The other night as I was walking through the front doors of Price Chopper, I heard a sound I hadn’t heard in years: the music coming from one of those mechanical horses. In the day, every store had a horse and probably another ride or two, like a rocket ship or stagecoach or something of that ilk.
I guess there has been a horse in the cart area of the store for years, I just never had occasion to pay any attention to it. The little girl riding the horse had the same expression on her face as millions of children have through the decades the mechanical rides have been around: a combination of joy, excitement and maybe a tad bit of apprehension.
It made me happy to know that something so simple can still bring happiness.
I saw the poster for next weekend’s Log Cabin Festival which features the design of some carnival rides. I got to thinking that other than maybe some safety enhancements (maybe not) those rides are basically the same as at carnivals when I was young enough to appreciate such things. There was a time when things like amusement parks didn’t exist, except maybe in California. There were no virtual reality or video games, so when the carnival came to town it was a really big deal because next to Christmas, a birthday and maybe a vacation. The days the carnival was in town were the very best days of a kid’s year.
Being somewhat of a wimp, roller coasters were not my thing, early on. Like an acquired taste, I learned to love them later on, but in the early carnival days I took a pass. I loved and still love a Ferris Wheel (which by the way is the name of the newspaper in Ferris, Texas).
Getting up high and getting to see all around is my kind of rush, even though I am not crazy about heights. But maybe that’s the fun, I put my anxiety in my back pocket and move on.
I used to love the rides that looked like a giant tin can. There was a wheel in the middle and harder you turned that wheel, the faster you spun. That was until one night when the ride operator either took a snooze or was just feeling really generous, leaving the ride running about two or three times the normal cycle.
I got off, with rubbery legs and disoriented and deposited my dinner on the sidewalk and swore to never ride such a monstrosity again. I have held true to my word.
The fun house was always an interesting attraction. There was always the mirror that made you look tall and skinny, an-other that made you look short and fat. There were then narrow passageways, and logically they had to be narrow to fit the whole thing in a trailer, some stringy things which would run across your head and bursts of cold air, I guess to give you chills and some of the finest decorations which could be produced with fluorescent paint and blacklights.
There were some interesting items at various carnivals through the years. I think I rode a real elephant one year and maybe a camel or two. There were sideshows, like the one where a guy sawed his assistant in half. For an extra quarter you could go up and see how he did it.
But if the truth be known, the rides and the attractions and everything else were simply a set up to get you to the carnival games. Ring tosses, air guns, fishing lines, balloon popping – oh the joy which could be felt with the chance to win prizes. And after two or three dollars you might win a whoopie cushion or a hand buzzer and all would be fine, unless someone else won a stuffed doll or a transistor radio, in which case you had to go on because if he could win, you could too.
Then there was the carnival food which can be assessed simply enough: there is nothing remotely healthy about any of it. And that’s why it’s so good. At the end of a good night at the carnival you could easily come away with nausea, a sugar rush, tons of worthless prizes and an empty wallet.
But you’d also walk away with great memories and a sincere desire to do it all again.
Sometimes fun is that simple.