The Art of Attractions | May 2020
We had almost nothing in common, and we were the unlikeliest of friends. He was old enough to be my father. He loved classical music, especially opera; I’m more of a rock ’n’ roll guy. He was a bank president; I’m a writer. He was a conservative Republican; I’m … well, not a conservative Republican. You get the picture.
But Peter Shaw and I had two things in common over which we bonded. We both worked out at the local YMCA. It was there that we discovered the second and more critical thing that we both shared: a love of roller coasters.
Our locker room talk often focused on the latest news from parks and ride manufacturers. We also chatted about our park trips and the coasters we braved. He was partial to “Shivering Timbers” at Michigan’s Adventure. “Nitro” at Six Flags Great Adventure was another favorite.
Peter got a huge kick out of my work as a theme park journalist. On a whim, I asked him if he wanted to join me at one of my press events. That led to a series of trips. We were among the first to try “Kingda Ka” and “El Toro” at Six Flags Great Adventure, “Maverick” at Cedar Point, and other thrill machines. Peter loved all of them. Then we’d brag about our coaster conquests at the Y.
Our differences meant nothing at the parks. We’d laugh and scream while riding the rails and then head off to the next coaster. That’s one of the (many) things I love about parks. Everybody—regardless of age, background, class, or anything else that often divides us—is welcome, and everybody joins together in a common pursuit of fun. There are no red states or blue states on the midway. While aboard a roller coaster, everybody shares a state of euphoria.
As he got older, Peter developed some ailments that prevented him from riding coasters. He was heartbroken. I think Peter enjoyed vicariously experiencing the rides through my writing and the chats that we continued to have. He often talked about defying his doctor’s orders and taking one last ride.
Earlier this year, Peter lost his battle with pancreatic cancer. I’m going to miss my coaster buddy.
I’ll see you at the parks. But forgive me if I’m lost in thought, reminiscing about my unlikely friend and the rides we shared.
A lifelong park fanatic, Arthur Levine has been writing newspaper and magazine travel features about the industry he loves since 1992. He’s been the Theme Parks Expert at TripSavvy.com (formerly About.com) since 2002, and is a regular contributor for USA Today.