Six Flag America’s Voodoo Drop: What goes up, must come down – at some point - Baltimore Post-ExaminerBaltimore Post-Examiner

Six Flag America’s Voodoo Drop: What goes up, must come down – at some point

All I remember was the silence. There were no screams, tears or prayers – at least none that I heard.

When you are 140 feet in the air and never know when – or if – you are going to come down, the world becomes quiet. People look like colored dots. The yelling of kids is muted when you are that high above the earth, where you have plenty of time to think as you stare at the horizon – scared – because you are experiencing what until now, you’ve only heard about.

Six Flag America’s Voodoo Drop, a free-fall thrill ride, is 140 feet tall.

I’ve jumped out of 855-foot tall casinos in Las Vegas and driven way, way faster than the law has allowed, but I never thought I wouldn’t live to tell about it.

I can’t say the same about what my 10-year-old daughter, Zoe, and I experienced at Six Flags America on Sunday, when we – and the several other thrill seekers in nearby seats – got stuck at the pinnacle of the Voodoo Drop, one of the country’s tallest amusement park rides.

It’s a ride that Zoe and I have done numerous times. For those who aren’t familiar with it, it’s a simple ride: Up to 16 people – four on each side – are harnessed into their seats and slowly ascend 140 feet, giving you a fantastic view of the park.

At the top, the ride stops for a few seconds and then you plummet straight down – as fast as gravity will take you – before coming to a gradual halt. The drop, which Six Flags claims can be as fast as 56 mph, takes a few seconds.

But man, it’s an adrenaline rush. You feel it from your eyes as you strain to keep them open all the way to your feet, which are dangling.

Zoe and I have never met a roller coaster we haven’t conquered. We’ve dominated Disney World, the State Fair and Six Flags Over Georgia. We’ll knock out Cedar Point in Ohio next year, as Zoe is already scouting the rides on YouTube.

But for a few seconds on Sunday, I thought I was going to be the dude whose death closed Six Flags America. I’ve seen Zoe frightened, plenty of times, and she was more inquisitive than terrified in a scary situation.

Zoe Gallo has never met a thrill ride that she hasn’t conquered.

The ride started as expected. We made the slow climb toward the sky. We reached the apex and I took a deep breath, since I knew we were seconds away from our free fall.

Seconds later, I inhaled again. And again. Each time, I strengthened my grip on the harness. I’m not one of those dudes who can do a ride with “no hands.” After about 30 seconds, Zoe turned her head and looked at me.

“Daddy, are we going to drop now?”

“Yes,” I replied. “Just be patient.” Was I supposed to say what I was thinking: that the ride was broken and we were going to be rescued by a fire truck?

Maybe 30 seconds later: “Daddy, is the ride broken?”

Me: “No. Just keep holding on. It’s all good. Enjoy the view. It’s pretty.”

You know it, I know it: I straight lied. I didn’t know if we were going to drop and if we did, would the brakes activate? If any of the other riders tell me they were thinking differently, they’re lying, too.

I honestly don’t know how much more time passed. Maybe a minute. I couldn’t take a picture because my cellphone was in my pocket and inaccessible because of my harness.

How cool would have been to take a selfie?

Now, I’m starting to panic on the inside, even though I’m putting up a strong front for Zoe.

I start taking deep breaths and I smile because the last time I was around breathing like this, I was holding my wife’s hand in Lamaze class, trying not to laugh. I wasn’t laughing now, so I guess how ever much we spent for that class was worth it.

Do I scream for help? I thought about it. Would people even hear me? And what did I expect to happen? That employees making about minimum wage were going to risk their lives by climbing up the Voodoo Drop like it was an American Ninja Warrior obstacle and carry us to safety?  What about pray? Nope. If we fall and the brakes don’t catch us, all the Divine Intervention in the world won’t prevent me from becoming a puddle.

“Daddy, are you sure the ride isn’t broken,” you know who asks. “Are they going to let us down? Do you know that we are 14-stories high?.”

“Let’s not talk about that,” I said, in what was more than a plea than an answer.

I really wish I could tell you how long we were up there.  I just never even thought about counting seconds.

I just held Zoe’s hand and stared at the gray sky and felt the gentle breeze, knowing that for one of the few times in my life I was truly, absolutely helpless.

The silence was broken by the buzz of an engine – one of the most beautiful sounds I’ve ever heard – and we slowly made our descent.

We didn’t free fall. We glided at probably less than 5 mph. I still clutched my harness because I was convinced all of the sudden gravity would take over.

It didn’t.

Our feet hit the ground gently. I unhooked Zoe and myself in record time.

“What happened,” I asked the two teenage boys at the control panel.

One of them said something like the emergency stop button got pressed but he didn’t know how because no one manning the ride did it. As we left, a technician had arrived and the ride was closed.

“Scariest ride of my life,” I said, smiling, as I exited with Zoe hopping along like nothing happened.

“Daddy, can I have lunch?”

At least she didn’t say “Daddy, can I get therapy because I’m traumatized.”

Zoe and I had Chinese food, discussing what happened in between bites of sweet and sour chicken and fried rice.  She said she thought it was cool we “got to be at the top for so long.”

“Daddy, let’s go on the Voodoo Drop again,” she said.

“When, like next time we come here?” I responded.

“No,” she said, “let’s go now.”

Thirty-minutes after never knowing if we’d ever get off the Voodoo Drop, Zoe and I were 140 feet in the air with our feet dangling, and just as we’ve experienced almost every time before, we let gravity bring us back to the ground.

Apparently, no one hit the emergency stop button.


About the author

Jon Gallo

Jon Gallo is an award-winning journalist and editor with 19 years of experience, including stints as a staff writer at The Washington Post and sports editor at The Baltimore Examiner. He also believes the government should declare federal holidays in honor of the following: the Round of 64 of the NCAA men's basketball tournament; the Friday of the Sweet 16; the Monday after the Super Bowl; and of course, the day after the release of the latest Madden NFL video game. Contact the author.
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