harbor suicidal thoughts. What you do with them is up to you.

Cranked up for the first time in June of ’27, the Cyclone runs at 60 noisy mph. It has 2,640 feet of track and is the second steepest wooden roller coaster around. Screaming around those thousands of feet of tracks, it hit 27 different elevated situations.

My memory kicks back in as we slid into the gate, rolling slowly until the brake stopped us. People were jumping out, screaming, laughing, yelling. I could not move, which was odd because I felt my body had the consistency of a jellyfish. I had no trust that my legs would even get me out of the car, no less locomote me to the exit. But that’s what friends are for. They snatched me from the car, and upon noticing that my body parts didn’t seem like they were connected, they were kind enough to walk me like a drunk to the street. “Let’s go to Nathan’s!” That thought truly sickened me. I mean sick, sick. I became so nauseous I was sure I was going to “ralph” all over the place. But again, that’s what friends are for. One of the guys who was a smoker pulled out his Camels and said, “This always works for me.” “Take a drag,” he said as he lit it and handed it to me. I had little more knowledge of what to do with a cigarette than I did had he given me a Rubic’s cube. I just followed directions. After I stopped coughing, which took long enough that I thought I might need oxygen, I realized it had worked. I didn’t feel great, but I felt life slowly seeping back into my body—ironic that something that kills you made me feel better.

Anyway, riding the Cyclone was the most frightening experience of my life. I’m not alone. Charles Lindberg said, “A ride on the cyclone is a greater thrill than flying a plane at top speed.”  By the way, I don’t much like flying either. However, I never rode the Ferris wheel, where if they stopped with my car on top, I would have quietly slipped into a coma, or the parachute jump, where my brains would have come out of my ears once the drop started. So happy birthday Cyclone. May you have another 95, all of them without me.

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