by John Ellis
I rode my first roller coaster the summer after 6th grade. My family was vacationing at Disney World, and my dad was eager to ride Space Mountain. I don’t remember if he had to cajole me or bribe me into riding, or if I entered the line with great eagerness under my own, unmanipulated will-power. However, I do remember that after we had finally made it to the front of the line, with a serious look on his face and in his tone, my dad pointed to the empty, returning cars and said, “Look. The cars leave with people in them, but return empty. Do you think that’s what all the screaming is about?”
Before I could answer, he ushered me into the car, and we were off.
On that summer day in 1988, my dad taught me a valuable lesson – a large part of the fun of roller coasters is dependent on the rider feeling some level of anticipation and/or fear before getting in the car. A lesson that I was able to begin imparting to my eleven-year old daughter yesterday.
In three-and-a-half hours at Six Flags yesterday, four friends and I rode seven roller coasters. My daughter rode the first two coasters with us, returning to her mother after having bravely faced and conquered two roller coasters worth of steep drops, loops, and even corkscrews. As we got on the first coaster, I told the group, including my daughter, “About a month ago, one of the coasters here broke down, and the riders were stuck for about three hours before firemen could rescue them.” And then we were off.
It’s been over a decade since I’ve ridden that many roller coasters in one day, and it was a fun day of screaming, laughing, and fearfully anticipating the next coaster with friends. Below, I’ve ranked the seven roller coasters that we rode. Hopefully, if you live in the DC area and are planning on visiting Six Flags America or if you are a tourist planning on visiting Six Flags America, my rankings and descriptions will whet your appetite for the coasters and help you plan your visit to Six Flags America.
This was the final coaster that we rode yesterday, and it may be the one and only time I ride Batwing. Not because it doesn’t have its share of thrills from speed, drops, and turns, but because it’s painful to ride. The Batwing is an inverted coaster, which means that the car lays down flat upon takeoff (you’re flat on your back staring at the incredibly bright sun), and then flips over during the first drop, leaving the riders staring at the ground below. And it hurts.
When you’re lying flat on your back, squinting into the sun as you’re slowly being pulled up the first hill, you’re assuming that the padding on the seatbelts will be enough. They are not. Echoing most, if not all, of my friends, I was unable to enjoy the ride because it hurt, really hurt. Maybe if you’re really skinny, that will help. Although, being really skinny may mean that you have even less padding and the ride will hurt even more.
6. Raging Cajun
I’m not sure if the Raging Cajun should technically count as a roller coaster. Imagine the Spinning Teacups on a standard, blah, traveling county fair roller coaster, and you’d come pretty close to the Raging Cajun. It’s not very fast; there are no steep drops; whatever turns are there are not taken very fast. But, the cars spin. So, there’s that, I guess. If getting dizzy is your thing, have fun. For what it’s worth, children seem to really enjoy the Raging Cajun.
This was the first roller coaster that we rode. A stereotypical, wooden coaster, Roar has its fair share of thrills. The first drop is decent, it reaches respectable speeds, and some of the turns could be described as “hairpin” if you massage the normal expectation of “hairpin.” Like many wooden coasters, though, Roar is a fairly rough ride. It doesn’t shake so badly as to ruin the coaster, but it shakes enough to cause me to put Roar pretty far down my list.
4. Apocalypse: The Last Stand
The concept of stand-up coasters is fun, but the execution is often gimmicky and doesn’t add anything to the actual ride. Apocalypse: The Last Stand is a stand-up coaster that is no exception. Don’t misunderstand, it’s a fun coaster with plenty of good thrills, but standing doesn’t add anything. In fact, standing sacrifices some comfort. Keep in mind, I’m a middle-aged man who’s gotten soft in his old age.
3. The Joker’s Jinx
As we got in line, I eyed the tight mix of brightly colored track, and thought, “Yeah, this is going to be an uncomfortable ride. It’s going to whip us around too much, and we’re all going to end up with headaches.” Well, I was mostly wrong, but I’ll get to that later.
The Joker’s Jinx had the second longest line of any of the roller coasters that we rode. As we were waiting in line and talking, I heard the attendant say “Bye” through the microphone in a tone and manner that caused me to pay attention. As soon as the word left her mouth, there was a loud roar and the coaster was gone. As in, almost immediately gone. That upped the anticipation level for all of us.
