Truly awful experiences shared by any large group can, as time goes by, find their way into legend. One such event occurred in a Days Inn motel on a previous RCCGB trip, where the unfortunate staff managed to double book a large number of the rooms assigned to club members. Allegedly numerous members found their rooms already occupied when they opened their rooms with key cards. It is for this reason that there was an audible groan when our intrepid coach captain announced the name of the hotel last night, complete with the above explanation for those of us who might not be familiar with the story. He urged us to open our room doors with care in order to avoid any potential embarrassing situations.
This warning turned out to be unnecessary, although the motel still ranked firmly in the category of low-budget accommodation. There was a strong smell of cigarette smoke in my non-smoking room, and there was a rather curious biological specimen growing in the bathtub. However, all rooms look the same when you're asleep and with that in mind I made an effort to zone out quickly in order to escape from the surrealism of it all. While the hotel wasn't quite the cheapest I have stayed in, it was not far off.
6th June 2003
The weather for our arrival at Frontier City was a very pleasant 17°C, a major improvement over the last few days. Though the park is owned by Six Flags it has yet to receive the corporate branding. However, it has received the full extra pedantic edition of the chain's rule book, as we were to discover during our morning ERS. We officially had an hour to enjoy the Wildcat (#142); however, in this time most members achieved just two circuits. It requires some seriously inefficient operation for a group of eighty five coaster enthusiasts to get in two rides apiece in an hour, but the staff here had perfected that skill.
First and foremost, exiting riders had to be completely out of the ride station before anyone else could be let through. Completely clear, in this case, meant down the exit ramp and into the gift shop, with the door closed no less. Only after this was completed did the operators count off the required number of riders to fill the train, which at this point had been stationary for at least a minute. There was not a chance of picking the seat you wanted unless you were first into the station. The gods were smiling on me, allowing me to get both a front and a back, but everybody else wasn't so lucky.
Once we were finally in the train, the operators applied their full weight to the lap bars, closing them to the point where they were uncomfortably tight. The trains were also fitted with seat belts, which were tightened aggressively, resulting in riders being squashed via that method too. With such a charade involved in securing riders one might have assumed a plethora of airtime, or at least forces that might make the rider glad of the restraint system. To be blunt, these simply did not exist; though a fun coaster to ride once, Wildcat simply didn't have any major plus points. It was a family level coaster, and not one that needed anything more than a loosely fitting lap bar.
Wildcat marked the first occasion I had seen a so-called Chicken Exit, a door at the front of the queue for those who decide that a ride is not for them. Apparently these do exist in other parks around the world, though they are relatively uncommon. The idea strikes me as a fairly good one; it will allow all members of a family to wait together, even those who do not want to ride.
Right beside the exit of the Wildcat was the newest attraction in the park, ErUPtion, a brand new S&S sky sling. Unfortunately for us it was closed, with no sign of activity whatsoever. Word trickled down the grapevine that it would probably be opening later in the day, and that it might make sense for us to go back in the afternoon for another look. Apparently the closure was simply to save money, another clear instruction from the Six Flags corporate handbook.
In the mean while, however, there were several other coasters to ride. The first one we came to was the Silver Bullet (#143), an original Schwarzkopf Looping Star. There was nobody waiting for the ride when we got there, though this turned out to be because it had not opened yet. There were operators up on the station platform, one of whom told us that the coaster would be opening in about fifteen minutes. With no time pressures we decided that it would be as well to wait.
There was no sign of activity around the ride whatsoever other than an animated conversation taking place between the ride staff, making us wonder why it had yet to open. The conclusion we came to was the logical one, namely that while the ride was ready to go the operators didn't feel like starting it up until a set time, in this case half an hour after park opening. This lackadaisical attitude was still in evidence when we finally were allowed board, as the operators did not check my restraint at all before dispatching the ride. There is no doubt that I have ridden enough coasters at this point to be able to check my own harness to ensure that I am secure, and one can safely assume that the majority of guests will lower their own lap bars. Nevertheless, the contrast with the Wildcat earlier in the day was striking; why on earth were neurotic procedures needed on one ride but not the other?
