The “Art” of Riding Roller Coasters with Tom

It was love at first sight. They met eating dinner outside at A1A Café in downtown Brandon, Florida, in October 1994. They clicked because of an unusual talent that they shared: the love of drawing cartoons!

They compared notes about drawing styles as well as unusual body and facial shapes throughout the meal and laughed often. They lingered over evening goodbyes. While one of them lived in Brandon, the other one lived in Des Plaines, Illinois. Would they ever see each other again?

I am describing the first time that my father Art, a professional cartoonist, met my future husband Tom, a high school art teacher who had drawn Popeye flip cartoons as a kid.

My dad was sold on Tom as a possible boyfriend for me after that first meeting and was determined to help out our interactions in any way that he could.

He learned that Tom was a roller coaster enthusiast. Tom and I both had passes to Busch Gardens, but we never had gone there together. While Tom was seeking roller coaster thrills, I gossiped my way through Busch Gardens with my best friend, Norene. We analyzed the behavior of our co-workers and nibbled our way through the park, oblivious to most of the rides. I had developed a fear of the “dropping feeling” in my 30’s and was even afraid of the mild drop of the Flume Ride.

How would my dad intervene to get me that first theme park date with Tom?

A week after my dad met Tom, Tom asked me to go to Busch Gardens with him that weekend. I already had made a commitment to go to the Magic Kingdom with my visiting sister, her husband and my two young nieces. I thought going to two theme parks in two days would be too draining for me, and I admittedly was afraid of going on Kumba, the newest coaster at Busch. Kumba flipped riders upside down several times! Despite turning Tom down, we continued our friendship during our madrigal rehearsals and performance.

My choir friends erroneously interpreted the fact that I turned Tom down as meaning that I was not interested in him. One of my choir friends proceeded to introduce me to a single friend of hers in Plant City. He came to a church service and joined us for lunch afterwards at A1A. This man was nice enough, but his time was consumed by flipping houses. “Mr. X” asked me to nail down a date to see The Nutcracker. I still was interested in Tom, so I had “scheduling conflicts” with every date that he selected.

When my parents visited me for Christmas, I was surprised to find that my dad wanted to show me a video of Busch Gardens’ Kumba ride! The video showed the entire ride from the front seat. My dad had ridden a variety of thrill rides at Chicago’s Riverview Amusement Park as a kid, so he was familiar with the “dropping” feeling.

My mom insisted that we have dinner with her friend and his family in Bradenton. Coincidentally, her friend’s son was a wealthy Chicago bachelor who was close to my age. To counteract my mom’s actions, my dad showed me the Kumba video repeatedly and talked up the benefits of going out with Tom every chance he got.

I will admit that watching that video helped to alleviate my fears of going on that ride. I was under the false assumption that I would have to ride Kumba to date Tom. After all, Tom had been interviewed on local TV about Kumba’s awesome characteristics during an American Coaster Enthusiasts (ACE) event that fall.

When I saw Tom at the first Thursday night dinner of 1995 at A1A Café, I mentioned that I was going to renew my Busch Gardens pass. If he was free, I would be interested in going to the park with him sometime.

With some encouragement and tips from Tom on how to ride Kumba without becoming dizzy, I rode Kumba twice and actually loved the dropping and flipping feelings.

Tom and I were on our way to becoming theme park buddies and eventually became partners in life. My dad was thrilled, and the added bonus was a lifelong close relationship with Tom.


Diane Russell joined OLLI in 2014 and has taken over 70 OLLI courses on literature, writing, history, health and wellness, art, music, language, sociology, technology, theater and genealogy. She is a regular contributor to OLLI Connects as well as its proofreader, and she proof reads for each new OLLI Course Catalog.


3 Replies to “The “Art” of Riding Roller Coasters with Tom”

  1. Two very talented people met and fell in love with your dad’s encouragement. I have such a fear of heights (even the ferris wheel) I would have had to pass him by!!! Good thing you found him, Diane. Great couple.

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