Six Flags Magic Mountain

19th February 2005

Half of my park day on Thursday fell by the way side due to inclement weather, and as such it wasn't exactly pleasant to open my curtains to a spectacle that was, if anything, worse; a torrential downpour was in progress. Bad weather does result in shorter queue lines, but it also results in certain rides being out of commission. Today the primary casualty was Superman the Escape, a real shame for me as it was the ride I'd been looking forward to the most. On the plus side, a season pass for the entire Six Flags family cost me just fifty dollars, a price that I'd argue is actually too cheap, especially for a chain that is losing money at the moment.

My last diary from this park chronicled the sorry state of the place in general, with many rides running at half capacity or less and others not running at all. Nine months on it doesn't appear that much has changed; a total of seven rides were marked as "temporarily closed" today, including the Sky Tower (which apparently hasn't opened in the last five years), Flashback (which hasn't been open since 2003), Déjà Vu, and a handful of flat rides. Temporary closures of one or two rides is one thing, but having seven rides down is inexcusable. The reason is the obvious one; lack of investment, most likely due to lack of money, which comes back to my previous point; annual passes are too cheap. Personally I'd rather pay a little more for park admission if I knew it meant that all rides would be open.

Processing my season pass involved filling in a machine readable form with rows of letters which have to be blacked out with a pencil. This in itself should work correctly, but it all seemed rather pointless when I watched the staff member manually type the details into a computer. Maybe the machine reading system was broken? Anyhow, my photo was taken and I was handed a card with my name spelt incorrectly, but I decided it wasn't worth the hassle to point this out. Is there any word or name in any language with three consecutive identical letters?

Six Flags Magic Mountain

We had seen X testing, bad weather and all, before the gate opened, and thus we joined the crowd heading in that direction. It was immediately evident that the park designers never considered what might happen with steep terrain and poor weather; a veritable torrent of water was rushing down the pathway, making passage somewhat treacherous. An occasional drain in the path surely wouldn't have been that hard to implement. As it turned out, we need not have hurried; the ride was not open. The only benefit accrued from the walk was the sight of a rather amusing sign pictured across, which might (or might not) be useful for those looking for the restrooms.

Instead, therefore, we walked down to Goliath, where we took up position in the front seat. As the train coasted up the lift hill, the person behind us asked his partner if "he would be screaming like a woman?". His reply was full of self satisfaction: "No, I intend to scream like a man." The rain was surprisingly painful when the ride picked up speed, and I ended up having to put my hands in front of my face to protect it. Goliath remains an upper echelon coaster ride, streets ahead of a taller but unimaginative coaster on the other side of the country. Not even Six Flags maintenance has been able to destroy what is still one of the smoothest and most intense coasters ever built.

This was followed up with a back seat ride on Batman the Ride. We thought that the back would shield us from the worst of the rain, and we were probably right, but we hadn't anticipated the water running back from the rest of the train as we moved up the lift hill. In retrospect I should have remembered this, given that the same thing happened to me on Silver Bullet on Thursday, but it had slipped my mind. The back seat on Batman was if anything even more forceful than Goliath had been; gloriously intense.

The front seat on Riddler's Revenge was closed for some unknown reason. There should have been no more than a five minute wait for the second row, but as only one train was operating the queue was moving very slowly. The godawful Six Flags theme music was playing in the station on loop. No doubt it has been a very successful advertising campaign; I've only seen the ad two or three times and the tune is stuck in my head. Fortunately, the group in front of us was looking for two riders so we were able to move up the queue. Riddler remains the only standup coaster I really like, as it has been engineered in such a way to almost completely eliminate headbanging while still retaining an impossibly twisted layout. As we were walking down the exit ramp, one of the other guests asked their partner if they'd miss the station music. The answer was predictable.

Six Flags Magic Mountain

Slipping into the arcade to avoid a worsening of the weather, I had a go at the DDR Extreme machine. Unfortunately, it was not possible to play without the risk of injury; my shoes were very wet, and could not grip the pads at all. The result was akin to jumping around on ice; I gave up after a particularly nasty skid. Instead, we decided to walk over to Flashback to see if any work was being done on it. The gate was boarded up, with a sign saying "Please excuse our mess - we're building for your future enjoyment." There were no engineers in sight anywhere; in fact that whole corner of the park was absolutely deserted. Gloria commented that it will be interesting to see if that sign mysteriously disappears later in the year. I can't help but wonder how long it has been there.

The Orient Express tram, which takes passengers to the top of the mountain, dispatched about five seconds after we reached the ride gate, though without us on board. Gloria observed that, since this was Magic Mountain, we were more likely to see this as an insult despite the fact the dispatch had probably been initiated anyway. When the next car arrived, we were subjected to an audio recording talking about the rides at the top of the tower; Ninja, the Sky Tower, and Superman the Escape.

It was an unexpected and pleasant surprise to see the door to Superman the Escape wide open with no barrier in front. Though admittedly I hadn't seen a train launch all day, I was excited at the prospect of riding at last. This excitement quickly turned to disbelief when I found the station completely deserted, with no staff or guests anywhere in sight. There was absolutely nothing stopping me from walking down the track. If I'd had the keys for the control panel, I could probably have started up the ride myself. A less scrupulous guest might have vandalised the ride in some form, or placed an object on the track somewhere causing untold damage if struck by the train. Would management have noticed? Would management have cared?

