Because all experiences are valuable.

Monday, June 25, 2012

Superman, or, How to Save a Life

I have a story to tell you tonight...
Most times I think, well, people will think I'm nuts.
But then most times people tell me that they have had very similar experiences,
so I'm going to tell you this story because something tells me that I should...

It so happens that The Fray is one of my very favorite bands. The song that everyone remembers is probably their biggest hit, "How to Save a Life," which is about the efforts to save a troubled teenager, though it is open to a lot of interpretation. It's a song of hindsight being 20/20. I'm generally very good with cliches and metaphors and such, being a language person/guru. Wink. But I remember hearing "hindsight is 20/20" when I was a kid, and I remember being at least 12 before I understood what it meant, though I knew what 20/20 meant, being rather extremely nearsighted!

So much of our understanding comes in hindsight. A scary amount. All the reading and talking and listening we do goes a really long way, but then it is the experience itself that leads us to look back and say, "Oh...I knew that before, but now I understand." Knowing and understanding are not the same thing at all, it turns out.

If I tell you that I don't really know how this all relates to the story, and yet I know that it does, I hope you will believe me. I think my understanding will come later..in hindsight of course.

Yesterday I went with Rob Clements and his two gorgeous and high-spirited daughters to Six Flags. Funny that I was just talking about Six Flags and how it smells. I can report that it still smells. I mentioned that I had worked there. Turns out Rob had worked there, too, in a much more responsible position. that was interesting because he knew weird things about the park that I didn't. Performers in the shows arrived late and left early, and pretty much stuck to our own group. Doing four shows a day in the heat was actually hard, but it didn't really mean much to the regular employees...most of whom never even saw any of the shows.

So when they asked me to go...I was going to say no at first. I knew it was going to be awful hot...I always have stuff to do...my knee is still hurting from the little rock accident at Amicolola Falls and all the working out I've been doing this week. But more than anything there was a resounding voice in my head, almost a panic, telling me not to go.
You all know I tell you the plain truth in this blog, especially my emotional truth if I can. You can hardly read my poetry and not know what I feel, who I love, and where my sufferings and joys lie.

So I thought hard about why I had that sense of panic. I listen to my inner voice very carefully.  I thought of my blood sugar issues, and the fact that I've given up sugar again right now. The only sugar I'm eating is in my hot tea, and peanut butter in the morning. (It is bizarre how much sugar is in everything!!!). Usually if my sugar plunges, I drink coke, but I really didn't want to be forced to do that. But that didn't seem panic worthy. Six Flags has no shortage of sugar if necessary. Then I thought of my foot, the breakage at last year's DragonCon that cost me a year of school. I cannot have anything happen to me again. That felt like I was on the right track...and the more I explored that, the more the panic was telling me that something bad was going to happen if I went.

I didn't tell Rob about this feeling. I didn't tell MJL about this feeling, though I certainly would have had he been home in the States. And he would have told me not to go if I felt that way. I couldn't tell if I felt something was going to happen to me, or to Rob at the park. I decided that if Rob took the girls alone, and he got hurt, it would be better for me to be there. I decided to be very cautious...to pay attention to my surroundings...just to be smart about everything. There were no problems for hours. Elsa fell and scraped her elbow, so we headed to First Aid and made sure that was taken care of and cleaned. Rob is a really good father. I'm always impressed with the devotion he shows those girls, and he watches them like a hawk...which is good because Elsa can tend to feel perfectly safe wandering off anywhere, and Esha is a major attention getter with the teenage boys.

Elsa is more squeamish about the big scary roller coasters, but as Esha and Rob hadn't ever been on Superman, and I think the Superman coaster is one of the best anywhere, we decided to brave the line. Let me tell you that there is no such thing as waiting in the Superman line less than an hour. Ever. I don't get it. Can't explain it. It just is. I've waited as much a two hours to ride it in the past. There is no shade. 95% of the line is in the broiling sun. It sucks really bad, actually. We all do it anyway, it's just that cool. By the time we reached the front of the line, Rob and I both felt nauseated from the extreme heat. It was about 93 degrees, but that is hotter in the direct sun in an asphalt and concrete park full of hot people packed together. Felt like about 98 degrees. I normally do not sweat a lot. I was soaked, and getting dehydrated. Just setting the scene for you...

