In Indiana State there is a small town called Santa Claus. When Dan told me we were going to spend our Sunday there, I imagined a place where residents live in a perpetual state of Christmas cheer, constantly toting shopping bags and wearing battery-powered Christmas-bulb earrings. But when we drove into the town yesterday, the place seemed rather quiet and the nearest Christmas tree lights were not even lit. Then we noted the 22-foot tall statue of Santa Claus erected on the highest hill, and the town struck me more as a “Twin Peaks Does Christmas” TV special than the North Pole. It’s quirky, it’s small-town America, and it boasts of some of the best wooden and water coasters in the country at the theme park “Holiday World and Splashin’ Surf.”

That’s where we were headed.

I grew up in California with a Six Flags amusement park within a twenty minute drive. I had a season pass. I was so all over that Six Flags that I thought I owned the place. I knew the times of day that would yield the shortest lines, memorized the sprawling layout, knew how to dupe the coaster “too short” height limit by stuffing my shoes with rocks, knew each coaster so well that I would ride each one anticipating every loop and spiral with a yawn while sipping a latte, not spilling a drop. I OWNED that place.

So imagine my snobbery when I stood in line at Holiday World, reading “The Raven, voted world’s best coaster in 1990.” Pisha. 1990 was so small potatoes. What could this measly, old coaster offer the girl who conquered Six Flags by age ten? But as I stood in line, watching sets of screaming riders whiz by, I noticed a few chilling things.

The coaster was all wood. No steel. As in WOOD, material that shrinks, expands, cracks, gets soggy, splinters, blows over in high winds, and basically does whatever the heck it wants. THAT didn’t seem safe. Then I noticed the rocking of the structure as the coaster-cars sped by. The thing actually shook, swayed inches back and forth, unstable as a three year old on stilts. Suddenly that jittery feeling of danger coursed through me. At Six Flags I’d get that feeling because the coasters were so tall, so technical, so wild. But there was never any real fear of death.

This was different.

When Dan and I were about to board the front row car I started looking for mandatory disclosure signs that might read “Only 153 deaths since 1990.” There weren’t any. So I climbed in and pretended that this still felt like small potatoes.

Then I got schooled by Holiday World.

Maybe it was something about the rickety wooden structure, but that coaster, and the others in the park, was awesome. With every passing second riding them I found myself vacillating between worrying my spine would suffer a disc compression or that the coaster beams would crack under the incredible centrifugal force of our car, and totally enjoying the speed, the drops, and the high of wondering if these were my last moments on earth.

And unlike the rides from Six Flags, the Holiday World coasters lasted forever. If I had to take a ride into the bedroom, I’d choose one from Holiday World.

So I stand corrected. Santa Claus, Indiana, you got something going here.

Christmas in August? Don’t mind if I do.

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