Nitro’s Check Mark

I took my teenage niece, nephew, and their friend to Six Flags Great Adventure yesterday (August 10, 2018). My husband and I have given Niece and Nephew season passes to Six Flags Great Adventure for Christmas every year since 2015.

What I love most about our gift is that I also get a season pass, which allows me to spend time with them at the park several times a year. Each visit is special to me because it’s our thing, and it’s a great way to help provide a break for my sister-in-law and brother-in-law. If I had a nickel for how many times we laughed together or for each memory we made or silly story we told, I’d be a millionaire by now.

Nephew knows more about Six Flags rides and parks than anyone I’ve ever met. He can tell you when a ride made its park debut, who built it, who designed it, and what park received the ride it might have replaced. He understands the physics and design elements that goes into building a ride and if you ask him what park in the United States had the first looping roller coaster, he will know the answer.

When it comes to actually going on the rides, Niece is fearless and she will go on anything.  Meanwhile, Nephew and I have a similar sense of moderate adventure and we tend to stick to the middle-of-the-road rides and coasters, then when we are ready, we’ll attempt riding a more extreme one.

Our favorite ride is Skull Mountain, which is a fun, little inside coaster that operates in the dark. Two summers ago, Nephew and I set a personal record for going on Skull Mountain 22 times in a row, which took a little over two hours. We only stayed on the ride when the ride queue was empty five times; the rest of the time we got out and walked around. It probably wasn’t my best decision, in hindsight, since I flew to Dublin the following day with a splitting headache.

Our last ride conquests were Superman: Ultimate Flight and Green Lantern at the end of last summer. I was surprised how much I enjoyed the Superman experience, considering riders are face down to simulate Superman’s flight. We conquered Bizarro in April of 2017. Man, that one is fast! It’s like the Batman coaster after it had three energy drinks and a shot of super-charged espresso. Batman: The Ride has always been one of my favorites, and we conquered that one together in 2015 at Six Flags Great Adventure’s Holidays in the Park.

The coasters Nephew and I haven’t found the courage to ride yet are notoriously extreme, and we weren’t sure which coaster we’d be brave enough to conquer this year.

Enter Nitro.

Nitro, from the Six Flags Great Adventure website

When Nitro opened in 2001, it was the tallest and fastest roller coaster in New Jersey (Kingda Ka stole those honors from Nitro a few years later). While Nitro does not have any inversions, it is 230 feet high at its peak (which takes almost 60 seconds to climb) and reaches speeds up to 80 miles per hour in its two minute, twenty second mile-long course.

I went on Nitro once while chaperoning a school trip in 2005, thinking it would be like either Rolling Thunder and Scream Machine, two classic, now long-gone, coasters I loved.

I was completely wrong.

Nitro nearly killed me.

Well, maybe not killed, but the experience scared me tremendously.

I ended up uncontrollably shaking and trembling when I walked off the ride, my legs like jelly and my arm muscles sore for several days later due to how much I strained them as I held onto the restraint as tight as I could.

I vowed I was forever done with the infernal contraption known as Nitro.

I shared my Nitro story with Nephew on several occasions, including yesterday when we safely sat and waited for Niece and Friend to return from Friend’s first time riding the steel beast.

Nephew is older now, and I could see the curiosity twinkling in his eye as he told me what he knew about Nitro while he watched a car roaring along its track. “It was designed by B and M,” he said, “and they have a great safety record.”

There was no doubt about it. He was ready to take the Nitro leap and I wasn’t about to let my fear hold him back.

Niece and Friend returned rather quickly since the wait time was a few minutes at best, and Friend absolutely loved the Nitro experience.

Nephew said that if Friend could do it, he could too.

All three looked at me with pleading eyes but I stubbornly shook my head. “You guys have a great time!” I said as I bid them farewell, then I walked over to where people on the ground could see Nitro’s ride cars leave the loading area. Nephew was safely seated between Niece and Friend as their car passed by, their arms flailing in enthusiastic waves.

“Bye!” they yelled in unison.

They returned 140 seconds later with Nephew wearing the widest smile I’ve ever seen on his face. He gave me a thumbs up from up on high as he jubilantly shrieked, “It was awesome!”

Dammit.

I knew what I had to do.

A minute later, they surrounded me as they jumped around in sheer excitement and joy. A chorus of “please?”s rose up.  Nephew looked me right in my eyes and said, “You can do it. I did it, and so can you.”