As we approached the end of the line, one of the workers called for three more people to get on the ride that round. (We were three because Elsa wasn't going to ride Superman.) We skirted around a couple of foursomes, and there was something very odd about the whole thing. The staff didn't seem to know what they were doing. The row they put us in had four seats, and then they called for another threesome and put them in a row of four seats...when we had just gone around several foursomes. You sit in the chair with your legs dangling, then they lock you in. A large padded neck brace/ headrest comes over your shoulders, and your feet are also locked in at the ankles. I didn't see who came to lock in Rob, because my leg was actually caught and being pinched and I had to sharply cry out for the guy to stop cramming down on the bar until my leg was free. The male worker was being trained by a short female. It was clearly his first day. She made sure that Esha's headrest thing was clicked in, and then she turned the shiny gold key that locked her in. Then she handed it to the guy for him to do mine. I watched him do it, and knew that he hadn't turned the key, merely inserted it and then removed it! I said to the girl, "Are you sure he did that right??" The only answer I got was a withering stare. Then they both turned and walked off the ride part of the platform. I felt the panic rise...

I was jiggling my headrest/lapbar thing. It was moving up and down. It seemed "clicked," but not locked. Esha's wouldn't budge. Hers was correctly fastened. A different, taller, girl came to check Rob's, but only visually. I had been calling across to Rob that I REALLY didn't think mine was done right. The taller girl made to move away to the next chairs (they do all this very quickly, you know). Rob stopped her. He kind of shouted at her, but not at all rudely. "Could you PLEASE check hers again, it doesn't seem right."

She stopped. She checked mine, she actually looked at me for a minute in surprise. I can't forget that look... actually it wasn't surprise, it was more like a look of how-can-any-employee-be-so-incompetent.
It wasn't locked.

She fixed mine, checked Esha's, started to move off, then stopped and checked Rob's. His was worse than mine. Neither properly clicked in nor locked.

Within seconds we were off. If you're not familiar, the seats tilt forward so you are flying under the railing of the coaster. You do loops on your back, and see the ground the whole way around. It's incredible. I love that ride. We survived...and Esha declared that one more scary than Batman.

The girls played in the water park, we rode a few more things...I felt hot and rather ill for a bit and lay on my back on the rock wall by the carousel, but all in all we had a really fun day! I'm honored to be a special "Aunt" to Rob's precious girls.

But I can't let the happy outcome fool me.
I am well aware that theme parks as a whole are very safe. Hundreds of thousands go each year and very few get killed. I'm not saying this is an unsafe ride. I've ridden it many times. Non fatal injuries are actually much higher than you might think at theme parks, but driving a car isn't all that safe, either.

But Superman isn't an ordinary coaster, where you have a seat. You are only, and I mean only, held in by the lapbar/headrest.

that picture isn't even in the fully tilted position. It goes more horizontal yet.

The proportion of the disaster that might have occurred is kind of staggering. I was not locked in. Rob was in an even worse position. You like to think that engineers build in failsafes...I'd like to think that it would have been okay...but, I just know that it would not have.
The ride is designed to be safe if you are locked in. You're supposed to be practically immobilized. The gravitational forces are carefully balanced. You aren't supposed to be able to flop like a ragdoll. Your harness is not supposed to withstand the strain of the forces while unlocked, leaving you with the potential to fly off the ride...

How would things have been different had I not been there, had I not gone with them? Maybe they wouldn't have ridden Superman at all. Or maybe they would have and Rob would have suffered something dreadful. I don't know. I can't know. But here is what I do know...

Something put an unusual fear in me about that trip to Six Flags, odd for a former employee and long time season pass holder. Something told me to go even though I was worried. But I didn't save anyone.
Rob saved me. It was he who insisted she check my harness. He didn't ask her to check his at all.
He asked her to check mine.
Luckily she checked his as well.

There are things you just know. You have no doubt about them. I know a tragedy was averted yesterday.
Why did it have to happen just as it did? I don't have the answer. I hope as Rob thinks about it...maybe he will know the answer for him. Maybe something from the past has just been erased, or fixed. Maybe some Karma from ancient life is healed. My sister, who was married to Rob, believed that Rob was our Grandfather reincarnated. I always rolled my eyes at that, honestly...but Rob's birthday is the exact same day our Grandfather died in WWII (day, not year.) Who am I to say? I think I know what my beloved Dr. Libby would say...

It doesn't matter at all. I know that Rob saved my life yesterday.
I thank you. I'm sure my sons thank you. I'm glad you were safe, too.

One last strange thing...That song, How to Save a Life, was released in 2006, and was nominated for song of the year, I think. I fell in love with the Fray and am still a big fan, though their popularity has waned. MJL thinks all their songs sound the same. Maybe I'll see if I can bring him around! But the first time I heard the song, it reminded me of a huge hit from a few years earlier, by Five for Fighting. If you listen to the refrains of both songs, you can hear a very similar note progression. It happens a lot in rock music...and have you ever seen that comedian who does the hilarious bit about Pachabel's Canon?? You'll probably recognize the song now...it's called Superman.
I had it attached by youtube removed it. Oh well. It's a great song anyway.

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