A thunderous bass line of dread rattles the loading station, where a crew member checks Marks’s harness. Apocalypse is a standing ride. And Marks stands alone, the only rider on the 28-passenger train.
“I am freakin’ about this music,” Marks says, loudly. “Hey Randy, what is this great music?”
Randall Wilke, the theme park’s director of operations, shrugs his shoulders.
“I dunno,” he says. “Apocalypse music.”
Marks nods. Wilke shoots a thumbs up to the board operator, and the lone passenger rolls into the end of the world.
Six Flags is offering this preview ride because the park is trying to shake off a years-long slump with Apocalypse, its first new roller coaster in more than a decade. It wants the blessing of Marks, one of one of the area’s most noted roller coaster fanatics.
For more than three decades, Marks has led a life of the loop. He runs Coaster Zombies, an Alexandria-based club of more than 200 hard-core coaster devotees who travel the world in the thrall of thrill.
By day an unmarried mailroom supervisor at Sibley Hospital, in his off hours Marks is the master of Texas Tornados, Skull Mountains and Nitros, the fearless rider of Boomerangs, Screamin’ Eagles and Zydeco Screams.
“We live to ride, that’s the motto of the Coaster Zombies,” says Marks, who has already made his annual purchase of more than $600 worth of season passes to Six Flags, Kings Dominion, Busch Gardens Williamsburg and several other nearby theme parks.
At 54, Marks has logged hundreds of twirling hours along thousands of twisting miles, amassing a life list of more than 9,000 turns on 760 coasters.
Here at his “home park,” he reckons he has ridden the Wild One, Six Flags’ classic wooden colossus, more than 1,000 times.
“I’ve ridden it for three hours straight,” says Marks, who is especially partial to the big timber coasters. “And that’s not even a record. Some people are complete nuts. I’m borderline.”
‘I love the fire’
On this day, Marks gets four rides on Apocalypse. On the third, after some Six Flags interns and a reporter have climbed aboard, he describes what he looks for as the car clank-clank-clanks up the first hill: “floater” airtime, “ejector” airtime, some good lateral throws.
Marks rides a new coaster the way a wine connoisseur sips a new vintage, though he doesn’t swirl the glass so much as get swirled by it. But he savors the subtleties. Although “subtle” might not be the right word for a machine that hurls you at three Gs along a track shaped like a tangled shoelace.