Six Flags was a summer ritual when I grew up in North Texas. Getting dropped off by parents as far from the gate as possible, stuffing oneself with overpriced, sticky-sweet funnel cakes, trying to get a basketball through an undersized and slightly lopsided hoop for the plush Looney Toons character.
All that seemed great at the time, but it wasn't why you made your mother drive an hour to Arlington and risked heat stroke for 10 hours in the merciless Texas sun. What made it all worth it, and what gave Six Flags a reason to exist, were the roller coasters. You rode the Texas Giant, of course, the adrenaline rush enhanced by the rickety wooden scaffolding that seemed on the verge of collapse and the whispered legend about how your friend's cousin's best friend's car got stuck at the top of the hill for hours, and everyone had to climb down. The Shockwave had a loop and was decently cool, especially since it was tucked in a far corner of the park and had reliably short lines. Then there was Judge Roy
Bean Scream, which was neither fast nor loopy but which you rode anyway just to say you'd hit for the cycle.
The perennial king of the coasters, in my mind at least, was the Flashback. It's a twisting, vaguely serpentine track of rust-red steel with a single loop that, to the casual onlooker, probably seemed about the same as the Shockwave, but it wasn't even close. The Flashback was faster and it went backwards. To a 12-year-old kid, it seemed the Platonic ideal of a roller coaster. If coasters could duel, the Shockwave would be reaching for the holster while the Flashback would have already invented a futuristic laser gun, fired and went to grab a beer.
I lost interest in Six Flags when I was maybe 15, just in time to take a single ride on Mr. Freeze. Maybe I could sense that the world was entering an age in which every single coaster anywhere would be part of a superhero movie marketing campaign and yearned for simpler times, or maybe I was dismayed by the existence of a movie as execrable as Batman & Robin. Probably I just realized that amusement parks were way overpriced and a generally miserable experience for anyone past puberty.
Still, I couldn't suppress a twinge of nostalgia when Six Flags announced today that it will be permanently closing the Flashback on September 3. No specific memories are conjured by the Flashback. Nothing like Jim, who told me he and his future wife rode the coaster on their first date (turns out it was actually the Shockwave. Sorry, Mariana) or Nick, our web editor, who vomited in his hands after his friends forced him to ride eight times in a row. Even so, the Flashback sticks in my mind as an important part of my adolescence. It wasn't, of course, but it's a totem, something to remind me that being a teenager didn't suck quite as much when I was traveling, backwards and upside down, at highway speeds.
So farewell, Flashback. Don't take it too hard that you're being shunted to clear up real estate for a younger, more lucrative ride that will be built once they make a big-budget movie that's sufficiently terrible. We salute your 23 years of faithful service. Six Flags won't be the same without you.