What it’s like to ride thrill rides again as Bay Area’s Six Flags reopens
Stomachs resumed churning and caps resumed flying off heads in Vallejo on Thursday as the Six Flags Discovery Kingdom amusement park at long last reopened its pandemic-shuttered collection of gut-busting thrill rides.
There were ample amounts screams — mostly the happy kind.
“This is going to be great,” said Vallejo paramedic Kevin Reustle, stepping aboard the Joker roller coaster on its first run in over a year. “I’d say the odds of my puking this ride are only about 10%.”
For the next minute or so, the 5-year-old roller coaster did its best to jerk, yank, spin, invert and separate Reustle from whatever he’d had for breakfast.
It failed, and Reustle — one of the health care workers and first responders invited to the grand reopening Thursday — took a second ride, just to make sure.
“That was great,” he said. “I’ve loved this place since I was a kid. It’s good to be back.”
Six Flags, like other California amusement parks in the red safety tier, got the green light to operate at 15% capacity, so long as it adheres to enhanced safety standards.
In Vallejo, that means park-goers must leave the roller coaster seat next to them empty. It also means submitting to a temperature scan at the front gate, closed benches, extra squads of rag-wielding cleaner-uppers and hand-sanitizer dispensers installed on seemingly every square inch of park real estate not already occupied by a fast-food stand.
Six Flags manager Kirk Smith said it was great to be back in the business of turning people upside down. “We’re here to bring thrills and escapism,” he said. “But we’re also here to bring our community back to work.”
Guests will be admitted in 15-minute slots, which must be reserved online. For Saturday, most of those slots have already been booked — on Thursday, a few remained for late in the afternoon.
Park admission is $30 but there are other ways the park separates cash from customers besides shaking it from their pockets on roller coasters: There are $15 tri-tip sandwiches, $6 fish for flinging at sea lions and $5 for a locker pass to park your cell phone at the entrance to each thrill ride, to keep it from flying off in midair.
At the Joker, ride operator Paul De Guzman dispatched each train full of hands-up screamers with the push of a black button.
He said his crew was ready in case the Joker — one of what the industry affectionately refers to as “vomit comets” — lives up to its billing.
“We have a supply of what looks like kitty litter,” he said. “After that we use sanitizer. We’re ready.”
Smith added that roller coaster cars are wiped down with alcohol every half hour by employees hired just for that duty.
The pandemic has created new job opportunities, he noted, even as it has taken others away.
The park, an eclectic mix of thrill rides and animal exhibits, was to be open Thursday and Friday for season pass holders only. On Saturday, members of the general public can see just how well their guts will perform after a year off.
Steve Rubenstein is a San Francisco Chronicle staff writer. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org Twitter: @SteveRubeSF