In the fall of 2002, I was living and studying in Vienna, Austria.
Like good American tourists in a European city, my classmates and I sought out the sites and attractions that the Wienersâ€”think â€œpeople living in Vienna,â€ not â€œhotdogsâ€â€”rarely visited. Think of a museum or park in your hometown. How many times have you been there in the last year?
All the travel guides from Lonely Planet and Rick Steves recommend Die Prater, or â€œThe Prater,â€ because its Riesenradâ€”a.k.a., Giant Ferris Wheelâ€”is one of Viennaâ€™s iconic sights and appeared inThe Third Man, written by Graham Greene and starring Orson Welles.
It was an amusement park in Vienna with a few roller coasters and a dozen other rides designed to disorient your inner ear.
Intent upon having some authentic Austrian experiences, which might include hubcap-sized Schnitzels and torte for dessert, we took the U-Bahn to Die Prater one evening, bought tickets, and made our grand entrance.
Inside, a surprising number of German-speakers were present. Whether youâ€™re visiting Dollywood in Pigeon Forge, Tennessee, or the coffee capitol of the world with an internationally-acclaimed opera, youâ€™ll always find people whoâ€™s idea of a good time involves throwing objects made in China to win objects made in China. No country is immune to cheesy, overpriced entertainment.
The only difference is that everything seems classier and more urbane in Vienna.
We wandered around for awhile before making a decision, and before I even set foot on Extasy, I knew I was in trouble.
You only have to get seasick on a deep sea fishing trip once to know the discomfort that constant motion can bring. Projectile vomit isnâ€™t fun for anyone but the fish.
Extasy was one of those mechanical monstrosities with several arms like spokes that rotate around a central hub. At the end of each arm was a pod, and the wicked creators of Extasy decided that these would also spin while quickly changing elevation. Imagine that you were being flushed down a toilet. Imagine that the toilet was inside an huge red ball. Imagine that the huge red ball is bouncing down a slope in the Austrian Alps.
Sure, if you enjoy the taste of your stomach.
Iâ€™m watching this ride spin and gyrate like a giant metal anemone, and I caved to peer pressure: â€œCâ€™mon, youâ€™ll be fine, itâ€™ll be fun.â€
My stomach was already curdling like lemon juice and milk.
The operator showed us how to strap ourselves inside the pods.
Then, the â€œfunâ€ began.
My stomach morphed from curdled milk into fist pushing up into my throat.
I closed my eyes. That was worse.
I opened my eyes. That was worse.
I gulped air.
The techno music with thumping bass and the ride operator shouting in German with fake enthusiasm didnâ€™t help.
I grew up watching the movie Sandlot, and in one of my favorite scenes, the boys stuff their cheeks with chewing tobacco before going on a roller coaster. Their faces are easy to imagine: bugged-out eyes, puffed-out cheeks, beads of sweat on their foreheads, and hands over their mouths.
That must be how my face looked on Extasy. My consciousness contracted to a single point of focus: keeping the muscle, o-ring, or valve separating my stomach and throat from opening.
The good news is that I didnâ€™t vomit on myself or anyone else.
The bad news is that I wasnâ€™t able to stand or walk for the next half hour. At that point, I felt like I was carrying on cup on coffee on a saucer while going down steps blindfolded.
Allyson got me some water, and Melissa scratched my back. In my weakened state, I confessed that I had told a couple of people that all they wanted out of the study abroad program was an extended shopping trip.
The ride had lasted maybe two minutes, but I didnâ€™t feel right until the next morning.
Die Prater? More like, â€œDie, Prater.â€
I was finally able to walk a long enough stretch to get back to the U-Bahn and ride home to Hotel Theresianum. Yes, I was the guy that everyone else had to wait on because he got sick on an amusement park ride.
Somehow, skydiving in Interlaken over the Swiss Alps didn’t bother me at all.
Lesson for the kids: Extasy in any form leads to disorientation, sickness, an inability to form coherent thoughts, and awkward confessions.
Lesson learned: Sickness keeps us humble and honest. The two people who I thought didnâ€™t belong in the program were the two who were kind and attentive. Choose your traveling companions according to the depth of their compassion, not the depth of their understanding of sarcasm.
Here’s someone else’s video of the ride.