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90-year-old's coaster-riding insight: 'I always go twice' 

Ray Rickman of East Meadow celebrated his 90th birthday Saturday -- as he has done so many birthdays in the past -- by riding Coney Island's Cyclone rollercoaster.  Credit: Debbie Egan-Chin

When you ride the Cyclone with Ray Rickman, you ride it his way.

Start with a meal that sticks to the ribs — a couple of Nathan’s hot dogs or a plate of pasta, perhaps, in Coney Island. Sit in the middle car when you board the ride. Then, it’s time to strap in and hold on.

“I always go twice,” Rickman, of East Meadow, said. “The first time I’m very frightened, but the second time I calm down.”

Rickman would know best. At 90, he’s been riding the famed roller coaster nearly every year, for decades, as a birthday tradition. On Saturday, more than 40 family members and friends joined him for the annual ride and a few slices of birthday cake. 

“It’s local and it’s my tradition and that’s it,” Rickman said.

Rickman, who turned 90 on Sept. 6, is a man of habit. Each morning, he wakes up with his wife of more than 60 years, Starr. He puts on his sneakers — a plain pair of Converse Chuck Taylors — and drives  from East Meadow to his job as a plumbing contractor in the Bronx.

He’s not quite ready to give up his business, where he’s long been particular about the proper terminology of sinks. (“There’s no such thing as a bathroom sink, it’s a basin or a lavatory,” he tells his children.)

As for the sneakers, “I started wearing them when they were $3 a pair,” he said with a shrug. “It’s affordable.”

But for a routine as precise as his, there’s always room for a challenge.

He once climbed to the top of the Brooklyn Bridge while working on a construction project. He helped repair the plumbing damage at the World Trade Center after it was bombed in 1993.

He and Starr first met at a hootenanny on New Year’s Eve in Greenwich Village and went on to have seven children. They later attended Vietnam War protests and took trips to China and the Soviet Union.

And it’s at the Cyclone that the two sides of Rickman come together, his family said. He’s skipped a few years here and there, but he always returns, bringing more and more family members with him.

“He just likes the thrill,” Starr Rickman, 86, said. “And he likes that it’s old. It represents stability and survival.”

To be clear, Rickman said he doesn’t ride other roller coasters. He doesn’t have the same fondness for Coney Island’s other rides. The Cyclone, the 1927 wooden marvel that’s as old as he is, is the only challenge he wishes to accept.

“Now that he’s 90, people say, ‘What are you doing? That’s crazy,’” said his son Reed Rickman, 67, of Northport. “And he is crazy.”

On Saturday, his family wore T-shirts that read “Enjoying the Ride, Faster than Ever” and their own pairs of Converse sneakers.

Only about 20 were willing to actually get on the Cyclone with Ray Rickman, but he didn’t mind. Starr watched from across the street as “the designated spectator” as her husband kept to his word: one ride, then another.

“It feels great getting off,” he said. “It was a thrill.”

As for whether he’s ever considered a third, Rickman shook his head. “Twice is enough for me,” he said.

Asked if he was ready for next year, he said he couldn’t wait.

“There’s no question about it,” he said. “I’ll go twice.”

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