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Fear and loathing at Six Flags

The scariest thing at an amusement park isn't the rides. It's the teenagers.

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The last time I visited Six Flags Over Georgia I had braces. Which isn't to say I was very young, because I definitely was not. It was around 2004, I was around 22 — a senior in college — and I had adult braces. See, a few months earlier, my friend John and I were having one hell of a night out on the town. We'd been dancing at a local bar and snuck out to the parking lot to take a sip of vodka out of a bottle he had stashed in his car. The sidewalk in front of the bar was under construction, had been for months, and was lined with those orange and white construction barrels, the ones with the reflectors protruding from their tops. In order to demonstrate what a fun, carefree 22-year-old time I was having, I gave one of the barrels a good kick in what would have been its gut if barrels had guts. I didn't expect it would kick back. Right where my foot hit it, the barrel bent sharply, pushing the reflector light forward into my face, knocking my front tooth nearly parallel to the roof of my mouth. The orthodontist who applied the braces I wore for nine months, a friendly faced guy who forever played contemporary Christian music in his office, thought this was hilarious. He said it reminded him of that show "When Animals Attack," except better because my aggressor was an inanimate object.

Since then, I've lived in constant fear of sustaining injury or illness while having fun. It's maybe the only thing worse — at least more embarrassing — than being angry and naked at the same time. Or crying until you vomit.

These are the thoughts and memories that plagued me during my most recent visit to Six Flags a couple weekends ago. How funny we are to pay a lot of money to have fun while feeling vaguely unsafe. Not to say that the rides at Six Flags are in anyway unsafe, but wouldn't they be a little less exciting if we didn't imagine ourselves flying out of the restraints on the Superman ride or having our heads lopped off on the impossibly compact Georgia Cyclone? Feeling like I am seconds away from part or all of me becoming a projectile makes me feel so alive.

A big contributor to the constant, exhilarating consciousness of my mortality was the fact that Six Flags appears to be operated almost exclusively by teenagers. Not small people with adult braces, but honest-to-God young people. They sell pretzels. They push the buttons that make the rides go. They walk from row to row before the rides depart to ensure with a single downward push that the safety restraints have, in fact, engaged and you're not about to become a stain on the sidewalk. This reality really struck me when we got on the Georgia Scorcher, a relatively new ride proudly sponsored by Georgia Natural Gas. It's a standing coaster, so instead of sitting, you kind of straddle this crotchy thing that connects to the bars that go over each shoulder. I had to climb up to hoist my left leg over the middle part, which seemed weird because even though I'm short, everyone else's feet were touching the ground and mine were dangling. I gestured to one of the ride's operators — a lanky 17- or 18-year-old — and asked if something was wrong. He nodded, shoved the apparatus a good four inches lower, and moved on.

If you haven't been to Six Flags during the past several years, you probably haven't been on Goliath, and therefore, you haven't lived. The park website's expert description: "It's big, it's mean, and it wants to take you for a ride. Meet Goliath, the gigantic steel coaster the other rides call 'Sir.'" Goliath is the best ride at the park — oddly, it had one of the shortest lines all three times we rode it — and one of the best roller coasters I've ever been on. Again, it is fun because it is terrifying. There are no shoulder restraints, just a triangular crotchy thing (I'm sorry for overusing "crotchy thing") with a couple of handles on either side. Flying out seems so plausible.

There are lots of prizes to win and things to buy at Six Flags, so many of which seem awful to have. I felt so bad for the lady we saw carrying around a gigantic stoned-looking stuffed banana in a Rasta hat at, like, noon because her beau was able to prove what a badass he is by pounding something with an oversized mallet. Sorry, ma'am. Your day now belongs to a Rasta banana. Oh, and squid hats. Six Flags is packed with kids wearing squid hats. Somehow they've convinced their parents that a thing they really needed was a hat shaped like a squid — penis-shaped head, tentacles flowing down around their shoulders. Why squid? Why the fuck not squid? Amusement parks could sell actual rotting, stinking squids-on-a-stick, and if one child had one, dozens more would need them. Several stands also sell novelty top hats. It's very confusing to me that people are wandering around an amusement park in the summertime seeking out large, fur-covered things to wear on their heads. I imagine the thought process goes something like: "Since the rides aren't gonna kill me, maybe the heat will do it." Incidentally, all the people wearing one sure looked like they were having fun.

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