The best ride of the day was not on a roller coaster but in a stretch limousine; it purred there on pitted asphalt, gleaming like polished bone in the Gulf Coast sun. The Six Flags flacks had hand-picked half a dozen limo riders from the gathered throng of media types; most of those at this coaster unveiling were of the oxymoronic breed called TV journalists. The flacks chose me even though I was wearing my holiest jeans -- the better to feel the swoosh of air up my legs as we hit the arcs of the loops. The 50-odd nattering nabobs of Pepsodent-smile positivity who didn't make the luxury-car cut had to scrap for seats on a bus.
The limo ride was smooth -- and surreal. We were transported through the mean streets of Six Flags AstroWorld, the functional infrastructure behind the fairy-land facades. The mobile bar was conspicuously dry -- a smart move when you're ferrying reporters around an amusement park, though the subject of alcohol led one of the talking heads to regale us with a tale about how he got all liquored up and took the wheel for a piece about DWI. More than a few traffic cones met their makers that day, he crowed. I started craving a highball -- or a velvet hammer to bonk him over the skull.
Sober as newborns, we disembarked at Taz's Texas Tornado, AstroWorld's new four-loop coaster. Some slick cat named Nick Rivera was speaking on behalf of the mayor's office. Then, some poor schmuck in a Tasmanian Devil suit was trundled out along with a couple of other schmucks disguised as fellow Warner Bros. characters Bugs Bunny and Foghorn Leghorn. As there were no children present, this song-and-dance seemed gratuitous. A question was put to Taz -- I couldn't suss it out, but the six-foot-plus walking cartoon pumped his oversize, four-fanged head in the affirmative.
No one else seemed to get one, but I was assigned an "AstroWorld ambassador"; I took to calling him "Alejandro of Angleton." Great kid, if unsuited to a career in theme-park diplomacy; the shy, skinny 17-year-old lives at home with the folks, who drive him to and from work. Ambassador Alejandro mostly just looked sheepish and booted imaginary dirt clods as we waited on line in front of the new coaster, a 112-foot-tall helix of tempered steel and tightly wound g forces with a Looney Toons color scheme.
Speaking of clods, the bus carrying the TV oxymorons finally arrived. Much moussed hair would be mussed this day; many media muckety-mucks would squeal like stuck pigs. It would have been worth the admission, had there been one. I passed the time trying to engage the ambassador. Would he ride? Uh-uh, he wasn't into loops. Thwomp. Another flying clod -- from the boot of Alejandro of Angleton, not the hurtling train of Taz's Texas Tornado.
The newfangled shoulder harnesses don't allow easy escape, as I soon discovered. The molded-vinyl contraptions are a cross between gigantic football pads and that old torture device called the stocks; they mash you into your seat like the event horizon of a black hole. My 2.5-minute ride on the quadruple-looper was spent seeking gravitational parity; the more this bucking bronc of a coaster tried to throw me, the more the danged harness tried to compact me into Toulouse-Lautrec.
My danged harness got stuck, and I had to be wrenched out with a big ol' metal thingamabob. I exited bent over, my faithful boyservant back at my side, and croaked out my assessment: It must be a good ride, 'cause it left me unable to walk. But I'm no expert, so I sought out Edith and Art Vanderburg, Clute-based members of the American Coaster Enthusiasts (ACE), a nationwide group devoted to riding the wild rails. Even better, Edith and Art are Six Flags specificists; the dowdy middle-aged couple tools around the country checking out the hot new coasters at the chain's parks. Both gave Taz a 10, their highest rating.
"It's really good for a steel coaster," said Edith between bites of a tuna-salad sandwich shaped like an ice cream cone. Added Art: "Boy, that last loop, that little one, it really gets you. Super g forces." He's too right; the idea of eating a tuna cone made me blanch more than it normally would, so I left Edith and Art with tuna salad on their lips and white fire in their eyes. Ambassador Alejandro escorted me back to that more civilized conveyance called the limo; I led the way.
-- Clay McNear
Six Flags AstroWorld: Loop 610 at Fannin, 799-1234.