Thrills and terror at the American summer carnival

Discuss whatever you want here ... movies, books, recipes, politics, beer, wine, TV ... everything except classical music.

Moderators: Lance, Corlyss_D

Post Reply
jserraglio
Posts: 3336
Joined: Sun May 29, 2005 7:06 am
Location: Cleveland, Ohio

Thrills and terror at the American summer carnival

Post by jserraglio » Mon Aug 14, 2017 1:59 pm

Washington Post

If you believe a narrative that Americans are nihilistic ids who are test-piloting themselves toward their own inevitable doom, then there is probably hard evidence to be found at county fairs, like this one in rural Virginia, where a bunch of us are dangling in metal cages off a ride called the Zipper.
It’s twilight. The air is dense with five kinds of funnel cake. Here, the top of the ride looks out over the Fredericksburg Agricultural Fair’s petting zoos and farm-themed magicians (“Agri-cadabra”) — and toward the muddy parking lot. We are waiting in our welded cages, ready to be spun and flung, because this is what late summer is in the various heartlands: pony rides, win-a-goldfish games, innovations in fried dough and August boredom jolted away by a carnival ride. We are waiting for the drop.
Last month at the Ohio State Fair, 24 people boarded a ride called the Fireball. In the middle of one of its pendulum swings, a cluster of seats broke off and flew horribly through the air, passengers still inside. Someone put a video on YouTube. When news stations broadcast it later, they cut off the video before the inevitable crash, but viewers could still see the helplessness of flailing limbs, and people upside down where they shouldn’t be. One person died, an 18-year-old bound for the Marines. Seven others were injured.
A week later, while officials were still mining the cause — “excessive corrosion,” the eventual report said — thousands of people stood in line at carnivals around the country for all-you-can-ride wristbands.
So we went to talk to some of them. And to think too much about mortality.
Here in Fredericksburg, each Zipper cage is required to have two passengers. The ride operator has paired me with Victoria Lynch.
“I’ve been on this ride at least 20 times,” Victoria says as our cage ascends. “They have it at Funland, too. That’s where I’m having my birthday next week. I’m turning 13 . . .
“Wait a minute, we’re about to flip upside down, you might want to scream.”
Our cage flips upside down. We pitch forward. We scream.
“Do you have any other interview questions?” she asks.
Get the Post Most Newsletter
The daily must-reads, delivered to your inbox every morning.
Victoria has been warned that these rides can be dangerous. “My dentist told me while I was getting my braces tightened earlier. I said, I’m going to a carnival tonight. She said, someone just died on one of those rides. I said, ‘Thanks, Dr. Zello, but I’ll be fine.’ ”
We flip upside down again. We scream.
“I think these are actually safer than the ones at Kings Dominion,” she says. “I’m probably going to go on it again right away.”
We scream.
The horror of “excessive corrosion” is that it was apparently an internal problem. The Fireball ride had been manufactured in the Netherlands 18 years ago. It had been inspected at least three times since it was assembled in Columbus, officials said. Nobody could see that the internal beam was rusted out and useless until it snapped off.
It made the news because it was awful, and because it was awful in exactly the ways we have always feared. A thing the height of a four-story building should not be able to be assembled and disassembled overnight. There shouldn’t be so much rattling when you climb into it. It shouldn’t sound as if there’s something loose inside.
“Do you just want to see it go?” Kati Kyler asks her boyfriend, Matt Harris, as they sit on a park bench in front of a ride called the Viper. “Maybe that would help.”
“No, I’ve seen it. I’ve seen it.” This is the problem for Matt. If he hadn’t ever seen the Viper, then maybe it wouldn’t seem horrible.
“But not from the beginning,” Kati insists. “Not the whole way through.”
He sighs. “Okay.”
“Do you want to watch it sitting or standing? Let’s watch it standing. See? It looks fun.”
Matt does not think this looks fun.
This is Matt’s first carnival and he has not yet fully learned how to carnival, to lean into it as a verb. Corn dog? Yes. Glow-in-the-dark bubble maker? Yes. Spiral-cut fries, topped with ranch dressing and chili? Yes. Please. Put onions on them. Fun is in the eye of the beholder.
Retailers have made a whole industry of flower-crowned festival wear, but those of us out here riding the Zipper in the middle of tobacco fields have fair wear: cutoffs and old 5K-race shirts, Father’s Day trucker caps. You can be a hundred miles from the nearest Sephora and meet a herd of beautiful, contoured 16-year-olds at a carnival, whose hi-lited faces are the result of Kylie Jenner YouTube tutorials.
“Why does the floor drop out of this ride when it starts?” one asks her boyfriend as they wait for the operator to pull the start lever.
The boyfriend smiles: “Do you like having feet?”
