Corporate protocol is such a buzz kill. There I was at the grand opening of Raging Waters Sacramento, bathing suit in hand, waiting for permission to hurl my body down waterslides several stories tall. All that stood between me and the perfect thrill ride was a succession of soporific speeches by park officials.
“We think the market will respond positively,” they said of the park’s transformation from its former identity as Six Flags Waterworld USA. “We want to ensure a product we can be proud of,” they continued, all whitened smiles and business-casual ensembles behind a podium at the far end of the wave pool.
Chin sinking on my chest under the burden of inescapable ennui, I almost missed a pair of skydivers plummeting into the pool, one with a Raging Waters flag flapping from one ankle. Fireworks sent colored smoke and an explosive tattoo into the air, startling dazed attendees—one of whom yelled “Jesus!” loud enough to resurrect the man. Then suddenly, miraculously, we were free to hit the slides. Let the wild, wet rumpus start!
I hustled to the brand-new, 45-foot-tall Dragon’s Den, and scurried away twice as fast when I saw three television news crews waiting at the bottom. Nobody was filming me with my suit twisted backward and mucous running down my face. Let some other poor slob have her 15 seconds of waterlogged fame, I thought, opting for the less-newsworthy Shark Attack area.
I grabbed a solo tube and began the long ascent up a massive staircase. To distract myself from my thighs’ increasing protest, I contemplated each of the structure’s five slides and settled on the purple one the teens in front of me described as “hella fast.” Unfortunately, an attendant informed me that one couldn’t be ridden alone. Daredevil dreams thwarted, I glided down a gently curving lime-green pipe and plopped into the wading pool below.
Solo slide enthusiasts be warned: Your options are limited at Raging Waters. The popularity of two- and three-person slides has left singletons out in the wind. I never got to try the Dragon’s Den, even after the news crews vacated, because I needed a partner to ride the thing. I loitered near it, wondering how I could bribe a child to accompany me without seeming creepy, until the ride broke and ended my desperate machinations.
Still craving a good thrill, I braved the towering body slides at Hurricane Bay. Three seconds after I left the top of the yellow ramp, I lay at the bottom suffering from a colossal wedgie and a stinging abrasion along my back. There’s such a thing as too much thrill.
I decided to stick to tube slides, which is how I ended up at the Honolulu Half-Pipe—a gigantic U-shaped exercise in anxiety. Tubers slid over one edge and shot up and down the vertical sides like skateboarders, coming to a rest in the middle. Many yelled expletives during this process, despite the presence of an adjoining family picnic area. Just as the shouts had me questioning my resolve, I noticed a distressed little girl of about nine or so standing in front of me.
Her partner had chickened out, and she needed someone to accompany her. Finally, my solo status had purpose! I joined her on her double tube. Struggling to conquer her fear, she clutched the wrist of our ride attendant.
“I won’t let go until you’re ready,” the attendant promised. As seconds lengthened into minutes, I braced myself for complaints. Instead, our fellow sliders shouted encouragement. “You can do it!” they yelled. “Once you go, you’ll want to do it again and again!”
I poked her good-naturedly with my toes from my backseat perch. “Come on,” I said. “It’s going to be great.” The girl slowly pried her fingers from the attendant, and we were over the edge in a rush, both of us screaming.
At the bottom, she closed her eyes, rested her dripping ponytail on my knee and called out breathlessly, “Am I dead?”
“No!” I yelled triumphantly. “You lived!” She’d bounded off, our death-defying feat utterly forgotten in the resilience of youth. Me, I savored the thrill.