I’ve no idea how many times in my life I’ve encountered the euphemistic term, “roller-coaster ride,”—as applied to the moments in life that tend to come as alloyed nostalgias and hybrid heartbreaks.
You know the tired old bromide, “life is just one roller-coaster ride,” which, of course, by itself has all the reflexive currency of the guy at my supermarket that slaps his own knee in levity after asking me “are you working hard—or hardly working?”
The issue with clichés is—they become so boilerplate—so pedestrian—so mind-numbingly banal—that any real imputed value goes out the window; the philosophical infant gets catapulted right along with the hypothetical bath water.
The phrase itself came to me presently as I was driving towards San Francisco with my 15-year-old daughter. This trip was my birthday gift to her, you know a “hang out with Dad,” sort of caper. Over to the right, near Vallejo, is a Six Flags park with a rather prominent snarl of roller-coasters visible from the highway.
I looked at my daughter. And It all hit me. The inferred “bumpy ride” that had always been the simplistic takeaway from the phrase in question was now sublimated to another—even scarier thought.
The roller-coaster experience is primarily about expectations. We stand in line—many times for an hour or more, waiting for the ride to bring us on board. We see the height-requirement signs, the hullabaloo, the riff-raff, and the red-faced exultants coming out the exit. We stare at each other in expectation from below, listening to our forerunners scream in the middle of their experience.
Just like being a dad. I’ve spent the last fifteen years in line with this kid, sometimes talking to her, sometimes distracted by the ride itself. I’ve talked to those who’ve gone before me, trying to gain any shred of insider knowledge before I am committedly strapped in.
Finally, what seemed to be a long, and patience-testing wait is all mollified by the staging area—the place where all the adrenaline lives; the place where all the calibrated hydraulics and smell of brakes come together in some odd, but intriguing sum of all parts.
But it’s the committal part of the ride that excites. All of the caveats, seatbelt checks, admonitions to “stow your sunglasses and hats” all become secondary. And off we go—riding high into an assumptive cloud of adventure.
Speed? Check. G-forces? Got em. Bumpy turns and perilous physical moments that requires sudden positional adjustments? You bet. And lots of screaming along the way, too.
Then of course there is the time. We’ve got lots of . . . wait, hey . . . .this thing is . . . .um, . . . over?
It’s over. Ninety seconds later, I could care less about the bumps. The whole thing just ended. Just like that. The ride is now a memory, and an almost depressive, adrenaline dump immediately follows.
Because it all came to a screeching end. Before it even started–it was over.
That—is the lesson of the roller-coaster ride. And as I stepped onto the misty loading dock of Alacatraz with her for another tactile adventure, I can see the life’s beckoning turnstile up ahead–the one telling me you’ve got a matter of days left. Better enjoy it while you can.
We’re in line for a prison tour. But we’re also in line for something bigger. THAT tour is the one that matters. I’m no longer concerned about the bumps and turns–or the nature of the perils that accompany the ride. I can handle all of that. There’s only one thing that scares me.
I simply don’t want it to end.