I’m a carnival ride geek. Always have been. The sad news, however, is the fact that as I get older I can no longer ride them. An experience my body once enjoyed as “spin and grin” has become “whirl and puke.” What a drag. Still, thanks to You Tube and all the other ride geeks out there who share their ride videos I can still watch and enjoy.
One of my earlier carnival memories is my first ride on the Scrambler. This took place at the Wells County 4-H Fair in the summer of 1968. My babysitter, Joyce, took me and the neighbor kids out to the carnival. I don’t recall if riding the Scrambler was her idea or mine, but to say I loved it would be an understatement. My father had died at the beginning of the summer, and that ride was the first time after that I experienced unbridled joy. I was hooked for life. The Scrambler is still my all-time favorite ride.
We had carnivals in my town twice a year — the 4-H Fair and the annual downtown Street Fair, so for two blissful weeks of the year I lived in ride heaven. There are not many flat rides I dislike, however there are those I love more than others. I cannot recall if the Tempest first showed up at Street Fair in 1969 and or 1970, but I’ve been mad about that one ever since. The ride itself is just plan liberating fun, and I’ve always loved those bright late sixties colors and lighting.
In the category of what we as kids called “upside down rides,” I have a strange fondness for the Loop-O-Planes despite the fact that riding backwards always makes me nauseous. My fave scary ride monster, though, is the Sky Diver. I suspect I like it much more than, say, The Zipper, because of that magical steering wheel in the car that allows you to spin as much or as little as you want. Some of the happiest shouts I’ve ever uttered occurred on The Sky Diver.
Now, if you’ve read my latest novel, THE HANDYMAN’S HISTORY, you are probably nodding. Yeah, I saddled the hero, Ed Stephens, with my fascination with carnival rides. I do not recall how the idea first came together in my mind, but at some point I decided to give Porterfield its own version of Street Fair, and from there it was a short step to dragging Ed into the event, and an opportunity to geek out in my writing about something I enjoy. And believe me, for those who have read the book, I cannot tell you how much I enjoyed creating Ed’s favorite Sky Diver memory! It’s one of my favorite parts of the book.
And for readers of THE HANDYMAN’S REALITY it will comes as no surprise to discover my favorite amusement park is Cedar Point in Sandusky, Ohio. My first visit there was in that same summer of 1968. I loved it at first glance and have ever since. There’s something delightfully magical about that place, and a big added bonus for me is its geography. Thanks to the fact that it’s surrounded by the water of Lake Erie, being there gave me a day free of hay fever, something from which I suffered horribly until middle age.
The sad thing is, when I think about this stuff I am so glad the HANDYMAN books take place (so far) in the twentieth century. As I mentioned, my aged body refuses to deal with spinning and G-forces the way it used to, so I have been rendered an observer as opposed to a participant. However, a lot of stuff I’ve seen and read lately has alleviated my sorrow over this. I read one blog from a young guy in which he describes a ride on the Sky Diver, and ends by writing that he doubts he would ever ride it. What a wuss! Plus, I’ve noticed the younger set, who have been safely coddled since their days in car seats, seem overly concerned with safety and comfort on rides. Again, this sixties baby can only roll his eyes and shrug. Shoot, the menace of those contraptions, usually run by guys who looked like prison escapees, was part of the fun!
As I write this, I feel the wistfulness settling on me. Things have changed where carnivals and amusement parks are concerned. What prompted me to write this were several videos I watched on You Tube regarding Cedar Point. It seems they are in the process of transforming my beloved Point from an amusement part into a “family resort.” As such, there’s less emphasis on flat rides and more on other activities. Apparently they are even adding an “interactive” experience in Frontier Town, which sounds boring as hell to me, but will probably be as wonderful for today’s children as the first ride on the Blue Streak was for me. In addition, all the stories I’ve read about people losing their phones on roller coasters has led to Cedar Point implementing pouches under the seats of Steel Vengeance for riders to secure their phones — mind you, AFTER they pass through a metal detector in line! Well, I’m an old fart, so I cannot imagine being so attached to my phone that I would do anything other than leave it in the car. I remember after my friend and Tim and I got the car parked, we’d slap on a layer of sunscreen, stuff a wad of cash in a pocket for food and drinks, and take off for the day. The less baggage the better, baby, for a day of riding one roller coaster (and the occasional flat ride) after another.
I also noticed in their zeal to revamp the park the Powers That Be saw fit to remove The Witch’s Wheel and replace it with a barbecue restaurant. ARE YOU FUCKING KIDDING ME? The Witch’s Wheel was one of the coolest rides ever! Not only is the ride gone, but all the old-growth trees surrounding it were chopped down, eliminating the last patch of shade on the Gemini midway. (I also have heard rumors the Gemini, the grooviest coaster in the world in 1978, is scheduled for demolition.) Well, I managed to forgive Management when they dynamited the Space Spiral, but ripping out the Witch’s Wheel? Doing away with Gemini? They have just gone too far.
Things have changed. Times have changed. The one constant in life is Change. So many of the things I used to enjoy have disappeared, leaving just the memories. Well, memories last, as the song I am about to post says. I am grateful for those memories, and equally grateful for you, dear readers, for allowing me to share those memories through my novels.
UPDATE MAY 15, 2019: I just learned there is a Chic Fil A restaurant in Frontier Town. I guess Cedar Fair (owner of the park) has made it clear what kind of families it wants for its new resort. So much for fifty years of loyalty and free publicity. I will never go there again.
COME RIDE, COME RIDE — THE MERRY-GO-ROUND 1968. I’ve posted this record previously; it was the main theme for my latest novel THE HANDYMAN’S HISTORY. Still, I can’t think of a better record for this blog, so rather than post something second-rate, I urge you to listen (audio link below) to this amazing NON-HIT from Emitt Rhodes.