I remembered a story told by a colleague who was in a similar situation. Her grandson wanted her to go on a thrill ride with him, and her outlook was, “I can do anything for two minutes.”

Realizing that I could too, I sighed then nodded my head as I said, “Okay.”

A whoop emanated from all three as Niece took my hand to lead me to certain death.

“You’re lucky I love you,” I grumbled as we walked through the air gate to the seats in Row 4.

My pulse raced as I sat down between Niece and Nephew, with Friend to Nephew’s left. The yellow restraints locked and were subsequently checked by the ride attendants. It’s a good thing mine was secure because at the last second, I cried, “I don’t want to do this!” and I honestly would have ran if I could.

However, it was zero hour and flight was not an option.

After the “visual scan” and “all clear” over the loudspeaker by what I was sure was the Grim Reaper disguised as Nitro’s head supervisor, our car was set free.

Nitro, from the Six Flags Great Adventure website

I closed my eyes and leaned my head as far back into my seat as possible. With each upward click, I squeezed Niece’s hand a little tighter. She, along with Nephew and Friend, found my reaction highly amusing. I think they were all laughing, but I can’t exactly remember because I was concentrating so hard on praying for redemption.

“Here we go, Aunt Jill!” Niece shouted as we reached Nitro’s summit.

This is it.

I. Am. Going. To. Die.

Within seconds, we were traveling down the 215-feet drop at the advertised eighty miles-per-hour.  I’m pretty sure my heart rate matched the number of expletives I let fly.

“I’m going to die! My eyes are closed! My eyes are open! No, they’re not! I’m going to die!”

Towards the end of the journey to my undeniable demise, Niece yelled, “Bunny hops!!”

I opened my eyes to see the blue and yellow hilly path we were on as we smoothly rode over each bump. It was surprisingly much smoother than the Runaway Mine Train bunny hops at the end of its path, that was for sure.

“Hold on!”

The car suddenly came to a halting stop.

And I was alive.

Sure, my legs were once again like jelly as we walked off the ride, and I felt a surge of electricity pulsing through my entire body.

But it was a good energy, and I did not die.

The sleek, wicked-fast roller coaster was one of the smoothest rides I’ve ever experienced, and the sensation of weightlessness was exhilarating.

I looked at Nephew, who threw his arms around me and exclaimed, “I’m so proud of you!” Niece and friend hugged me too. “You did it, Aunt Jill!”

Somewhere along the ride route, a remote camera snaps a photograph which is then displayed for about a minute or so on the monitors at the Nitro photo kiosk near the ride’s exit. The picture of our row featured three gleeful faces with arms up in the air and one red face screaming for mercy as she gripped onto the restraint for dear life.

We didn’t buy the photograph, but I’ll be able to picture it perfectly in my mind’s eye for the rest of my life.

The unspoken question hovered in the air around us as we regrouped outside the ride.

It was answered by all four of us walking together once again through Nitro’s entrance.

Three minutes later, a photograph with four delighted smiles in our row flashed upon the photo kiosk’s screen.

2018 Roller Coaster: Nitro. Check mark achieved.

 

Nitro’s Check Mark“: Copyright 2018 – Jill Ocone. This post originally appeared on both the Soulseaker blog (www.soulseaker.com) and the personal blog of Jill Ocone (www.jillocone.com) on August 11, 2018. Views and opinions contained in this post are solely those of the author, who was not compensated in any way by any entity, including Six Flags Great Adventure, the Six Flags corporation, or their affiliates. All rights reserved.

Always Remember…

Ground Zero Spirit by Thomas Franklin
Ground Zero Spirit by Thomas Franklin

It’s been 15 years since my 4th day of teaching, which was September 11, 2001.

Looking back at the timeline of events on that horrendous day, I can picture exactly where my feet were when each happened.

My first real Journalism lesson of this year was my 9/11 Lesson (last week). The lesson and presentation include video clips of events that transpired on September 11, 2001. It’s an important lesson for many reasons, but mostly, it gives students an idea of exactly how much life changed that day both in the world of journalism and for us all.

I begin by explaining that cell phones didn’t have cameras, bags were not searched at public events, a digital camera with .75 megapixel camera was considered “state of the art,” political correctness hadn’t yet run rampant to the point of being utterly ridiculous, social media did not exist (and wouldn’t for four or so more years) and posts on the Internet by news outlets were updated only once a day.

