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IMS: Hello, this is IMS, the author of The Program audio series. I am glad to say we managed to extort another sponsor. His name is Hendrik, and he's a good friend of the show. Hendrik developed a platform where you can purchase or rent real estate - all without a middleman. His focus right now is on Germany, which is fortunate, as The Program has a big following in Germany. And by big, I mean Lorenz, Bea, and that random guy who left the show a lovely review. If however you are an English speaking expat, looking to buy a house or rent an apartment in Germany, you should definitely visit withoutrealtor.com - I will not spell it out for you, as spelling is beneath the Program. Just look for the link in the show notes. Once again a big thank you to Hendrik for sponsoring the episode. Hope you enjoy it, and hope you stick around until the end for a special announcement in the show's end credits.
ANNOUNCER: In the chronicles of the Program, few stories are as tragic as the one of collective 179. And few are as amusing.
It's not possible to say who started the roller coaster craze.
It wasn't a single person. After all, it takes a joint effort of numerous smart and talented individuals to produce such a spectacularly abysmal result.
~~~ 0 ~~~
Collective 179 consisted mostly of unpretentious, homespun folks, sharing a no-nonsense, can-do attitude. But they were also thrill seekers, with a propensity to take things to their limit. And, unlike most collectives, their boundless optimism and adamantly uncowed spirit granted them the capacity to actually follow their dreams. Which is exactly what made them such loose cannons. As has been demonstrated time and time again, once people set their minds on something they have a tendency to follow through until they can no longer find a way to make things any possibly worse.
~~~ 0 ~~~
They knew of amusement parks before, of course. But it took a remarkable combination of external pressures, social trends, and vagaries of human psychology for amusement parks to become the defining characteristic of their whole identity.
What made the undertaking even more impressive, is that collective 179 lived on an island, which before the Update, by all accounts, contained little more than a decrepit merry-go-around. Still, it took mere twenty-odd years for the diligent collective 179 to set up what can only be described as an entertainment-industrial complex. Their bumper cars were the most exhilarating, their haunted mansions the most terrifying, their pendulum rides turning heads as well as stomachs. But their mastery of spectacle was at greatest display in that very pinnacle of amusement park pantheon:
It is by way of them that collective 179 had brought into being veritable wonders.
~~~ 0 ~~~
Like the gargantuan Gulliver, which dwarfed all other structures on the island…
Or the seemingly endless Saudade, the longest roller coaster in the world, the ride on which lasted for over three hours…
Or the riveting Tortuga, with cart speeds rivalling those of the fastest automobiles, and whose name was either a clever word play, or a telltale sign that whoever came up with it didn't know Spanish.
But to be fair, "either brilliant or moronic" is an apt summarization of collective 179.
~~~ 0 ~~~
To build such feats of engineering is a tall task, and requires no small sacrifices.
Worksite accidents were common, especially during the earlier periods, and many construction workers perished.
But these losses pale in comparison to what administrative workers gave up for the cause: strained family relationships, stress-induced health issues, anxiety, and burnout were just some of the travails that made office workers the true heroes of the roller coaster boom. After all, to give up one’s life is an even bigger sacrifice if one has to remain alive afterwards.
But they did complain, the valiant ones? Did they grumble and whine and air their grievances to the world, fostering a culture of defeatism and criticism? Well, maybe a little bit. But with an enduring ethos and an unbending will, they forged the roller coaster future, no lift hill too high, no downward helix too steep, no portion of the track too short to further the glory of 179.
~~~ 0 ~~~
The history of sports has yet to record a winner of the hedonistic treadmill. The more roller coasters there were on the island, and the more extravagant they became, the more its inhabitants felt it was not enough. So a new plan started making rounds, once again not floated by a lone genius, but emerging as a fully formed consensus:
"If none of the rides suffice on their own, why don't we try connecting them?"
And so collective 179 began the intricate process of merging all of the roller coasters into one.
~~~ 0 ~~~
They shut down the island for seven years. Every able-bodied woman and man wholly devoted to the goal. They even lowered the limit for child labour so that minors could contribute - at the end of the day, they’d be the ones endowed with this wonderful heirloom. Some advocates went as far as to propose a break in the calendar, marking the whole history as the one that transpired Before the Merge, and the notably more cultivated After the Merge era.
~~~ 0 ~~~
The riding time on the resulting mega coaster was five full days.
It didn’t have a name. Or rather it had many names - of all the rides that came before it, which according to some roller coaster authorities was 99 of them. But everyone referred to it simply as the Ride, since now that there was only one, there was no mistaking it.
And the Ride was indeed the most magnificent.
Meals were served during its many ascents - granted, for practical reasons they were exclusively sandwiches, often stale and mostly consisting of bread, but to riders they took an otherworldly flavour. For to eat a sandwich on the Ride had a special meaning few experiences could compare to; almost as if by consuming a meal on the Ride they were becoming one with the Ride itself.
~~~ 0 ~~~
But soon, even the Ride wasn’t enough.
No matter how many butterfly rolls they added, no matter how long the zero-g stall lasted, no matter how high in the air the loops went, it was never enough.
So the arduous collective kept expanding the launch tracks, adding even more cars, connecting speed hills with banked turns, dive drops with pretzel knots, double dip camelbacks with corkscrew serpent rolls, counter-inclined twists with vertical in-line horseshoe loops, one thrill flowing into another, throwing it all out there, like a trapeze artist jumping from rope to rope, from bar to bar. A few lone voices questioned the prudence of this direction, but they were dismissed as irrelevant:
"Move aside, loser. We're building roller coasters.”
