Who: Rick Hiser
Title: Ride-maintenance foreman
Where: Cedar Point Amusement Park, Sandusky, Ohio
The vast arc of steel describes an inverted "U" as it soars 310 feet into the sky, dwarfing the nearby port city of Sandusky, Ohio and the coal freighters plying Lake Erie. Dubbed Millennium Force, it is the Mount McKinley of roller coasters -- the tallest in North America (the Japanese built one in August that's 8 feet higher). And here, on the coaster's wind-swept summit, is Rick Hiser's workplace.
Wearing a four-point climbing harness, Hiser clips his safety lanyard to the coaster's catwalk and wriggles down into a web of steel trusses. A flock of Canada geese fly by, some 100 feet below him. Hiser ignores them. As he works, he is relaxed and utterly focused on the job at hand: to check every bolt, every wire, every cable on the coaster's 6,595 feet of track.
As the ride-maintenance foreman at Cedar Point amusement park, Hiser has an awesome responsibility: Ensure that the 68 rides are safe for the 3 million thrill seekers who take on Cedar Point each year. Shortly after dawn from May through October, Hiser and the "high guys" from his crew of 18 inspectors scale the peaks of such rides as Power Tower (240 feet) and Magnum xl-200 (205 feet). If an inspector doesn't sign off on a ride, it doesn't run.
Hiser began preparing for his career at the age of eight, when he made his first ascent of the King Kong-sized oak tree in his best buddy's backyard. The two kids shinned up to the crown of the tree, then scrambled onto impossibly small branches until they could look out over the rooftops far below.
"My mother," cracks Hiser, "nearly had a heart attack when she saw us."
If only she could see him now. From the lip of Millennium Force's crown, the view is gut-melting -- a straight-shot drop. Hiser concedes that once, when clouds engulfed the Force's summit and he lost all sense of up and down, his legs "got a little rubbery." But he has an antidote for the jitters: He lets them come. "I like it when we do the extreme stuff, and I get a few butterflies," he says. "It makes me feel more alive."
Visit Cedar Point Amusement Park on the Web (www.cedarpoint.com).