When a ride is not open it is reasonable to assume that passengers should not be able to access the station platform. In a country as neurotic about security as this one, such a lapse is inexcusable. Hopefully someone from the authorities in California will see this before the park leaves the ride open like that again, as I can't imagine this to be an isolated incident. As it turned out, the other two rides at the top of the mountain were also out of action. It would never have occurred to the Orient Express operator to tell us that.

Gloria wanted to make a quick stop in the candy store. The shop had a large section of sweets sold by weight, as can be found in any such store around the world. All the items but one carried the words No Samples Please on their labels. The logical assumption is that samples are allowed for the one item not labelled that way, Sugar Free Milk Chocolate Almonds. No doubt one of the local lawyers would be willing to take such a case if the park complained.

Six Flags Magic Mountain

Viper and X were both still closed. Gloria asked the unfortunate staff member at the X entrance for the official reason for the closure, and once again bad weather was blamed. He did say that a ride operation crew were waiting on the X platform for suitable conditions to run the ride, but neither of us believed him. With nothing else we wanted to reride in the park, we went back to the back seat of Goliath.

By the time we disembarked, the weather had let go again so we stopped for a lunch break in the Moose Burger Lodge, which Gloria felt was probably the best restaurant in the park. My meal came with a 32oz Pepsi, which is about three times what I would drink with a normal meal. I made it through about half of it before giving up, though a cursory glance around the restaurant indicated that most of the natives were finishing theirs. It seems impossible to me that people can drink such a quantity of a soft drink without spending the entire afternoon in and out of the restroom, but what do I know?

After lunch, we decided to catch one more back seat on Goliath. We got held up about ten minutes when the train in front of us stopped on the lift hill, but engineers appeared quickly enough and got things going again. I saw one of them holding a button at the bottom of the hill while the train rose to the top; I assume it to have been a manual override switch. On disembarking, we had another quick walk around the park. Neither of the two coasters I really wanted to ride, Superman the Escape and X, were open. Instead, therefore, I spent the last twenty minutes taking various photographs for my web site, before we went out the gate at 3:10pm so I could get to the airport.

It was as we were walking towards the car that I looked around and saw an X train moving up the lift hill, with passengers on board. My feeling was that it was too late, but Gloria said no, go for it, so I charged across to the ride. By the time I got there, there were no more than four train loads in front of me. In an amazing act of self sacrifice, Gloria decided she would get the car and bring it to the front gate, and that I should ride and then meet her there. I promised I'd buy her a beer at the next opportunity. Unfortunately, with this park being Magic Mountain and the ride being X, there was still never going to be enough time to get a ride in and still make my flight. Trains were dispatching every ten minutes or so, while my blood pressure continued to rise.

Having read this far in my diary, you will think that I have nothing positive to say about Magic Mountain. While it is true that I think there are many things wrong with this park, I am nevertheless not afraid to give credit where it is due. I was about ten seconds away from bribing the people in front of me to let me go first when something amazing happened. One of the ride managers came to our row and informed the person waiting to board next that he had been seen jumping the queue and would he kindly leave it please. The staff had observed him pushing into the queue about twenty minutes before, and had waited until he got to the absolute front before ejecting him! This is precisely how I feel queue jumpers should be treated, and full marks to Magic Mountain for enforcing a policy like this. Not surprisingly, he created quite a scene, but the manager stood his ground. This created a vacancy for a single rider, which I snapped up immediately.

Just like my last visit to Magic Mountain, therefore, I got one ride on X in the front seat right at the end of my visit. Though it was noticeably rougher than I remembered it, the ride was still great fun, thanks to its unique rotating seats which allow some incredible manoeuvres which are simply not possible on more traditional rides. I am tempted to dock marks for the horrendously inefficient operation, but I cannot in good conscience judge a ride on the park it is in. Magic Mountain doesn't appear to realise what a gem they have in X; hopefully some day another 4D coaster will be installed in a park that knows how to maintain it.

The fun was most definitely over when I disembarked though; it was now nearly 4:00pm and I had to get to LAX, nearly fifty miles away, for a flight a little after 6:00pm. I did take some time to notice some of the ridiculous cars on the road, including a stretched version of the venerable Hummer, probably the most inefficient car in the world, but my eye kept wandering back to my watch as the seconds ticked by. We were making good progress until we hit the mother of all traffic jams about ten miles away from the airport. It seemed that Murphy's Law was coming back to haunt me. Gloria kept saying that we'd easily make it, but I was still doubtful.

United Airlines closes baggage check-in three quarters of an hour before the departure of a flight. I checked in with two minutes to spare. The agent advised me that would need to take a bus to the aircraft, which would leave the gate twenty minutes before the scheduled departure time, or less than half an hour from when I collected my boarding pass. If I wasn't at the gate on time...well, you get the picture.

The security procedures at LAX have been increased to almost an invasive degree at this point. My laptop and my camera, both of which had been passed through the X-ray machine, were both powered up. The latter was quite lucky, as I'd almost managed to drain the battery during the day. My headphones were removed from their case and examined. Having passed through the metal detector already, I was instructed to remove my money belt, shoes, and everything from my pockets. A thorough pat down search would have found anything I might have been hiding. It was tempting to accuse the screener of going a bit far for a first date, but I decided wisely to keep my mouth shut. Finally clearing security, I got to the gate and caught the requisite bus from the main gate with about five minutes to spare.

The United Express terminal, about five minutes drive from the main LAX terminal building, had only a small vending machine to keep passengers hydrated. Cold beer was not on sale unfortunately; I could really have used one.