I grew up in the shadow of Great Adventure. We barely went to any other amusement parks and certainly never another Six Flags park. But in the Dallas area is a Six Flags park, and indeed, the Six Flags park: Six Flags Over Texas, the one that started the chain. When debating whether to do the daft thing of going to the Women's World Pinball Championship, the fact that we could fit in a trip to a park we'd otherwise never see was potent. With us safely dodging the PinMasters finals we had Sunday free to spend the day at my second-ever, and bunny_hugger's third-ever, Six Flags park.
A technicality: Six Flags Over Texas is now, debatably, a Six Flags park. While it gave birth to the Six Flags chain and obviously still has the name, it is merely operated by the Six Flags corporation. The park is owned by Texas Flags, Limited, one of those finance companies that does nothing, but which is headed by the guy that owned the park before Time-Warner and later Premier Parks bought Six Flags. To complicate matters, according to Wikipedia, Six Flags Entertainment Corporation owns 53 percent of Texas Flags, Limited. So the point is that it's a Six Flags park, but also slightly not.
We had no idea what to expect for park conditions; this is two months before we'd ever even think of an amusement park. The park's season runs from March to December, inviting the question of whether they actually have an off-season. But: would it be crowded? Or would we have an easy day of riding stuff? The answer seemed to be doom as the entry path had signs warning of high attendance. We were there the last day of the Spring Break Out. Which boded ill for getting to ride lots of stuff, but when else could we possibly have gone?
Our first --- indeed, our only --- objective was the park's wooden roller coaster, Judge Roy Scream. The ride's way off on the far end of the park, through a pedestrian subway underneath the approach road, and opposite a narrow lagoon from the rest of the park. But this does give it street visibility: you can see the ride while driving just near the park, and as we drove home that night it was the last thing we saw, after leaving the parking lot. The queue? Barely there at all. Perhaps it was the ride's distant location. Perhaps the fears of a packed day were overblown.
We got up front --- no wait! --- and just before getting in the car bunny_hugger took out a sheet of paper. On it, in the biggest available typeface, was the number 200.
Because bunny_hugger had started tracking the number of different roller coasters she's ridden, and per the statistics gathered at coaster-count.com, she had finished the 2016 season with 199 ridden roller coasters. This would be a milestone. We'd been thinking what to make the 200th ride. There's a little coaster in a family fun center about 80 miles from our home. There's a new wooden roller coaster opening in Kings Island this year. There's whatever Cedar Point's Mean Streak will be rebuilt as. There's the Sea Dragon at the Columbus Zoo, which we might have picked up on the side at AnthrOhio. And in the end, while it's not a roller coaster we expect to be able to visit --- what a story! To start the roller coaster season in a brand-new park, on a wooden roller coaster, and that after competing in a world's championship pinball tournament? Fantastic!
Also a ride we liked a good bit too. Judge Roy Scream is a simple enough ride, an out-and-back, about seventy feet tell. It feels a good bit like Cedar Point's Blue Streak. But we like Blue Streak. And we like Judge Roy Scream, too; it's a good, exciting ride, with a fine setting. We liked the ride operators, too, who were curious about the 200 sign --- surely they've had other people ride this as a milestone coaster? --- and congratulatory about it.
So it was a great choice for bunny_hugger's 200th roller coaster.
The next day, when we were back home, she went to log all the new rides and discovered something terrible. She had failed to log two of the rides at Rye Playland which she had been on. This was not her 200th coaster. It was at minimum her 202nd. Her milestone coaster was the Thunderbird, at Holiday World, that we rode in May of last year. It was during the visit that met us up with my sister and her family, and coincidentally saw the health crash of our pet rabbit that was the first of his final year's health crises.
She was deflated.
It set off a lively debate in our house about the meaning of a milestone. To take measuring something seriously is to learn there is an essential futility in measuring it. There is an unavoidable imprecision that creeps in to even our best and most honest efforts. What is it to ride 200 different roller coasters? How many roller coasters did bunny_hugger or I ride as children, having the experience but not remembering it afterwards? There's an age past which she can be sure she didn't ride roller coasters, but what about before that? There's roller coasters she can deduce she rode or did not ride, based on records of what was available at parks she could visit at what times, but is that the same as remembering riding them? Is a roller coaster changed by its being moved? Is it changed by retracking Is it changed by an important element being removed or added? By conversion from a stand-up to a seated coaster?
The milestone coaster would always have been 200 from some arbitrarily selected starting point, with a certain error in counting each ride. How does that change the meaning of the accomplishment? Does it? How would the dispiriting aspect of it change if the mistake were found a month later instead, or a year later, or a decade later?
A friend shared a consoling anecdote. She, a Barenaked Ladies fan, made an event of her 100th concert, even getting a shout-out from the band for it. And then learned she had miscounted and was somewhere over 100 Barenaked Ladies concerts when that happened. What does that do to change the meaning of the observance?
After debate, bunny_hugger sent the picture of her milestone ride in to the American Coaster Enthusiasts, for (hopefully) inclusion in their newsletter's milestone-rides photographs section. They don't print stories alongside it, a shame, as I think it's a good one.
And there is this consolation: her 200th coaster, we now know or believe we know, is at Holiday World. She'd not have picked a steel coaster if she knew --- not that any coaster is bad, but that we like wood --- but it is at a park we can visit anytime we want to make a weekend trip, and a park we love to visit. Somehow Thunderbird is changed too, and by a wholly unrelated trip to Rye Playland. Why does that happen?
Trivia: The German chemist Martin Heinrich Klaptoth discovered zirconium and uranium in the same year. Source: Molecules At An Exhibition: The Science of Everyday Life, John Emsley.
Currently Reading: Invisible: The Dangerous Allure of the Unseen, Philip Ball.