Tag Archives: Heights

I’m a Turtle on a Roller Coaster

What would summer be without a visit to an amusement park and a trip on a roller coaster or similar thrill ride?

I’ll tell you what it would be: a helluva lot better.

Miss out on the vertigo-inducing stomach-churning “fun” of feeling weightless on the Toss-a-Hurl or the Vertical Death Drop From Hell?

Yeah, no thanks.

My idea of fun has nothing to do with being strapped to a seat and flung sideways and upside down as if I were doing aerial acrobatics with the Blue Angels.

Gravity and I have a very special relationship: I don’t test it and in return, it keeps my feet on the ground.

I am petrified of heights and get wobbly in the knees just looking at photos from atop skyscrapers or the towers of bridges.

Ferris wheels and gondola rides, for instance, terrify me because they are up so high and they move so slowly, which just prolongs the agony.

Now, lest you think I am a killjoy, let me say that I have in fact tried a number of thrill rides, always against my better judgment.

I am not talking about the most extreme rides like the Skyrush at Hersheypark (five Gs at the base of the first drop alone), Kingda Ka at Six Flags Great Adventure in Jackson, N.J., (a 418-foot drop) or Intimidator 305 at Kings Dominion in Virginia (90 mph with hairpin turns).

My adventures would be seen almost tame by comparison.

In most cases, I have been silly enough to look at the rides from the ground and think “Oh, how bad could that be?”

Such was the case when my wife and I took the boys to Disney World. We were in what would be considered the tamer kiddie-ride section.

One of the rides was a roller coaster called the Barnstormer featuring the character Goofy. The “Thrill Level” on the ride’s description says “Small drops.”


I cast a wary eye as I watched the cars hug the curved tracks and listened to the metallic clanking as they zipped past.

But from where I stood, the tracks looked pretty low and Meg convinced me it would be harmless fun.

Here’s the thing I should have recalled from my high school physics class – an object going that fast must have picked up momentum from some place.

And that some place, it turns out, was from atop of a very high peak.

As Meg tells it, as the roller coaster began its steep climb, I became like a turtle withdrawing into its shell.

I hunched my shoulders and bowed my head as if it were retracting into my neck.

And then I did what any rational adult in these circumstances would do: I closed my eyes. And swore. Very loudly.

The precipitous plunge was punctuated by my wailing and extending the vowel sound in a word that sounds duck.

That was the final time I was on a roller coaster. This turtle is not coming out of its shell again.


Taking Fear to New Heights

Taking Fear to New Heights

For me, fear is an invisible emotional or mental “weakness” that I have historically refused myself permission to give in to.

My attitude has long been that it’s an effort of will: You can push through fear and pretend it’s not really there.

But I learned something recently that turned that line of thinking on its head.

Here is my story:

I have had a lifetime fear of heights, with many a social engagement marred by my acrophobia

It’s one reason why, for instance, I can barely watch a trailer for “The Walk” about Philippe Petit’s high-wire walk between the World Trade Center towers in 1974, much less think about seeing the entire movie.

The very first Broadway play I saw was “Deathtrap” at the Music Box Theater in the late ’70s with my mom. I was very excited until we got there and I realized we had mezzanine seats.

I was OK when the lights went out and we could focus on the play but when the lights were back on and I could see where we were, well, to borrow a phrase from my younger son: I think I threw up a little in my mouth.

Same thing when I bought tickets for a Cirque du Soleil show at the Prudential Center in Newark, N.J. When we got there, I discovered the seats were so high and on such a steep pitch that I could not stay.

My wife and son watched the show as I climbed the stairs — almost on all fours — and waited in the hallway for the performance to finish.

So when my wife was planning a visit to Big Sur in California along the Pacific Coast Highway, she emphasized that she wanted me to be OK with the heights and narrow, curving roads.

I watched a YouTube video of a drive along the road and thought: “Yeah, I can handle this. I don’t want to be a party pooper on our trip and she is excited to show this to me.”

You can figure out the rest.

About an hour into the drive, we reached the serpentine cliffs. I was white-knuckled, my palms sweaty.

The low point came when we crossed the narrow Bixby Bridge, which seems to levitate over this canyon. I wanted to kiss the pavement when we made it to the other side.

I never relinquish the wheel because I am a lousy passenger — I get car sick easily.

So when we headed out for another two hours on these steep, cliffside roads, my wife knew I was in trouble when I abruptly pulled over and asked her to drive.

I could not go on. And here’s the thing: I did not stop being afraid just because I stopped driving.

I was curled up in the back seat, my face buried into my shoulder, one hand gripping the door handle until I had no feeling in my fingers and rhythmically praying.

I’ve long resisted limitations – either of my own doing or outside forces — being placed on my ability to get things done.

You’re talking about a guy whose signature phrase is “It’s fine” or “I’ll be fine” when confronted with an illness, a physical injury, lack of sleep or some kind of emotional hurt.

My act of bravery here was having the confidence to give into my fear instead of trying to pretend I could persevere.

What I learned was that it’s sometimes OK not to “man up” but to instead ask for help.

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