The coach had parked beside the Diamond Back (#144), an old style Arrow Launched Loop, and we could see it operating from inside the park. The actual entrance eluded us for a time until we eventually located it, cunningly hidden as a side door from one of the gift shops. It only took a single ride for me to conclude that the park had deliberately obscured the entrance to minimise the number of victims riders forced to experience what, honestly, could best be described as a useful addition to the park.
The Nightmare Mine coaster was not operational. The pathway leading to the ride was blocked off with a sign, pictured opposite, showing a fallacy prevalent throughout the entire amusement park industry. Most parks appear to be completely unwilling to remove or close a coaster without replacing it with something else, and from a marketing perspective it is easy to see why. However, long term closures are apparently no big deal; this ride was apparently still temporarily closed in the 2007 season. We were also unable to ride the Wild Kitty, thanks to a height limit that made it less than half way up my arm.
With all the operational coasters completed, we decided to try out the Treasure Mountain dark ride. This was a particularly low budget ghost train style attraction that didn't do much for us, but to be fair it was clearly aimed at a much younger age group. On turning the last corner, Adam let out a loud piercing yell that made us all laugh hysterically, and had the ride operator in stitches too. One can only assume that he saw something in the last scene which brought make nightmares from his troubled childhood.
In the hopes of getting a buzz of at least one ride in the park, we went over to the Hangman, a launched tower ride which shoots its car up to the heights in a second or two before dropping back to earth. None of us were particularly enthusiastic about this, thanks to a dislike of tower rides in general, but we felt this would be a good one to practice on given its relatively small height. The upward launch was surprisingly powerful and might have come without any warning other than one of the ride operators saying goodbye about one second before it fired. The drop sequence afterwards was relatively mild, and none of us had any major difficulties with it.
At this stage we had covered everything on our major hit list, but there was still plenty of time to spare. ErUPtion was still out of action, so with nothing much else to do we went on a whirlwind tour of some of the spin rides. Tornado seemed a particularly odd name for a set of tea-cups, but fortunately the ride quality didn't suffer. Dodge-Em was too slow to be fun, as even a head on collision failed to make much of an impression. Swingin' Six Guns was my first ever ride on a wave swinger, and certainly not my last. The Sidewinder scrambler didn't make a huge impression. Finally, the rather high speed Ferris Wheel proved to be an interesting challenge for photography, as it rotated at almost an alarming rate.
After a lunch break, we met up with the majority of the group to watch the park's Magic show, which, though not to the level of the shows in Fiesta Texas on Tuesday was still very enjoyable.
When the show ended pretty much everybody descended on the queue for ErUPtion, which had now opened. Unfortunately it quickly became clear that there would not be time for us to ride. The inherent low capacity of the ride was compounded by the fact that two of the six seats were not working. Worse yet, the whole queue experienced a fifteen minute delay while the ride operators waited for a sanitation engineer to hose down one of the seats that was working. There was less than an hour left before the bus was scheduled to depart, and our best guess had us at the front of line shortly after that cut off. There was little choice; we had to leave the queue.
At the start of the trip we were given a lecture about punctuality for departure times, as late people would be holding up everybody else who had been on time. As such, you can imagine my disgust when a number of people were late back to the bus, specifically our tour organiser, Andy Hine and his group of friends. The reason they were late was the obvious one; they had elected to remain in the queue for ErUPtion that the rest of us had bailed out of, allowing them to ride while the rest of us waited for them. This behaviour effectively ruined the day for a large number of trip participants, all of whom had paid a substantial amount of money to be there. It would not have been difficult for the departure time to be pushed out an hour or two, which would have allowed all those who'd wanted to ride the opportunity. Instead, we were effectively shown that there two sets of rules in play; those for the organiser and his special clique, and those for everybody else. The book Animal Farm springs to mind; All animals are equal, though some animals are more equal than others.