Only once have I ever ridden something that qualified as a roller coaster: in 1979, at Silver Dollar City, outside Branson, Missouri. It was a pretty nice park in those days, and might still be; but I don't know, and I don't have any particular interest in finding out.

"Fire in the Hole," as it's called, is an old miner's cry, and it means exactly what you think it means: of all the places you could be at that very moment, the absolute best would be anywhere else in the world. The ride is not exactly speedy, at somewhere around 25 mph, but hey, you're in a mine: it's dark. And it doesn't help that the track offers several abrupt changes of direction: left, right, and perhaps the worst, down. I just knew this thing was going to behead me, and I was pretty useless the rest of the ride and the rest of the day. I needn't have worried, I was assured; nothing that horrible had ever happened there.

A year later, it did:

On July 9, 1980, a 23-year-old man was killed and a 27-year-old woman was injured on the Fire in the Hole indoor roller coaster. A train on the roller coaster was accidentally switched to a maintenance track and storage area, which had low-hanging structures across the track. The male passenger's head struck one of these structures, killing him. The accident was ruled a case of human error, and after an investigation the attraction re-opened two days later. The overhanging structures were later removed from the maintenance area.

There was one lesson I learned from this: you must be this brave to enter this attraction, and I wasn't. You'd think I'd know better, having been on an emotional roller coaster ever since, if not day one, certainly year two, when I took a fall down the biggest staircase I'd ever seen. Of course, at that age, how many staircases had I seen? Surely not many; but I would never forget the bottom of that one, and even today I quail at the thought of stairs, though I can generally pass it off as concern over my genuinely bad knees.

Most of my Worst Days come during, or adjacent to, winter: I lost both parents and two out of three siblings during those months. But if "worstest" were a word, it would apply to exactly two days: my actual birthday (which is in November) and the 14th of February, because it's Valentine's Day. As I wrote in 2008:

Being fifty-four instead of fourteen has conferred upon me no additional insight into the matter: I still suffer the occasional crush, the vague longing, and I still wish there was some method to turn it off altogether some method that doesn't involve Dr. Kevorkian, anyway. I rationalize things better today, of course: there's no shame, after all, in being single, and just think how much money I'm saving by not actually dating. And then, of course, along comes February to knock all that feigned sensibleness back into the background, and it peaks today, the fourteenth, when all the Grand Conspirators, Hallmark and Ghirardelli, Teleflora and De Beers, deliver just short of a death blow to all that I am (not so much) and all that I feel (less than that).

It does not help matters to note that the aforementioned parental units got married on the 13th of February. (Which explains my birthday, all by itself.) And so yesterday, I was doing my best to persuade myself that everything was A-OK, and indeed, things weren't particularly awful: I'm going to have to replace a couple of computers this spring, the taxman wants a scary sum by the middle of April, I have apparently scarred myself for life with either scratching of ridiculously dry skin or arteries exploding for the sheer hell of it, and of course my dance card is empty as ever, but hey, I've been through worse, right?

West of the Broadway Distention on I-44 is a quarter-mile lane-swap everybody moves over, nobody has to merge necessitated by the need to install new signage. For the past three weeks, no one during my particular section of rush hour had had any particular problems with it: they roll right, the Jersey barriers roll by, and it's gone as quickly as it arrived. This week, no one seemed to comprehend it at all, and traffic, usually a brisk 55-60, drops to Mickey D's drive-thru speed. I swore vividly at seeing this for the fourth day in a row, and glanced downward to the instrument panel to see how damn slow we were going this time.

And there was the dreaded orange light, the one that tells me nothing except that I'm about to write a very large check. For a moment just a moment I wondered if it would be all that horrible if I scraped myself against the Jersey barriers. If nothing else, I'd be able to get off this damn ride once and for all.

This mood passed, but obviously not completely; if it had, you wouldn't be reading this. The timing, of course, is terrible: I'm closing in on the end of my fourth year of enforced penury, a desperate attempt to reduce a mountain of debt to a molehill. After five years, it's over, and while I'll still owe $60,000 or so on the palatial (but fading) estate at Surlywood, the slate will be otherwise clean, and I'll have, if not tons of money, certainly several kilograms more than I have to work with today. (I'm already planning World Tour '16, assuming I haven't blown the rest of my arteries by then.) But I am weary of up-down, up-down, up-down, wondering which of the downturns is going to take my head off.

The Vent

  14 February 2014

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 Copyright © 2014 by Charles G. Hill