April 2009
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Scream if you want to see where the hell you’re going

Speed: The Ride at Sahara is an attraction that’s been there as long as I can remember, but it’s something that I’ve never quite got around to doing.  It’s the kind of thing that always gets pushed to the bottom of the list when it involves driving somewhere you wouldn’t otherwise be going for something that lasts less than a minute.

I thought I’d missed my chance when the ride suddenly closed last summer.  They said it was closed "for the season", but who knew what season that was?  Then a few weeks ago it suddenly re-opened again, alongside a promotion for a new food item.

Eat a Burrito, get tickets for the ride.  But not just any burrito.  Some adverts called it the "Bomb", others the "B3" (Big Badass Burrito).  What’s in a name?  A two-foot long, six pound hunk of meat and cheese by any other name is still at least five pounds too many.

To get the freebie, you have to eat it alone – in one sitting – and ride the coaster the same day.  No thanks.  I decided to do it the sucker way and just paid $10 for the ride.

So, what was Speed The Ride like?  I wish I knew, because I wasn’t allowed to wear my glasses on the ride and I feel like I totally missed it.

I’m not exaggerating when I say that this is the first time that’s ever happened.  I’m also not exaggerating when I say I might as well have not been there.  I don’t know what makes this ride so special, but if I’d known this I wouldn’t have wasted $10 on it.

If you don’t wear glasses, or you’re only mildly short-sighted, you’ll probably think I’m over-reacting.  "What are you going to see at that speed anyway?", right?  It’s not about the scenery.  Believe me, it makes a massive difference to the sensation of movement if you can’t even see the track in front of you.

I have a -5.5 prescription.  It’s not that severe compared to some, but I’m still completely hopeless without them.  For years I absolutely hated swimming until it dawned on me to get some prescription goggles.  I couldn’t believe I’d never thought of it before.

I used to struggle getting from the changing rooms to the pool, and if I’d had to put my glasses in a locker on the other side of the platform then walk to the coaster I’d have struggled too.  But really, this would have been the best option.  Actually, goggles would have been a better option – they may have let me wear those.

Claire has a -1.0 prescription and she said the ride was great.  I don’t know where the line is between "a bit blurry" and "can’t see a damn thing", but I’m definitely on the wrong side of it.

They may as well have blindfolded me, put me in a box, turned on a fan and shaken it about a bit.  It would have been just as exciting.

To make matters worse, they didn’t drop this bombshell until I was right inside the car.  You’d think the bored attendant might have thought to mention it while we were waiting to get on (there was no line, we were just hanging about for it to fill up) but he waited until I started to sit down before making a "glasses" gesture at me.  You know, fingers at the side of his head, moving back and forth.

"They’ll be fine", I said.

"No, you have to take them off", he told me.

"Really?".  He nodded.  "So where can I put them?".

There were no pigeon holes by the ride itself.  Just the coin-operated lockers that were back on the other side of the platform, and the barriers to the ride had already closed.

"Just put them in your pocket", was the genius solution.

What the fuck?  Does he mean my shirt pocket that can’t be closed, the back pocket I’m sitting on, or the one in my shorts that’s going to get crushed up against the inside of the car when I get flung in as-yet unknown directions?

Before I could explain to him exactly what was wrong with this master plan, the "driver" (if you consider counting backwards from 5 and pressing a button to be driving) in the control room turned on her microphone and came up with a better idea.  "It’s only 45 seconds", she said, "just hold them in your hand".  Fantastic.  You think I’m a pussy and now everyone else on the ride does too.

The safest place, obviously, was to stick them on my face – from where, in the two years that I’ve had this pair, they’ve never fallen off.  In the nearly-30 years I’ve been wearing glasses, I can’t remember a single pair that did.

Watch: I’m actually shaking my head now in every direction I can think of, facing the floor, trying to get them to come loose.  It doesn’t happen.  What exactly is going to make them fly off when my head is pinned back against a seat at 3.5 Gs?

But as I didn’t have much of a choice, besides giving up and getting off, I rode with my glasses clenched between my fingers, gripping so tightly for fear of losing them that I bent the nose pads and had to bodge my own fitting before leaving the Sahara.

If you think risking losing your sight on holiday is exciting, hand-holding your glasses on Speed is probably the ultimate thrill ride.

This one’s better though.  It’s the Desperado at Buffalo Bill’s casino in Primm, about 40 miles from Las Vegas.

At one time (1996) it was the world’s tallest, fastest, longest and steepest rollercoaster.  Others have overtaken it every category, but it’s still a monster, reaching 95 mph after a 225 ft drop.

I love Blackpool Pleasure Beach but I’ve never dared ride the Big One.  It’s not the coaster, it’s the height of that first climb.  The Desperado is actually a little taller (Blackpool held the world’s whateverest records for a year or so) but in the context of not much more than miles and miles of desert – rather than dozens of other, smaller rides – it just doesn’t look so daunting.

I’m also sure that when you look down and see nothing but dust and one oversized barn of a hotel, you won’t feel so high as if you look down and see a large amusement park and rows upon rows of shitty little 6-room bed-and-breakfasts.

Anyway, I rode this beast – taller, faster and more Gs than Speed – last week, with my glasses on.  They were fine, of course, and nobody even thought to ask me if they were likely to fall.

I completed my coaster trilogy here:

The Manhattan Express at New York-New York (or, "New-York New-York", as I noticed it was bizarrely hyphenated on the front of the airport’s NYNY gift shop) is not quite so impressive on paper – a mere 200 feet high and 67 mph top speed.  I’m sure they must have secured some made-up record for the world’s most twistiest coaster around a replica statue, or something.

It still feels pretty quick though and it throws you around lots.  The price is a whopping $14 per ride, but mild concussion is included for no extra cost.

Head well and truly rattled…. glasses still firmly stuck to face.