I stood in front of the deserted turnstiles at the currently closed Disneyland and smiled sadly.
So many memories. My high school Grad Night, which seemed like a lifetime ago. My first ride on Space Mountain at the tender age of 47. And that time I inappropriately, if accidentally, grabbed the cute guy in the seat next to me who was half my age and not my husband.
I can explain.
I’m not a huge fan of fast rides or roller coasters — not since I was 15 and fearless. But when the Cars ride first opened up in Disneyland’s California Adventure Park years ago, some trusted friends said it’d be tame enough for my liking, giving me the green light.
The next weekend I stood with my husband and several friends in the Radiator Springs Racers “singles” line, because the 12-year-old who led our group and therefore could be trusted to know such things said it’d be faster. True, but the price you pay for saving time is being separated from your party as the ride operators fill in empty seats with singles. Sure enough, my husband was put into the car ahead of me while I was politely detained on the platform to await the next sporty coupe with a painted-on smile.
And there it came, an empty space in the back seat right next to a — hey now. Really cute guy. Close-cropped hair. Dimples you could see at a distance. College dude? Local Marine? Did it matter?
Sure, I was probably old enough to be his really young mom, but still. I squeezed in next to him, offering a shy smile as I fumbled with my seat belt, silently thanking God I’d recently had my roots touched up.
As expected, the first part of the ride was all calm and light, except for a few times when our little speed racer seemed to rev up and want to peel out.
A few moments later, we pulled into a well-lit space patterned after the garage from the movie, and were surrounded by characters come alive by the miracle of animatronics. But why were we stopping? I looked at Cute Guy. We exchanged a smile. This impossible relationship was going well.
A second smiling car filled with happy people pulled up on a parallel set of tracks alongside us. They looked excited about something, their faces alight with anticipation, good-natured fist-pumping going on. Huh. Then a loud, booming voice began counting down: “3, 2, 1 . . . Go!”
Both cars shot out of the hangar at once, propelling me from carefree to panicked in six seconds flat. I threw myself at Cute Guy, grabbing his knee, his arm, burying my head in his shoulder and screaming like a little girl. I held on for dear life, cursing my so-called friends and the fiendish Disney engineers who thought adding a heart-stopping, tire-screeching race down the mini-mountain after being beguiled by a modest, sightseeing pace would be fun.
Only when the devil ride had finished its winding run did I unclench my shaky fingers from CG’s innocent bicep. I apologized, trying to smooth my hair and composure back into place.
“No problem,” he said. “Should make for a good picture.”
“Yeah.” Another flash of dimples. “They do a photo blast at the end.”
We followed the crowd into a corridor that led to the Cars gift shop. On one wall was a glowing array of photos taken during the last few seconds of the ride. And there I was: hair caught in a mini-tornado and holding onto a hunky stranger for all the world — not to mention my husband, Michael — to see.
But they both just laughed and shook hands. Cute Guy was even willing to take a posed picture with me. Obviously, his real mom had raised him well.
And guess what? His name was Michael, too. Vroom, vroom.
Barbara Neal Varma is a writer in Lake Forest, California. Send comments to firstname.lastname@example.org. Tell your story. Email your 650-word essay on a relationship to email@example.com. Please note: We do not respond to submissions we won’t pursue.