“You’re not from Brooklyn until you’ve ridden the Cyclone,” chastised a pal trying to woo me aboard the wooden warrior which I had always eyed with chills instead of thrills.
My entire life, I had kept the world-famous brute with its own address — 834 Surf Avenue — at bay, content most summers to watch from the sidelines as squealing thrill seekers rode the wavy snake rumored to have once inspired a mute rider to spit out his first words: “I’m going to be sick.”
I watched enviously as revelers entered what appeared to be a cavern, re-emerging moments later shrieking at the top of their lungs — the brave ones saluting the air with up-flung arms. They dipped, dropped, surged, soared, twisted, turned, jolted and jerked in what appeared to be heart-pounding, blood-curdling, spine-tingling glee.
Shamed by my pal, I decided that my time had arrived for a gutsy go on the merry monster, which Jack and Irving Rosenthal paid $100,000 to have built, and which charged 25 cents a pop when it first opened on June 26, 1927.
Then, my big day dawned. I thought only of the major bragging rights that lay ahead as my friend and I approached the mechanical Goliath, purchased by the city for one million dollars when Coney Island was in decline and elevated to a National Landmark in 1991.
The “cavern” I had always wondered about ended up being a charming, Norman Rockwell-esque platform manned by a small crew of cordial working stiffs. Upon it stood the first of two carriages, each able to hold about 20 people.
Before I could say “blimey,” my friend huddled me into the second car, the affable ride operator barricaded us in, and I pronounced eagerly to the two young lads excitedly bobbing in front of us that I was beginning my maiden voyage.
“You won’t have a heart attack,” I remember one boy kvelling before the moment that I had been wrestling with for more than two decades emotionally arrived.
As the carriage trundled along the platform, we passed a sign that ominously read, “Last warning. Remain seated and hold bars at all times.”
I began the slow, almost sweet, ascent to the apex of no return, howling like a banshee to displace the butterflies flapping in my knotted stomach. At first, the warlock lulled me into a false sense of security, lumbering at a steady pace for several yards — before all hell broke loose!
I zoomed headlong into a man-made abyss from which there was no escape, but just at the brink of no return, the master took mercy and recovered me like a baby from a free fall only to thrash me about again like a rag doll. Ruthlessly, he whipped me and my guts around a harsh hairpin turn. No recovery this time. Only another punishing plunge into another pitiless abyss, followed by another unforgiving, 180-degree bend, and on and on and on, stripping me of dignity, sense and function for one of the most exhilarating minute and 50 seconds of my life.
For its final hurrah, the skillful Cyclone ran amok like a runaway horse, as if to veer off the rails before bringing me to a clean finish at home plate.
The real horror was the realization that I had voluntarily succumbed to this 2,640-foot-long aerial brute, which measured 75 feet by 500 feet, was 85 feet tall, featured 12 drops — the first of which was 85 feet at a precarious 58-degree angle — which changed direction 16 times, which boasted six 180-degree turns and 27 elevation changes, which crisscrossed over its track 18 times and which, like North America’s fastest land mammal (the pronghorn antelope, if you’re wondering), sped at 60 miles an hour, offering pleasure mongers the wildest rides of their lives.