Tim's Turn - November 2018


To the Front of the Line

I am perfectly content these days to go to an amusement park and not ride a single ride. At least a single “thrill” ride, that is. I guess there is some truth in the “been there, done that” adage. Up until about 10 years ago, I would visit a park and not leave until I rode every single coaster at least once.

As a reporter for Amusement Business, I always tried to be assigned to new ride premieres and always found a reason to do a midseason story on a couple coaster-heavy parks. It was a great way to make a living. During my 18 years at the publication, I rode nearly 500 different coasters in 29 countries. 

Of course, riding rides was a lot easier when I was on official business. I usually had a public relations (PR) escort to the front of the line, so there was no time wasted standing in a queue. Sometimes I would get dirty looks from people who had been waiting in line for an hour or so.

I remember one guy at Cedar Point, a park with notoriously popular coasters. As I walked up the “Magnum XL-200” exit ramp, led by a PR representative, and got into the front car, this guy started bad-mouthing me. Even after the PR rep explained, he was still unhappy. Much to the chagrin of my escort, I looked at the guy and calmly said, “Yeah, and I didn’t have to pay to get in either.” Luckily the train pulled out, leaving him looking aghast on the platform. I remember getting a displeased look from my PR representative.

Today, as I amble past those same thrill rides, I enjoy watching the younger generation enjoying them as much as I used to. All those inversions, drops, and turns just don’t agree with the arthritis in my neck, so unfortunately, I pass when the opportunity presents itself. 

I wish I were as tough as the late and great Ruth Voss, the PR director at Kings Island for about 15 years until she retired after the 1989 season, due to her severe arthritis. On most mornings during Kings Island’s operating season in the ’80s, Ruth was able to receive what she called a “four-minute body shake” that helped loosen up her body. A ride on “The Beast” will do that. 

Once she completed one or two rides, she officially began her day.

I first met Ruth in March 1979 about a month prior to the opening of “The Beast.” We spoke of the new behemoth woodie, and she was quite proud of the fact that she was instrumental in getting it named “The Beast.” I was working for a newspaper in Columbus, Ohio, at the time and was invited to partake in opening ceremonies. The event was held on a chilly and rainy Friday morning on April 13, 1979. 

The ribbon was cut as all the invited VIPs and journalists crowded onto the platform, waiting for the first ride to be dispatched. The train loaded, and there was one empty seat. Nobody claimed it and Ruth motioned for me to jump in. Off we went, and there I was on the first official ride of “The Beast.” What a memory! And I didn’t have to pay to get in!

Tim O’Brien is a veteran outdoor entertainment journalist and is a longtime Funworld contributor. He has authored many books chronicling the industry’s attractions and personalities and is the only journalist in the IAAPA Hall of Fame.