Near Greatness

My Roller Coaster Ride With Monica Lewinsky

For one minute and 50 seconds, we flew through the salty Brooklyn air, screaming and swerving and hanging on for dear life

Did I ever tell you about the time I rode the Cyclone with Monica Lewinsky? The craziest thing about this story is that I truly hate roller coasters. I've never been a fan of anything that makes me pay for the privilege of clenching my teeth, getting overcome with nausea and dizziness, and feeling thisclose to a violent, bloody death.

But in late October 2000, my husband and I rode out to Coney Island with friends who wanted to visit the famous home of Nathan's and mermaids before they skipped town to raise their imminent child in the North Carolina 'burbs. The boardwalk was nearly deserted that day and most of the cotton-candy and pizza stands were boarded up for the season. But one thing was still open: the Cyclone roller coaster.

Now, the Cyclone is not just any roller coaster. It is an OLD roller coaster (built in 1927). It is a rickety roller coaster (made of wood). It is an expensive roller coaster (about $9 for less than two minutes). It is also a roller coaster that you usually have to wait on a long, time-sucking line to ride. But on that day, the last weekend the park was open for the season, there was no line at all. My husband and his friend bought tickets and started to climb up; I was going to stay safely on the ground with my friend Heather, who in her third trimester couldn't ride even if she wanted to. But something made me say, "Hey guys, wait up!"

I don't know what made me do it — fate? — but a surprise awaited me at the top of the rickety stairs. The ride operator stopped us and said, "You can get on in a few minutes, after Monica finishes going around."

Monica? Was he talking about some regular at the park who got to ride solo? He couldn't mean Monica, could he? I mean, this was just a couple years after her scandal broke, and the fumes of her notoriety were still pretty strong. But then the coaster screeched to a halt in front of us, and there was Monica Lewinsky in the flesh, not a strand of her black helmet of hairdo out of place after the breezy ride. She had a big red smile plastered on her face, and said, "Let's go again!"

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That's when I noticed the cameraman. It turned out that Monica was filming an episode of a BBC series called something like "Monica's Postcards From America." I remember thinking that seemed a little low-brow for a network as high-falutin' as the BBC, but that was of course before American TV became littered with Kardashians. I apologize now for thinking less of the Brits.

My little crew of three climbed into the seats behind Monica, and for one minute and 50 seconds, the four of us flew through the salty Brooklyn air, screaming and swerving and hanging on for dear life. OH MY GOD, I thought. If one of these 73-year-old pieces of wood rots through and this ride flies off the tracks and shoots into the sea, I will be forever known as the woman who died on a roller coaster with the intern who gave President Clinton a blow job!

But, thankfully, the ancient roller coaster hung on until we pulled safely to a stop. We all climbed out, and the same invisible force that guided me up those stairs to the ride pushed me over toward Monica. I tapped her on the shoulder. She looked at me, understandable apprehension in her eyes as she probably wondered what horrible thing I would say to her.

"Monica, I wanted to let you know that I work at Glamour magazine and we just finished putting together the end-of-the-year Do's and Don'ts feature," I explained.

"Oh?" she said, bracing herself for a slam.

"I just thought you'd like to know you're a Do this year — we loved the idea that you're moving forward by creating a handbag line," I explained. This was actually all true.

Her eyes widened, and she shrieked, "I'm a Do??" Then she grabbed me in a big bear hug, which almost smothered me. She's a big girl — tall, voluptuous, with features that seemed twice the size of those on a normal face — and I'm a small one, at not quite five feet. She thanked me, waved good-bye with a big smile and disappeared into the scrum of her production team.

I thought about that day recently, when I read an article Monica wrote in Vanity Fair about how the scandal affected her life, after a decade of silence. You know, she did something monumentally stupid, but she's acted pretty classy in the years since, getting a master's degree and trying to move on, even though she's apparently Kryptonite to potential employers. While her former paramour has become a revered elder statesman and potential First Husband, she still can't get any respect.

But I will always remember her for the overwhelming energy and joy in her embrace that day, and for the fact that she was brave enough not only to ride the Cyclone, but to ride it twice.

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