The Joker’s Jinx goes from 0-60 in 3 seconds (I looked it up) and never slows down through the convoluted maze of twisted, tightly turning track. Considering the open air and the constant twisting and turning, it feels faster than 60, and it’s also a surprisingly smooth ride, until the very end, that is. The coaster reaches a straight-away (well, as “straight-away” as The Joker’s Jinx offers outside of the initial take-off) and your senses catch up. But, as soon as your senses have caught up, you’re slung into a hairpin turn and corkscrew that tosses you around because you’ve relaxed. That wasn’t just my experience; that was the experience of the friends I rode with. You’ll want to ride The Joker’s Jinx, but don’t allow it to lull you into complacency until you know for sure that the ride is over.
2. Wild One
I’m generally not a big fan of wooden coasters because they are often too small for those of over six feet tall and, as I stated above about Roar, they shake too much. While a wooden coaster, Wild One is a smooth (for a coaster, that is), fast ride of steep drops and fun twists and turns. This is a great roller coaster to introduce coaster novices to the thrill of coasters. Not to mention, this is really fun, thrilling coaster for those who are not coaster novices, too.
1. Superman: Ride of Steel
Superman: Ride of Steel was the second to last coaster that we rode. Throughout the afternoon, we kept commenting, “I’m not sure about riding that one.” That comment would frequently be uttered when we would be staring up (way up) at the highest point of the Superman while were at the zenith of another coaster. Superman’s first drop is 20.5 stories high, and the coaster reaches speeds in excess of 70 mph.
One of our group was (maybe still isn’t) a big fan of roller coasters, but throughout the afternnon he gamely went along for the ride(s). He was adamant that he was not going to ride Superman, though. But he did. Our group also included a seasoned rollercoaster aficionado. On roller coasters, I generally have my hands up. I don’t think that this friend ever put his hands down on the first five coasters we rode. As we waited in line, staring up at the 20.5 story drop, I confessed that I would not be putting my hands in the air, but would be hanging on for dear life. My friend scoffed and declared that his hands would be up. I replied, “I’m going to hold you to that.”
By the time that we got to the front of the line, the one friend was a mess. He had so psyched himself out, that he was basically already shaking as he climbed into the car. I sat in the front car with the rollercoaster loving friend, our terrified friend behind us. As the car began the ascent, I turned and said, “100 feet,” and then “150 feet,” continuing to tease my friend behind me. To be honest, I wasn’t doing that so much as to scare my friend behind me, but in a failed attempt to take my mind off the fact that the car was still going up and we were already higher than I was comfortable with.
As we neared the very top, I turned to the friend beside me and said, “Brother, I ain’t going to hold you to your promise. You don’t have to put your hands up.” He replied, “Don’t worry, I’m not.” And then we went over the edge.
Being in the front car means that there is a brief, terrifying moment of lag until the cars behind you push you over. In that brief, terrifying lag, being in the front car means that there is nothing but air in front of you. And then the coaster takes off. And, man, does the Superman take off.
The Superman: Ride of Steel is one of the most terrifyingly fun rushes of adrenaline that I’ve ever experienced on a coaster. I screamed so hard on the way down, that I’m still a little hoarse today. When you reach the bottom of the 20.5 story, first drop, you are catapulted up a hill that is as high as most roller coaster’s initial drop. Down that hill, another hill immediately looms. All the way to the end.
If you visit Six Flags America, and you should, don’t let the extreme height of The Superman: Ride of Steel cause you to skip it. Trust me, even though you will be cursing my name as you ascend that first hill, by the time you reach the end, you will be thanking me. Well, you’ll be thanking me once you’ve caught your breath and can speak.
 Going to the park’s website to make sure that I remembered the coasters’ names correctly, I discovered that there is a roller coaster there that we did not ride. We left assuming that we had ridden them all. Yesterday feels less complete now, and I now feel as if I might not deserve to write this article after all.
 The Raging Cajun had the longest line; the line was filled with children. For most of the coasters, we waited less than ten minutes. Keep in mind, we went on Mother’s Day, and this time of year, most of the tourists to DC are school groups who use the weekend to travel.
 On wooden coasters, my knees are frequently and painfully banging against the car’s bolts. The Georgia Cyclone at the Six Flags in Atlanta has bloodied my knees.