The Giant Dipper Roller Coaster of Santa Cruz

by Dan A. Cardoza



The Giant Dipper Roller Coaster of Santa Cruz



There are certain twists and turns in the belt.  You can choose to close your eyes, until the buckle. It’s then you feel its sharp cuts, left and right, crescent moons navigating starlight. Each rise and fall more to do about who you are, than how much you can take. The only way you can survive is to look straight ahead, fucking dare it.

Once a month, all of us foster kids share pizza, and then we are allowed to spend our good behavior allowance, if any, down on the Santa Cruz boardwalk. Our social services procured parents allow us an hour tops, to loiter the seaside shops and explore.


Little brother Timmy and I share the same momma. A necklace of surrogate mothers and fathers has told us, “You’re the lucky ones, still together.”

Tell that to Timmy. He’s still angry that I broke up our mother’s love affair with Oxycodone. Now Ms. Yvonne, our Santa Cruz County social worker, gets paid for keeping an eye on our mental wounds to see if they scar.

That night we were removed from our home at the Aqua Breeze Motel, Timmy blamed me and knuckled me in the stomach. Momma must have been angry too. She never waved good-bye or said she loved us. That’s the last time we saw her. She seemed to turn red and blue in the back of the squad car.

After our hospital stay, we’re told Timmy’s malnutrition could have been fatal. But Timmy is superstitious. Now he worries his beads that he’s gonna’ get fat and die from emotional starvation.


Robin is our black magic sister from Sea Side Foster Care, an estrogen twin of mine who likes making things vanish from the Boardwalk Magic shop. She’s good magic, never been caught, not even a black hat or white rabbit. She tells us it’s all about the art of distraction, survival. Whatever she steals, she angrily breaks on the sea salt planks on the esplanade. She turns beet red, holding her breath, then bursts into tears ’cause she doesn’t disappear.

As for Timmy and me, our favorite is O’Neill’s Surf shop. The waxed boards smell comforting, like the softly lit candles on the mantels of American Dreams. The hippy owner, Marty O’Neill, tells us fantastical stories we swallow like Moby. They’re stretched a lot, like the ones we make up about our baby-daddy’s loving us.

You won’t believe it, Marty’s surfed Kona. He tells us, “The waves are as tall as the Chrysler Building. You know the Art Deco beauty that washed ashore in Midtown Manhattan?”

I think to myself, “Where in the damned Poseidon is Manhattan?” I love Marty, though. At least he has a sense of passion and makes us hope.


They completed the Giant Dipper in Santa Cruz in 1924. It stands, a vintage, 20th century, wooden roller coaster. They say way back then, near the top of the loop, you could see clean out into the ocean. The times were surreal. If you were high enough, you could even see into tomorrow. I have my doubts, though.

One time at the top, I glimpsed what looked like a Kraken or possibly a nymph with fins and gills, way out in the golden scaled Pacific. Back on the ground is when I told Timmy. He pleaded, “Was it our mom?” I lied, now he frets there is no one to save us.

Without our boardwalk, we’d be empty without all the lost boys and girls and our enchanted roller coaster. Over time we’ve gotten used to all its ups and bottoms and in-between’s, where you lose your stomach and breath. There’s always that feeling of falling, the unforgettable emptiness in the half-way downs when you can’t forget where you’ve been. And then there’s the long climb up, almost always out of reach.

But Timmy and I never give up. After all, in four weeks, we’ll chance the Giant Dipper at the boardwalk again.



Dan A. Cardoza’s fiction, nonfiction, and poetry have met international acceptance. Most recently his work has been featured in Cabinet of Heed, Cleaver, Entropy, Gravel, Montana Mouthful, New Flash Fiction Review and Spelk. Twitter Handle: @Cardozabig


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