Breathless in Rockaway
by Stanley Raffes
 

Passing 97th Street in Far Rockaway still makes me hungry, and gives me vertigo.

I think back to 1957, the old Playland amusement park. I'm welded to my seat under a thick metal bar, about to be tortured in the Atom Smasher Roller Coaster like a reluctant NASA test pilot who has lied about his age and flight credentials. My three older cousins smile sadistically at me while I try not to think about my terror and the three undigested hot dogs with sauerkraut churning like a high speed blender in my lower abdomen. It's father's day and we've been traveling in bumper-to-bumper traffic for the entire hot, two-hour ride from Mt. Vernon.

I immediately bolt out of my uncle's Plymouth Fury for my four minute thirty-five second out of body experience in the legendary roller coaster. I'm frozen in the very last car as we lurch higher and higher into the stratosphere. Then the sadistic wooden monster explodes into a series of loops and decents like the vintage WWII era Blue Angels flight show careening end over end, very low over the heads of a hushed Memorial Day crowd who can count every rivet in both wings. My cousins' gleeful screams travel back to me as if I'm in an echo chamber. I'm a trapped passenger in an out-of-control Porsche with no brakes. I squeeze the metal bar with white knuckles for the final descent as if I were skiing down the icy side of Everest without poles. Finally, the exhausted dragon comes to a panting halt.

Then, unlocked from our metal cages, my cousin and I, dizzy but still hungry, wobble back to the hot dog stand, each of us clutching ten more orange tickets, desperate for our next ride on the Atom Smasher.