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Conference Calls: crazy for coasters 

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Marty Moltz, 45, is a state appellate prosecutor who has argued more cases in the reviewing courts of Illinois than any other lawyer in history. A former chairman of the Chicago Bar Association Criminal Law Committee, Moltz dreams of becoming a circuit court judge. Before she died, Moltz says, his mother used to tell him why he hadn't reached his goal.

"Vell, Martila," she used to say in her Russian Yiddish accent. "It's because they know vot you do. They know vere you are all summer. They have shpies, the bar association does, and they know all you vant to do all the time is ride roller coasters. Vot kind of thing is that for a man who vants to be a judge?"

In spite of the spies, Moltz has a "highly qualified" rating from the bar association, but no political clout. And besides, if his docket were to conflict with his fellow roller coaster enthusiasts' trips to ride the Cyclone at Astroland in New York City, or the Beast at Kings Island in Ohio, then so be it. He really wouldn't want the job anyway.

"There's nowhere I'd rather be than on a roller coaster," says Moltz. "It's pure elation. There's no better way in the world to relax. I laugh my troubles away. I can forget anything on a roller coaster--anything, even the fact that I haven't been appointed or elected to the bench."

Moltz is far from alone and peculiar. People of all ages and walks of life from around the world are calling this the new golden age of the roller coaster. (The first golden age was in the 1920s, although coaster-type rides have been around for centuries.) Roller coasters are being built again, and almost 3,000 fans have formalized their obsessive love for them by declaring membership in American Coaster Enthusiasts (ACE). The national organization, which charges $30 a year to members, began when some of the charter members met in connection with the 1977 feature film Rollercoaster.

ACE publishes RollerCoaster! magazine, organizes trips, disseminates the latest info on coasters, and provides members with what they say is an extended family of roller-coaster fanatics. Not only do most members ride coasters wherever they happen to be--living, working, or passing through on pleasure or business --but for most members, vacations are organized around favorite coasters or coasters they've been dying to try.

"As soon as I sneak close to riding on every one," says ACE member Marcie Love, 51, "they build more. So I'll never get on them all."

Love, who's a national and Illinois board member of the National Abortion Rights Action League, chairman of the Chicago Foundation for Women, married, and the mother of three grown daughters, thinks nothing of riding every coaster at Kennywood Park in Pittsburgh 20 times in a row. That's where she grew up and learned to love coasters at her mother's side. She says her coworkers find her hobby astonishing. "It just doesn't fit in with how they see me," she says.

Twenty times is nothing. ACE charter member Allen Ambrosini, an art director, editor, and publisher of At-the-Park, an amusement-park trade journal, once rode the Judge Roy Scream coaster in Arlington, Texas, 606 times in a row over 23 and a half hours. He was raising money for the American Diabetes Association.

"I dozed a little," says Ambrosini, 41, "but a little kick about the second or third hill kept waking me up."

Most ACE members trace their love for coasters to a very young age--to great times as kids at local amusement parks, especially Riverview on Chicago's north side (defunct since 1967), which housed great coasters such as the Bobs and the Fireball. But Ambrosini's wife, another unstoppable fanatic, didn't start riding till she was an adolescent.

"I was very fascinated by them," says Liucija Ambrosini, 43, a native of Germany and a high school theater teacher at the University of Chicago Lab School as well as an adult theater- group director. "But my mother would never let me ride them. She didn't think it was wise."

Finally, when Liucija was 12, her mother relented and let her join some cousins on the Dragon Coaster in Rye, New York. "I loved it," she says.

The Ambrosinis, both ACE executive committee directors, are formidable on the subject of roller coasters. They can talk about the good old days when the amusement parks advertised "Let's Ride Again"--continuous riding till the park closed or until you ran out of dimes for the coaster man.

Liucija can tell you about the steel roller coasters of Tokyo and the Mount Fuji area in Japan, where she traveled on a dignitary's junket in her role as past president of ACE.

They can tell you how safe coasters are--practically foolproof--and that accidents are caused by careless, foolhardy riders who stand up or don't wear their seat belts.

They can tell you about "exclusive ride sessions" they and their fellow fanatics have garnered on their trips. (Amusement-park operators throughout the country know which side their bread is buttered on.)

The Ambrosinis can tell you the pros and cons of wood construction versus steel. Wood takes impact, it changes with the weather, it gives. It's like riding a biplane, they say, as opposed to a steel coaster, which is like riding the Concorde.

They can tell you the effects on the body of upside-down loops. But most lovingly, they will tell you about the reborn, rehabbed, national landmark roller coasters they and their fellow ACE members have sought to establish as an important part of American history.

It was a full six months into their 20-year marriage before the Ambrosinis discovered they both loved roller coasters. They had met as drama students at UIC, and the subject just never came up. They were driving east on a vacation, and it was a misty 3 AM. They were curving around on a winding road when suddenly a roller coaster peeked out at them through the fog.

"We were both thrilled," says Allen.

Adds Liucija, "We just looked at each other, and when we got to New York, we made a point of going to Coney Island."

For those roller-coaster fanatics in the area who wish to meet others just like them, ACE will host its tenth annual midwinter conference next Saturday, January 20, from 1 until 9:30 PM at the Holiday Inn, 6201 Joliet Road in Countryside. The cost is $30 for nonmembers, $28 for members, and includes dinner (cash bar). Call the coordinators at 463-0113 or 274-8596 for more information.

Presentations include a video retrospective, Year of the Coaster III, rare Coney Island videos and slides, and videos of ACE's Japan trip. Representatives from Kings Island, Cedar Point, Worlds of Fun, and Six Flags Great America will also make presentations. You can expect sweets in the shape of roller coasters, too.

Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photo/Paul McGrath.

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