Even with evidence, it’s hard for them to truly grasp what life was like as we woke up that day, and how quickly things changed. Before I show each clip, I speak about the background and have them watch with an observant eye for details with a chance to respond through both discussion and writing.

One part of the lesson is a documentary titled “Witness to History,” created by photographer Thomas Franklin in 2011. He’s the photographer who took the iconic Pulitzer Prize winning photo (above) of the firefighters raising the American flag at Ground Zero for the Bergen Record; I’ve had the privilege of hearing him speak twice at Garden State Scholastic Press Association’s Fall Press Day. “Witness to History” includes Franklin’s account of 9/11, as well as those of other news photographers’ and how each got the “shots” amid sheer chaos and destruction.

One might assume the young eyes watching this year’s presentation were desensitized to violence and pain because of what they see on social media every day in 2016.

They weren’t.

They shared what will stick with them, long after the lesson’s objectives are forgotten.

I’ll remember the priest who was carried out by the men who were helping,” wrote one student. The priest was Father Mychal Judge. As a part of this year’s presentation, I included a picture I took in June of his name on the Reflecting Pool Memorial.

Another wrote that while she doesn’t want to ever see something like 9/11 happen again, she wished our country was still unified, together, as one with flags all over. She explained that she hates seeing everyone judge others so fast on social media. “People didn’t hate each other back then over what they posted. They maybe didn’t agree but everyone was together.”

One wrote that he’ll remember the tears in the players’ eyes and the emotions during the Mets/Braves game clip from September 21, 2001, and the Yankees/Diamondbacks World Series Game 3 and Game 4 clips he watched (including Tino’s and Jeter’s-Mr. November’s home runs in the 9th). For him, that show of emotion by pro ball players as well as by fans from all over demonstrated the immensity of 9/11 and its aftermath.

Another wrote that as he watched President Bush throw out the first pitch at Game 3, he’ll remember the chant of USA and that Americans did not let party lines divide them. It didn’t matter that Bush was a Republican. What mattered is that moment brought the country together. While I summed up his response, a lot of the words here were directly from the student.

A student reacted that she was surprised it was baseball that got us back to normal, even for a little while. She said she didn’t like baseball, but if she lived during 9/11, she’d probably like it more because of how important the games were to our country.

After writing that he will remember strangers hugging each other and the looks on everyone’s faces as they watched the towers fall, one of my students wondered if people would be as willing to hug strangers or be as shocked if something like this happened today. “But I would hug and be shocked,” he admitted.

Someone remarked that he’d remember me saying the smoke could actually be seen from the Inlet in Point Pleasant Beach that afternoon. “That’s crazy but shows how close it was.”

One of the reactions that hit me hard was, “Wow. It really did happen.”

As I do each year, I ask my students to put aside their personal opinions and keep an open mind; to see the bigger picture; to see the important role of first responders/police/firefighters and the military not only on 9/11 but in every day life; to see the connection each of them has to this ugly day in history by looking down at their desk and realizing that Nick Ott or Ron Kubik might have sat right there, in the same seat (both were killed in action in Afghanistan, a conflict that was a direct result of 9/11).

I also ask them to visualize a teacher running out of the school in uncontrollable tears because someone she loved worked in one of the towers, or another teacher crying because her husband’s brother worked there too and she didn’t know he missed his train that morning and wasn’t there.

I hope they realize a lot of people surrounding them every day have a personal connection to 9/11 in one way or another. I end by telling them I wish I could take them all back to September 10, 2001, for even just 60 seconds so they can get a small glimpse of the way things used to be.

Every photo and video clip in my lesson still gives me chills. It seems like a yesterday but so long ago…my emotions are still raw, still new, and still filled with denial that something like this could actually happen here.

But the truth is, it did happen.

15 years later, and I still remember how much life changed on that day.

I’m sure you remember too.

It’s our duty to make sure that WE, AS A COLLECTIVE, NEVER FORGET, so the next generation also remembers the selfless sacrifices of so many and the legacies of those who were lost.

Thank you to all police, firefighters, first responders, military, and everyone who put our safety before theirs, no matter what.

God Bless America.

To learn more about Thomas Franklin’s photo, please click here.