~~~ 0 ~~~
Gradually they managed to extend the Ride to last almost a year. What this meant is that the original ratio got inverted, and instead of people riding for five days, it was five days that people wouldn’t be on the Ride. One would board the train at the beginning of spring, and disembark it at the end of winter. A few oddballs complained that riding an open car at sub-freezing temperatures isn’t enjoyable, and challenged its health benefits. Their objections however were brushed off as unbecoming of real one-seventy-niners, with their passion, zeal, and vigour.
~~~ 0 ~~~
And it’s not like roller coaster acolytes had nothing to show for themselves. All the data was firmly on their side.
In a span of just a few generations, the amount of tracks on the island increased seventeen-fold, and the total track length was now long enough to get to the Moon.
The annual average speed of an individual rose from 50 to a quite respectable 89 kilometres per hour.
Loops per capita more than doubled, and were continuing to grow at 6% year-over-year.
The number of on-ride cameras was also steadily increasing with every rider now guaranteed a minimum of 57 silly pictures taken each day.
All the indicators signalled collective 179 thrived, and would continue to thrive. And who are you going to trust, if not numbers?
~~~ 0 ~~~
It didn’t take long - half a century at most - for them to cover every last patch of land with tracks. The tangle of loops and twists was visible across the bay, the Ride towering above the island like a colossus. Riding it now took decades, eating nothing but sandwiches, with excrement dropped on the riders below, as they were slowly ascending towards the top, living in the perpetual shadow of their design.
This caused a few annoying sceptics to openly question the roller coaster credo. They noted that somehow along the way the dynamic in which roller coasters were used to entertain people got reversed, and now people were being used to further the cause of the roller coasters. But these pseudo-intellectual rants couldn’t diminish the collective’s steadfast resolve. Indeed, they might have been but divisive words of sabouters, or even worse - competitors, as rumours had it that collective 185 was also getting into the roller coaster space. So they grit their teeth and rose their gaze upwards and kept expanding the Ride, ever higher, ever faster, ever closer to the advent of the flawless roller coaster.
~~~ 0 ~~~
Only the books and old songs still spoke of a time when amusement parks were a source of pride. Some thought of these stories as merely an embellishment, a sweet lie that never was; others clung to these narratives with all they got, holding onto them like a rider clutches their seat in case of a malfunctioning buzz bar - which in itself was beginning to be an increasingly common occurrence. Sandwiches on the contrary were becoming increasingly scarce, as all available resources were being invested into development of the Ride. Its riding time surpassed that of the longest human lifespans, meaning no one was any longer able to experience it in its entirety. This prompted some dangerous radicals to cast the collective’s sacrosanct mission into doubt, and even try to dismantle parts of the Ride in protest. Thankfully, the opposition was quickly neutralized, and the collective stayed on course, their conviction unwavering: after all, it was roller coasters that led them to current prosperity - it stands to reason then, it’d be roller coasters that would lead them through current adversity.
~~~ 0 ~~~
It has to be noted, that by all measures, things were indeed looking up.
The average speed of an individual broke an astonishing 125 kilometres per hour.
Loops per capita continued to grow, even if it was due to the number of loops staying constant, and the number of “capita” going down.
Most amazingly, on-ride cameras now covered the entirety of track and were filming constantly, meaning every rider’s voyage on the Ride was documented in real time, in totality, and indefinitely.
~~~ 0 ~~~
But the industrious collective was still not satisfied.
Their souls yearning for the confirmation of their efforts.
Aspiring to build that which could not be surpassed.
Aiming for eternal greatness, they poured all their allegiance, and fervour, and ingenuity into the Ride’s grand finale…
The ultimate addition to the ultimate roller coaster.
A series of loops exerting G-forces so strong that it would deprive the riders’ brains of oxygen.
Exposing them to prolonged cerebral anoxia.
Resulting in a reduced hearing, tunnel vision, and at last, loss of consciousness.
Tracks would then descend into a specially modified furnace, passing through temperatures up to 1200 degrees Kelvin.
Followed by a 60-second dip of being submerged in cold water.
Lastly, the train would rise above the surface and enter the terminal station.
Ready for new passengers.
Ready to ride in euphoria.
Ready to ride with dignity.
Ready for a ride of a lifetime.
~~~ 0 ~~~
Collective 179 is now long gone.
Their little island again secluded and solitary. Across the bay, on days the sea is perfectly still, people swear they can still hear faint faraway screams. They say this is the one-seventy-niners’ indomitable spirit, hurling down the roller coaster slopes for eternity. Of course, it’s only a story, useful for scaring wayward children when they misbehave. And who could blame them for believing it, with the island ferries wheels still spinning, the pendulums swinging, and infinite cars going up and down.
For the Ride remains completely operational. Oiled up and fully automated, it will keep on going in circles for thousands of years.
For some the embodiment of unyielding ambition and freedom.
For others, a memorial.
A warning from the benevolent Program, so sorely missing from the collective 179’s story. This, of course, is no accident. As a prominent decoder remarked: “The Program is most felt in its absence”.
[The Program audio series main theme]
ANNOUNCER: This episode of The Program was made by two people: Ray James and IMS. Dialogue clean up by Dominick De Villon. Main music theme by Christien Ledroit. Music in this episode by Blue Dot Sessions. If you’re listening to this, we invite you to take part in an experiment. Visit programaudioseries.com/collective179 should you be inclined to learn more.
original art by Carlos Costa
Courtesy of Tim Franklin