Over our heads: the ride

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Red nose, black maw, red lips, and small eyes kept me off the Tilta Whirl for two carnival seasons until my brother and I finally step in line, excitement and dread swirling in our guts. The music starts, then the motors. The car seats three to four, a bar above our thighs to keep us from flying or leaping out. The car spins 360 degrees, sometimes slow, sometimes quick, as it circles a track that rises and falls on a gentle slope. If it stalls, everyone starts to shift their weight and rock in unison, accelerating the spin.

The Gravitron is the superior sweep you off your feet spin. From the outside, it looks like a movie spaceship. You enter a doorway and step onto a track. You pick a vinyl-covered wall mat, leaving space between you and your neighbor, and wait. “Here we go,” a fuzzy voice announces over the speaker. The lights of the mad carousel flash and flicker and the spinning accelerates. The mat, on rollers, slides up the wall and your feet dangle, first six, now twelve inches from the floor. You raise an arm, a leg, and the force pulls you back. You lose the struggle, helpless, and strangely unafraid.

We were young and there were other rides to try. Our final daring attempt was the Zipper. The yellow lights glinted against the dark sky. He and I hopped into the cage, nervous and excited. The Zipper is a compact Ferris Wheel, each car a cage with a vinyl seat. The car rotates 360 degrees and at times, your feet are above your head. We poked our fingers through the grate and waved to our mom. The other cars filled up and the ride started in earnest, track turning and cars spinning. In over our heads, my brother and I clung to the cage as the car spun. We tumbled and cried and wanted out. We yelled and waved our hands, but the ride kept going. Is there better advertising than the screams of children? When the ride stopped on our car and the cage was opened, we flew out, faces wet, shaking with adrenaline. Never did we ride the Zipper again. Our carnival days were numbered.

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