The serious business of riding roller coasters

Memorial Day weekend is the unofficial start of roller coaster season, when theme parks unveil their newest attractions. But this year, at Six Flags Magic Mountain outside Los Angeles, what's old is new again.

CBS News was there last August, taking one of the last rides on the Twisted Colossus, an iconic all-wooden coaster, before it closed -- but not for good. Six Flags spent the last nine months rebuilding it into a hybrid, reinforcing the old wood with new steel, reports CBS News correspondent Carter Evans.

Enthusiasts all over the country can't wait to ride it, but there's one whose opinion matters most: a man who turned roller coaster riding into a career.

If the nearly vertical first drop on Twisted Colossus doesn't take your breath away, the inverted twists and turns that come next will.

A wooden roller coaster just isn't supposed to do this -- especially one that's been around for more than 36 years.

When it opened in 1978, the Colossus was the tallest and fastest coaster in the world. Its iron-clad descendant is this summer's most anticipated new ride, according to Arthur Levine, a coaster connoisseur who rides for a living.

"I get to run around the country and the world riding roller coasters and visiting theme parks and going on brand new attractions and going behind the scenes," Levine said.

He writes about the industry for USA Today and But it's more than a job; it's a passion that began when he was just a kid watching the coasters in Revere Beach, Massachusetts.

"I remember sitting on the beach with my grandmother, my mother, and everybody would be facing the ocean and running in and out of the water. ... I would have my back to the ocean, and I would be looking at the roller coaster ... and just be mesmerized by it," Levine said.

He turned that passion into a profession in 1992 when he started writing syndicated roller coaster reviews. Now he spends much of his time visiting theme parks all over the world. One day, it's Disneyland with his family, the next, Universal Studios Hollywood.

Levine's children love his job, and they've grown up around amusement parks, he said.

"I have two boys. My oldest son, Jeremy, from a very young age was just sort of a natural-born daredevil, couldn't wait to get on roller coasters, couldn't wait to meet the height requirement," Levine said.

But for Dad, having fun is also serious business.

"I have deadlines. I have interviews that I have to do. I have photographs that I have to take. I have stories that I have to write with word counts," he said.

Arthur's big story this Memorial Day is Twisted Colossus, the latest hybrid monster in the Six Flags empire.

The president of Six Flags Magic Mountain was thrilled when Levine bestowed "most anticipated" status on her star attraction.

"When he comes and gives his thumbs up, which he does, and sometimes he likes 'em and sometimes he doesn't like 'em, but if he gives his thumbs up, you're good as gold," Bonnie Rabjohn said.

"So your rating for Twisted Colossus?" Levine was asked.

"I have a five star rating, I think I'm going to give this a five, and there aren't that many coasters that I give that to," he replied.