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Matt Ringler on STROLLERCOASTER

The walks were always there from the beginning. First, weaving in and out of the parks along the water near the Governor’s Mansion on the Upper East Side. And a year later, after the break-up, down and around the crowded storefronted streets and avenues of Astoria, Queens. I’d take my daughter out of the apartment and into the neighborhood. It wasn’t about getting quality time together—after that first year, we were always alone together when it was one of my nights. But the apartment was small-going-on-smaller when one of us wasn’t in a good mood. It was listed as a two bedroom railroad but that’s only if you counted one “bedroom” as the room where the living room should have been. We didn’t have a couch. But we had a stroller.

Stollercoaster started off as a song. The Ohio Players classic Love Rollercoaster, also covered by The Red Hot Chili Peppers on the soundtrack for Beavis and Butthead Do America, has a refrain that repeats “Rollercoaster of Love—WHOO WHOO WHOO.” So the scene is me, a deep purple City Mini stroller (you have to get the City Mini—it folds—was a thing everyone said—although eight years later, I’ve still never folded this thing once), and Sam, my baby. I’m pushing the stroller around, scream-singing “Stroller-pause-coooooooaster of loooooooove” wheeling this Grimace-from-McDonald’s-color-purple perambulator on and off the curb to make it feel like a rollercoaster ride.

There is a documentary I saw once called D.I.Y. Or Die: How to Survive as an Independent Artist. It’s about different forms of do it yourself art—film, music, publishing, etc. One of the interviewees talks about how the skateboarder mindset of the ‘70s and ‘80s changed mainstream culture. Because these kids on boards didn’t see curbs, park benches, and fences for what they were. They were ramps, pipes, and spines. An empty pool was a bowl. Then they grew up with that same alternative mindset and became architects, teachers, lawyers, really all of the professions. But they had this slightly different lens to view the world through and they put that into their work. That felt very powerful to me. I was never good on wheels—I grew too fast as kid and would bump into things just walking by them. But the idea of using whatever is around you to have a good time always stuck with me.

When I was told that Raúl the Third and Elaine Bay were illustrating Stollercoaster, I was thrilled. I mean all of their art is brilliant. But that wasn’t the main cause of my excitement. It was because Raúl had been doing these presentations about creating art using whatever is around you. It was exactly the idea that lead me through tunnels and around sharp turns with the actual Strollercoaster, as well as the main idea I wanted to capture in the story. The opportunity of being paired with such a talented team who really, truly understood the heart beating underneath this story of click clack clicks, whooshes, and snaps, was a real slice of heaven.

The first time Raúl and I spoke, we talked about his son and my daughter—about what it means to be a dad. But we also talked about where we grew up. I’m from Queens, New York. And Raúl is from El Paso, Texas. One thing that was really important to both of us was capturing the feeling of being a kid in a city. The sights, the smells, the colors. What are the places that stand out to you? For me as a kid, it was always the basketball court, the sneaker store, the bakery with the sugar cookies that had cartoon characters faces on them in hard icing. Raúl took these childhood loves of mine and elevated them into a magical neighborhood of whimsy and good-feeling while Elaine gave it the coloring of the best t-shirts from a 1990s class photograph.

My daughter is almost nine now. We still go for these walks. Especially over the last year-plus of the pandemic. Even though we live in a new apartment (with a couch!), the rooms have felt more claustrophobic than ever at times. Blocks still block every path. The trains are still untrained. And the stuffies are still all stuffed in the wrong places. Except maybe now there’s also a tablet on the table and all the remote learning books are far from their shelves. And that’s when I know we can get outside together for a break. We balance on the curbs, grab onto tree branches, dodge all the bugs. And really, it is the most worthwhile ride of all.