“Nice going, Hemingway!” I thought to myself as this 230-pound body, tethered to a harness, sped down a slope called Inspiration Point, near Branson, Mo.
Imagine a 75-year-old man fantasizing about running with the bulls in Pamplona, Spain, a subject Ernest Hemingway wrote about, or in the style of George Plimpton, imagining that an average writer would play quarterback for the Detroit Lions, the inspiration for “Paper Lion,” a book and movie about such an accomplishment.
I was too busy to worry about thrusts, momentum, gravity, mass and velocity, as I sped down a long jet-line during our mini-vacation in Missouri Monday. Partially because of a dare from my young whipper-snapper sons, Adam and Diego, I attempted this half-mile-long zip-line trek.
I’d planned to observe the rides with the idea of writing about them, but the suggestion of my grandson and namesake convinced me. Yes, rather than simply write about it, why not do it, Pompah? That decision didn’t come easy, as I’d also heard tales about people like me, calorically-endowed, damaging the equipment.
We took a few days for fun in Mid-America to escape some of the local heat. Going to graduate school in Columbia, Mo., for several summers, I became convinced no place was hotter than Missouri. And we weren’t elated as we stopped in several places in Kansas on the way and read time-and-temperature signs showing up to 107 degrees at 6 p.m. We hear from folks in Las Vegas that it’s rained every day since we left. Maybe we should stay gone, so as not to jinx people at home.
Two of our sons are with us: Stan and his family from Demark; Diego and Company, from Las Vegas, and there are some 25 other relatives here. Our youngest son, Ben, and his wife have been busy climbing mountains in Alaska and didn’t make the Missouri trip.
Branson is an interesting tourist mecca, a mini-(other)-Las Vegas of the Midwest. Bart Simpson gives this account of the place: “Branson, Missouri — My dad says it’s like Vegas . . . if it were run by Ned Flanders.” As we entered the city, we saw a stream of billboards, touting groups like the Three Redneck Tenors, or a host of Elvis impersonators.
We marveled at the number of billboards that show comedians making strange faces. One group features a man sucking in his lips in an attempt to appear toothless, another with his eyes crossed, and a companion with nostrils flared.
Apparently, it’s not enough for the comedic routine to have humorous lines; one needs to look the part as well.
In Branson, you can have your family shot, old-time, sepia style, in frontier garb. There are water slides, rollercoasters, helicopter rides and miniature golf sites. On Monday, 29 of us went to the Dixie Stampede, a dinner-theater horse show supported by Dolly Parton.
There’s a competing zip-line operation in town; for $70, daredevils can travel downward in seven spurts, with brief stops on the way.
For $30, the 58-second ride we took cost about 50 cents a second. Of the 12 members of my in-laws’ clan, I was the oldest. Those photographs of us daredevils as we ride the zipline show a lot. After the ordeal, we gathered in the reception area to view the photos.
My visage shows me with a kind of pompadour, the kind my mother wore in the ‘40s. My resemblance to my late mom is dismaying. The 40 mph speed of the zip line gave us all strange temporary hairdos. And I’ll need to examine my hair carefully to see whether it’s suddenly grayer.
Obviously, there’s a touch of hyperbole in this account of my descent. I exaggerate a bit about my age and weight, but not about the stomach-in-my throat sensation when I realized we were traveling about 60 feet per second.
People had warned me about bolting down everything: eye-glasses, items in my shirt pocket, camera — anything that could be blown away. But one of the operators who strapped me in assured me that “It’s no worse than going 50 in a convertible with the top down.”
And to clear up one other matter:
This zip-line ride is quite unlike the mini-line in our front yard, spanning two trees. Before they grew too tall, my grandchildren loved grabbing the handles and coasting down the cable to the lower tree. That ride requires the rider to hold both bars tightly. The mammoth ride in southern Missouri, straps the rider in completely. It’s appropriately named “Vigilante: The Extreme Zip-Rider.” The literature describes itself as going “from serene to extreme,” and ironically its location is in an area called “Shepherd of the Hills,” which is like the name given to some churches.
It’s interesting that the waiting time for the less-than-a-minute ride was almost two hours. We were among the first to arrive for the 11 a.m. booking, but the wait seemed interminable.
“We can’t board anybody until we finish the repairs,” one attendant assured us. “It’s for your own safety.” Well, how reassuring was that?
To use a cliche, the ride was awesome, even if it seems strange that people of all ages and sizes pay good money for the privilege of having the bejeezus scared out of themselves.
Art Trujillo is a copy editor at the Optic and a contributing member of the newspaper’s Editorial Board. He may be reached by calling 425-6796 or by e-mail to email@example.com or firstname.lastname@example.org.