Standing in line for Speed at the Houston Livestock and Rodeo Show carnival, I was surrounded by teenage boys with baby faces and dirty mouths making jokes to the squealing girls in front of them that their cousin once died on this ride.
We all watched the four passengers fall 120 feet in a circular motion, come screaming through the loading zone at speeds that made me shudder, then get launched back up to the top so they could be dropped again — backwards. The deep-friend food in my stomach churned. “I’m not kidding, my cousin really died!” the kid in braces yelled.
There are times when you have to ask yourself again why exactly you are doing something. This was one of those times.
For me the answer was because this was a work assignment. Strictly business. For one night at the rodeo carnival, I was that weird loner girl looking for a cheap thrill, paying exorbitant amounts of money to be jerked around relentlessly and flipped upside down on as many rides as possible until my head hurt too much. I got on ten rides that seemed most promising —i.e., dizzying and vomit-inducing — in search of the thrills that were most worth the money. If you’ve got tickets to the carnival, here are your best bets:
Insanity (16 tickets)
Best ride in the park, easily. It is somehow both terrifying and relaxing at once: Sometimes you are staring straight at the pavement, other times you get a beautiful view of the carnival while hanging upside down —only to then swoosh through the air from 80 feet up, occasionally spinning. Things get hazy as you exit the ride: You are not only very dizzy, but there is also a smoke machine clouding your vision while electronic dance music makes your ears bleed as though you just ingested some pills inside a club and can’t see straight. This appears to be the point.
Remix II (12 tickets)
Remix looks relatively harmless, like the remixed version of the classic scrambled eggs carnival ride — until the G-force kicks in. It feels a little like an airplane takeoff right before your ears pop — more aptly if the airplane were a rocket and the pilot were navigating a meteor shower. The thrill of Remix is that it’s unpredictable: You're never fully upside down, but half the time you’re soaring sideways, not quite sure where the ride is taking you.
Nothing like feeling your stomach drop while you’re falling upside down inside of a dark cage, unable to see anything beyond the cage holes. If you haven’t ridden the Zipper, then you haven’t really experienced a carnival.
Note: G-Force was not running the night that I toured the carnival. It also seems like a popular one.
Scary But Not Great
OMG! (14 tickets)
The ride's called OMG! for obvious reasons, as you soon feel like you are going to break your neck and just can’t believe it. OMG is not fun-scary. It’s just scary. To stop yourself from banging your head so hard against the back of your chair that you get knocked out, you focus much more on holding on to your harness for dear life than anything else. That’s all I remember, anyway — other than the girl next to me yelling that her butt keeps falling out of her chair.
Evolution (12 tickets)
If you are a small person, do not ride this unless you actually want to fear for your life. In fact, even a tough-looking big guy in cowboy boots could be heard saying “oh hell no” upon exiting Evolution. Half the time, my entire body was not even touching the chair but was instead pressed up against the harness and metal cage while I stared down at the pavement, hoping the cage wouldn’t malfunction and send me falling to my death. At one point, we were held for so long upside down that I’m pretty sure all the blood from my legs had drained into my head. The ride doesn’t even go fast. Instead, it is likely the closest thing to slow and steady torture that you will find at the carnival — at least beyond the clown-themed fun house.
Speed/MACH1 (each 20 tickets; they are duplicates of the same ride)
I had to prepare myself for this one, saving it for last. There is a reason that it costs 20 tickets and that there are two of them. But as hesitant as I was to be dropped 120 feet at face-rippling speed with a bunch of cussing 15-year-old boys, the ride turned out to be a lot less scary than it looks, and slower than it looks — which was kind of a buzzkill. It’s not worth 20 tickets. There’s a lot of things you can do with that money, like buy a funnel cake and other assorted fried stuff, or put it toward another ride. Speed was fun, and offered some beautiful views of the carnival and NRG. But it wasn’t 20-tickets fun. Go with Insanity.
Windstorm (14 tickets)
Windstorm is the only “roller coaster” in the park that is worth your time. We all know it’s lame compared to the kind of beasts you’ll find at Six Flags — but for a pop-up carnival, Windstorm at least has got some speed and makes you want to put your hands up. Except you can’t, because otherwise you’re going to jerk around too much and it’s going to hurt. For instance: I woke up with a bruise on my thigh the following morning. Ride at your own risk.
Just Kinda Lame
Crazy Coaster (14 tickets)
Crazy Coaster is anything but crazy. Don’t ride this if you don’t feel like flushing $7 down the toilet.
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Endeavor (12 tickets)
Endeavor is a good one for those who like riding the swings, but want to step up their game a notch. Going around in circles like a whacked-out Ferris wheel, Endeavor's got a nice breeze, not too fast, and never takes you all the way upside down. But if you get on thinking you’re in for a big thrill, you’re going to be disappointed.
Disko (10 tickets)
Disko is in the shape of a half-pipe except instead of feeling like you’re riding a super fast skateboard, you’re straddling a weird seat while squeezed in between two harnesses, and it feels very awkward. The seats all line the perimeter of a large disc that spins around while going up and down the half pipe. If it weren’t so uncomfortable, it might actually be a good ride.