Wednesday, December 7, 2011

From Viper to Ninja

I don't remember ever paying regular admission to Six Flags Magic Mountain. The first time we ever went had to have been during Toys for Tots' annual toy drive, where giving a toy valued at $10 or more gets you free admission for that day. This year, it's $20 or more, and it's fitting that it should go up that high since this will be our last visit, because it may go higher next year, as it's steadily risen every year or so. There's a blog called The Coaster Guy (, devoted to Magic Mountain, and this guy said that the crowds were light last Sunday. We're going on Saturday, but I'm still holding out hope that it's not crowded then either, not only because the weather's likely to remain cold, but also because $20 or more is a fairly steep price if you're bringing along, say, five or more people. We're four, so that's $80+ of toys, and I handled that last weekend at Big Lots.

The first time we went to Magic Mountain, probably in 2004 or 2005, I became hooked on Viper. Its vertical loops make the ride seem so slow, and it made going upside down easier to do. Plus, there's a double-corkscrew toward the end, which was a lot of fun.

I went there, many times, did that, got the t-shirt, literally. I still have it in my closet. I was a different person back then, though. I wanted to get things done in this valley. What they were at that time, I wasn't sure yet, but once The Signal, the exclusive newspaper of this valley, presented the opportunity of an internship, I knew that I wanted to get somewhere in journalism, but not the standard way. I wanted to be a full-time film critic somewhere. This was a few years before the industry's collapse, so there was still hope. Viper was perfect for me because it didn't muck about. It was sure of what it was and it would lead you through a straightforward experience. What you see is what you get. Plus, on the way up, there's a slight view of some of the park.

Six years later, Viper is no longer my favorite rollercoaster. This may have coincided with ending my time at The Signal, writing my first book, and trying to figure out just what I wanted to do with my life, which now I know is being a full-time campus supervisor once we move to Henderson, and reading and writing more books. Back then, between The Signal and What If They Lived?, ambiguity was necessary. What kind of life did I want? What would make me happy? Also, as the years wore on when I was a member of the Online Film Critics Society, I felt more and more like I was running on a hamster wheel, since every year, there were the movies in January that studios had no faith in, there was the summer movie season, and there was the awards season in the final three months of the year. For us, that meant screeners from various studios, and voting on our own awards. There was a ballot e-mailed to determine what we wanted to see nominated, and then the totals from that determined what was nominated. Then a second ballot came to vote on the winners.

I grew to loathe the clockwork nature of it. It was a novelty when I was a new member, but it soon became a slog. I let my membership lapse because of the book and because I still wanted to enjoy movies. I would never be a full-time film critic, and I was ok with that.

Viper must not have fulfilled the need I suddenly had for ambiguity, for a bit of mystery, for more imagination. On one visit to Magic Mountain, I walked up the steep, winding path to Samurai Summit (It now boasts Superman: Escape from Krypton, which used to be Superman: The Escape before the remodel, and now has the storyline I thought of when I went on it in its original form, that of the infant Kal-El escaping from an exploding Krypton, and reaching Earth), and there was Ninja.

Whatever compelled me to try Ninja has long been forgotten, but it happened in the last three years, and I've been hooked on it ever since. It's a suspended swinging roller coaster, meaning the ride vehicles are hung below the track.

The track of Ninja is buried amidst trees. From the vantage point of the nearby Sky Tower (near Ninja's entrance and loading station), you still can't see the track all that well. And on it, it feels like you're zooming through a forest, especially on the immensely pleasureable sharp turns which hit at least 2 Gs. And then there's the piece at the end when it seems like you just barely graze the water at the side of the Jetstream ride before going up that hill to the loading station. That end would seem anticlimactic to some, but not to me, because there's tall trees on one side as you go up the hill and it all lends itself to extreme bouts of imagination.

The Coaster Guy's profile of Ninja ( does a far better job of showing it off than I can, and with photos. I don't imagine pixies or anything like that as I rush past the trees, but it is a different, most welcome world. It doesn't reveal itself so readily. You have to go to it to know it, unlike Tatsu, in which you can see the riders hanging stomach-side down as the ride vehicle goes up that lift hill. I will never go on that one, but knowing where the area is that you can watch the vehicles pull out of the loading station, I intend to stand there on Saturday and shout at the riders, "Can I have all your stuff?!"

I have been on Ninja four and five times at a shot and it never gets old for me. There is always something in the landscape to consider, and always that nearly orgasmic pleasure of those two sharp turns. Considering that Gotham City Backlot recently re-opened as D.C. Universe and now boasts a Green Lantern rollercoaster, and remembering the continued popularity of Tatsu, I'm hoping that these elements let me get on Ninja as many times as I want without it ever getting too crowded. Plus, with the cold weather remaining, it increases the chances of that exponentially.

Addendum at 3:41 p.m.: The work day is done, and Meridith told me that the only time we paid admission to Six Flags Magic Mountain was when we visited Los Angeles and surrounding areas for 10 days in April 2003, even driving to San Diego for one job interview, the only time I remember it not taking so long to get to San Diego, unlike the time we drove to Legoland for the day in September of last year.

So then I got hooked on Viper on that visit, not in 2004 or 2005, and even got the t-shirt right then and there.