Bill Watkins, the guy who designed the ride at Space Mountain at Disneyland and was the first to take that ride, is 87. His routine these days consists of going to the grocery store, riding his bike around his Long Beach neighborhood and keeping detailed notes of his thoughts and activities. “Not much,” he said with characteristic brevity.
But Watkins recently made a new friend, Kyle King, 29, who showed up at Watkins’ condo as Watkins was carrying groceries. King once read an article about Watkins in the Long Beach Press-Telegram and had been a fan of Watkins’ work for many years. When he was a teenager, still living with his parents in Bixby Knolls, King built a miniature Space Mountain in the living room.
The young man and the old man shared a love for roller coasters.
So, when King heard that it had been 13 years since Watkins last rode Space Mountain, he got an idea. He would invite him to ride Space Mountain one last time.
“This will probably be my last ride,” Watkins said. “I suppose it’s goodbye.”
That happened Wednesday, Feb. 7.
Watkins walked through Disneyland with a cane and needed a wheelchair to get up the ramp to take the ride he created 40-plus years ago. The details of Space Mountain remain about the same as what he engineered – a 200-foot circle; an indoor space of 1.8 million cubic feet; girders that rise 68 feet; track that extends 2,267 feet.
But Watkins’ reaction at the end of his last ride was fresh. And it was how we all can only hope to react if we get a chance to take one last ride.