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austin_dern

July 2017

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Apr. 29th, 2017

The New Texas Giant roller coaster opened in 2011. You might correctly infer a previous Texas Giant at Six Flags Over Texas. The earlier was a wooden roller coaster that had been in the same spot for nineteen years. Then Six Flags gave it the Rocky Mountain Construction makeover, the sort of conversion from wood to steel track, and changing of layouts, that Kentucky Kingdom's Storm Chaser would later get, and that Cedar Point's Mean Streak is undergoing. It would also be the first ride with an inexplicably slow queue.

Well, the proximate cause was obvious: there was a long stretch, at least a half-hour, when they weren't sending any trains out. We just stood there, occasionally moving up because of people who gave up on the queue, mostly underneath cover. The problem was never clear. I think there was a rumor of some medical problem, presumably worse than just someone vomiting on the ride, circulating to our corner. It seemed to take forever, but we stuck it out, I suppose out of a sense that who knew if it would ever be any less bad? Having only one day to visit a park is a series of bets about what's worth queueing time.

Anyway, it is a fun ride. I felt like I could make out the former wooden coaster's tracks, and it had a lot of satisfying little hops. The trains are styled to your classic late-50s high-finned cars, complete with bull horns on the front car. The station's done to look like Your 60s Garage. Overblown? Sure, but you know? Do too much of something and it starts working again.

Now on to the real operational fiasco of the day. Six Flags Over Texas has Shock Wave, a late-70s coaster whose main gimmick is two loops, which were big things in the late 70s. To freshen it up, they've added a virtual reality component. You can choose to wear goggles that present a movie. This has made the ride, at least for now, extremely popular. We're curious about that and thought, well, why not if the lines allow ride it both ways?

The answer is that the lines don't allow. We first tried to get there and were warned we'd need to get an appointment. We got a paper good for admission to the queue between, I think it was, 6:00 and 6:45, and we found other stuff to amuse us until after 6:00. Part of this was searching for a place that served coffee, which we never found. And then the line ... oooooh, the line. Such a line.

Apparently the virtual reality part is making the ride popular. Apparently. Because whatever else it might do, the virtual reality scheme, goggles that people have to wear, is an operational disaster. We timed it at about seven minutes between unloading one train and dispatching the next. This for a ride that itself lasts two minutes. If it took more than a minute to unload and reload before the virtual reality side I will eat my goggles.

Some of this is the technology's newness. People kept returning goggles because they weren't working. Or they had to have strapping them on explained over and over. This can be reduced as the population gets experienced with the stuff. Some of this is probably inherent to the concept, though. The helmets add another thing that ride operators have to check before sending a train out. You can't just put any pair of goggles in any seat, either; each car needs its own view, lest the video and the train movements not make any sense together. Each pair of goggles has to be taken away and cleaned between uses, so it's not like one durable pair can be left hooked into the cars. (I'm not sure they really need this cleaning, but I'm not going to try arguing against wiping down something that's touched other people's hair.)

We decided to ride virtual reality-free, at least for the first ride. And here's a piece that really galls: we had to wait just as long as if we were getting on the virtual reality ride. There are a couple of train cars reserved for real-reality riders, and a lot of trains went out without them occupied. If there were a separate queue for people willing to forego the movie then great, that capacity could be used and the total queue made at least a bit less awful. But there's not, and so we waited about an hour, gradually lowering our estimate of Six Flags Over Texas's operations skills, and wondering what kind of fiasco the virtual reality component of Cedar Point's Iron Dragon is going to be.

We were able to jump over the last couple of ride cycles, thanks to the ride ops calling people from near the platform who weren't interested in virtual reality up. And the ride itself was nice, pretty good, and with a stretch that runs excitingly close to the ground. That's something that makes any ride feel faster and more trilling. Worth riding? Sure. Worth an hour-plus wait? Absolutely not.

Given the circumstances we didn't go back for a virtual reality ride. Maybe if we're ever brought to Dallas again, on a day that isn't nearly so busy, or if we can do it first thing before the queues have filled up. We'll see.

Trivia: Russia's economy grew at an average 8.8 percent between 1908 and 1914. In the last year it grew 14 percent. Source: The First World War, Hew Strachan.

Currently Reading: Rust: The Longest War, Jonathan Waldman.

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