Thursday, September 15, 2005
Re-open the competition, ban Paul Murdoch, and build a "Let's Roll" rollercoaster
My proposal: a "Let's roll!" roller-coaster. Enough with these sit-on-your-ass-and-ponder-murder-in-quietude memorials, even if they aren't trying to sneak in a win for the other side. Flight 93 is not about pondering what to do, it's about knowing what to do, and doing it. What better memorial than that dramatic piece of Americana, the roller-coaster, with a design as unique and thematic as the site calls for.
Riders would board through a normal boarding gate and walkway-arm down to the "plane." The coaster cars would be laid out like Flight 93's Boeing 757, the seating plan of which had a single aisle with three seats on either side. The ride would be open air, but could have top sections, fashioned on the 757, that could be attached for running the ride in foul weather, only with larger windows. The aisle would be used for animatronics. It would have a track that circled up from below, allowing animatronic stewardesses, hijackers and heroes to play out their actions.
When boarding is complete, a friendly animatronic Stewardess comes up to offer some familiar instructions. Over a speaker system, the pilot introduces himself and describes the flight plan, and the ride begins.
It ascends in stages. On the first stage, the ride does not start out pulling directly up an incline, but accelerates down a runway, reaching "take-off velocity," rising, and banking up, to simulate as closely as possible the take off of a jet-liner. The ride releases from the lifting mechanism (or if it propulsion and braking are by electro-magnetic levitation, it might stay attached) and proceeds at a modest cruising speed. The pilot comes on and announces "Cruising altitude," but "there could be some bumpy air, so please keep your seatbelt's fastened!" This "normal flight" stage would consist of a big easy lap around the terrifying central structure of the ride: a descending spiral, which the ride is rising towards.
The first half of the lap is for staring. Then half-waw around, a loud banging is heard from above. What it is nobody knows. It continues until 3/4 of the way around the structure, when one of the "planes" ahead, full of terrified and cheering passengers, free-falls nose first down to earth.
At this point the ride approaches its next ascent, rising and losing speed until picked up for the second lift, this time characterized by the ominous ker-chunk and clank, clank, clank of the classic roller coaster, echoing the "bang, bang, bang" previously heard from above. (If propulsion is electro-magnetic, the clank, clank, clank is effected by having mechanical hammers strike anvils on the chassis.) As the coaster rises, the friendly stewardess comes down the aisle, incongruously but settlingly offering drinks and nuts. "Are you okay? Would you like a pillow?" she says through a speaker in her mouth. "Yes, please," a speaker in a seat-shoulder facing the aisle responds.
When she gets to the back of the plane, she starts backing up, a look of terrified desperation on her face, her hands in front of her, as a Saudi man, modeled on one of the hijackers for which we have photos, closes on her, a box-cutter held at neck level. "Please, I don't want to die," says the stewardess. "Allahu akbar, Allahu akbar, Allahu akbar," the hijacker ululates relentlessly. (The P.C. are invited to come up with a suitably murderous alternative that is not a white-wash the fact that the hijackers were engaged in violent Jihad, as prescribed by their Wahabbi brand of Islam, the source of almost all funding of Islamic education around the entire globe for the last thirty years. "Death to the infidels" might be acceptable, still refering to the Jihadies, but without, to the "sensitive," indicting all of Islam.)
"I don't want to die." "DEATH TO THE INFIDELS!" "I don't want to die." "DEATH TO THE INFIDELS!" At the top of the rise, the Stewardess screams as, following the turn of the track, she goes over backwards, followed by the hijacker, who goes over forward after her, continuing "DEATH TO THE INFIDELS. DEATH TO THE INFIDELS."
At that point the ride experiences a terrible lurch and falls over into a twisting, disorienting descent, with the onboard speaker system repeating on the familiar cadence: hijacked! hijacked! hijacked! Ups and downs ensue (calming sections vs. scary sections), where the speaker system chants in turn: "We can survive this, we can survive this,..."; "THEY'LL KILL US! THEY'LL KILL US!..." On the final ascent, before the last climb, repitition of "we can survive this" gives way to a phone call: "They are crashing the planes into buildings. The World Trade Center is down. Your plane is headed for the White House." There is a period of glide: "Your plane is headed for the White House. Your plane is headed for the white house." The situation sinks in. Then the last ascent is engaged.
No sound this time. Reconstructions of actual phone calls are played over the speaker system. Actual recordings--the voice mail the mom on the ground left for her son in the air--are played. Todd Beamer says "Let's roll!" and as the ride crests the last lift, the heroes get up and rush down the aisle. High altitude esses ensue, the maneuvers that people on the ground witnessed, as the hijackers presumably tried to make it difficult for the heroes to stand. Then a final upward coast towards the cockpit door. On either side of the ride is a procession of cockpit doors, pounded on by pairs of animatronic arms. Up the aisle comes a cockpit door, with Todd Beamer, pounding on it with animatronic arms. When this display reaches the front of the plane, the door crashes in, and the plane topples over into the central spiral.
Victory! The passengers scream their terror and their elation, not for joy, but for triumph over evil. They spiral down to their "deaths," then the ride smoothly cradles the passengers bodies and sends them soaring out in a release of spirits. Up at a 30 degree angle, flattening out, circling round, then swooping beautifully through the woods, flying like a bird, treasuring life, comprehending the loss, finally meandering through the graves of the fallen. The End.
The ride would be the largest roller coaster ever by far, but it should not be the most extreme. The purpose is not a "ride" per se, but to capture in metaphoric form the experience of flight 93. Some parts will of necessity be pretty extreme. The middle of the spiral descent may be virtual free-fall, but with only maybe one half turn of rotation at that point, before starting into the long swoop out. The physical experience should not be so hard to contain that the emotional meaning of the victory cannot be experienced in the immediate aftermath, the launching out to grace.
There would be no other rides at the site, but there could be museums, and grounds to walk through, with the roller-coaster, soaring into the sky, serving as constant reminder of what happened there. Reclining benches could be installed on the ground at many points, so that pedestrians can spend some time looking up and watching the drama occurring in the sky above. The whole site could be a big money-maker, charging substantial admission for the ride, and for drinks and food and souvenirs. Accommodations would spring up in the surrounding community according to demand, as might alternative attractions that could also cater to visitors: movie theaters, golf courses, a complimentary theme park perhaps with various patriotic exhibits and rides.
A commercialized memorial celebration? Why not? Commercialization is what America does best. The country that built Las Vegas in the desert can commercialize the need to fight. Our allies in fighting terror could join in. Afghanistan and Iraq might find it profitable as well as politic to erect Afghan and Iraqi pavilions, maybe whole theme parks--Afghaniland and Iraqiland--showing their ancient and modern cultures, their brotherhood with America and their rejection of the Jihadist version of Islam.
If Afghanistan and Iraq fail to protect the religious liberty of non-Muslims, America's freedom of expression will guarantee that that fact is duly noted, and a Flight 93 roller-coaster memorial will not be as comfortable for our new Islamic allies as it would otherwise be, and this is how it should be. Friendship is built on honesty. The friendship can only be as warm as honesty allows, but I think it is quite clear that Afghanistan and Iraq will be real friends, and will be embraced by patriotic Americans in years ahead as fellow warriors against radical Islam.
Build the coaster, and rural Pennsylvania will become a central marketplace for what can be sold to patriotic Americans. If Pennsylvania sends me a few dollars, I'll design it in detail.