“Jeremyyyy!” she howls.
The Consumer Product Safety Commission keeps a coded list of all injuries that lead to emergency room visits. In 2016, there were 30,000 injuries coded as “amusement park” (the CPSC’s estimate for bicycle injuries: 460,000). Most of them are probably minor, but the ones that CNN compiles in its lists — a girl being scalped by a ride called King’s Crown, a boy plummeting off a waterslide — are sickening. Earlier this summer, in June, another headline: a 14-year-old hanging off a Sky Ride gondola at an Upstate New York amusement park, while a crowd of terrified onlookers watched from 25 feet below.
She was saved by a man who encouraged her to let go and fall; he said he would catch her, and he did.
And amusement park season continued and people kept buying tickets, and going, and screaming on the rides.
“It was fine, wasn’t it?” a mother asks her daughter after they emerge from a whirling ride. “Oh, you’re fine . Come on, Emily. It’s fun to be scared.”
Another day, another carnival. This one in Glen Burnie, Md. A group of teenage boys are standing in line for a ride called Street Fighter: a tall, parabolic pendulum that swings passengers in a near-360-degree swoop while simultaneously spinning them in circles.
The ride has begun to look familiar to Will McCauley, one of the boys, and his certainty grows as they move forward in line.
“I told you guys,” Will says. “I saw that video. I saw that ride. I told you guys that this was that ride.”
The Street Fighter might have a different name, and this carnival might be produced by a different company, but there’s no question that this appears to be a mechanical cousin of the Ohio State Fair’s Fireball.
“Naw, but these guys are straight up,” Will’s friend James Boonk tries to assure him. “They know what they’re doing. They check the equipment and stuff.”
“They checked the other ride, too,” Will protests.
Their friend Josh Michael stands on his toes and points at the ride. “Is that duct tape?”
“Where?” James asks.
“Holding that seat. It’s a duct tape seat. I think.”
“Now you’re going to make me paranoid,” James says.
“Well,” Josh says reasonably, “just don’t ride on Duct-Tape Seat.”
They go on the ride, and while they are swinging back and forth overhead, a group of girls in the next group are having a similar conversation about safety.
“It’s not bad. It’s not bad,” Kadijah Calliste says. “I’ve been on it before, lots.”
When her turn comes to board, Kadijah, in a maternal and self-assured way, ushers her friends ahead of her. She rolls her eyes at their anticipatory squealing. And then the ride starts, and within nine seconds she is safely buckled into her seat but yelling: “I’m about to fall out and die, do you hear me? I am falling out and we are all going to die.”
To go to a carnival in the summer is to assess how fun one thinks it is to be scared. Carnival rides are supposed to be safe fears, like horror movies. Things that will jolt you but not harm you.
When you are confronted with actual danger, like horrible screams in a YouTube video shot in Ohio, theoretical panic creeps toward real panic. Someone died at the carnival. North Korea has put a warhead on a missile. Nuclear war isn’t out of the question.
We wonder if we are all falling out and we are all going to die. We are waiting for the drop.
“It’s taking so long because those three seats at the end are broken,” says the girl in the middle of the line for a ride called the Avalanche. It’s near the end of the night at the Glen Burnie carnival. The line is moving slowly, and as people approach the front of it, they see the reason. “They’re not letting anyone ride in those seats at the end.”
“But I just rode on the seat on the end the other day,” the girl’s friend protests.
“I know. Me, too, but I guess I was taking my life in my hands.”
The next group boards. After they have already handed over their tickets and buckled themselves in, the operator instructs everyone to buckle themselves out and get off the ride.
“He says he has to check something,” one boy explains to his waiting father as he walks down the plank.
The operator says that as soon as he has checked the thing, everyone can get back on the ride. “I’m going to be honest,” a de-boarding passenger says loudly and to nobody in particular. “If there is something wrong with the ride then I would just as soon not get on it.”
“What the f---” says a boy who appears to be about 11, not angry so much as enjoying cursing. “What the f--- is going on?”
The operator could be seen pulling on a pair of rubber gloves and reaching in between two of the seats with a roll of paper towels.
“I guess someone just peed on it?” the boy says. “Is that it? Just pee?” He turns to the rest of the line.
“It’s probably just pee,” he says confidently, and the next group gets on the ride.
Monica Hesse is a staff writer for the Post Style section. She frequently writes about culture, the Web and the intersection of the two.
Democracy Dies in Darkness
© 1996-2017 The Washington Post

Post Reply

Who is online

Users browsing this forum: Baidu [Spider] and 3 guests