I was lucky. I grew up in Parkvale, right beside the old downtown fairgrounds.
So when I was a little twerp — as opposed to being the much bigger twerp that I am today — when the fair was in town, every day was Christmas in July.
What can be better than spending all your money on corn dogs and getting sick on the Salt and Pepper Shaker?
I loved the Salt and Pepper Shaker, a red-and-white oddly futuristic yet retro-looking rattle-trap “thrill ride” with two rocket-shaped cockpits that zoomed way, way up and twisted around, roaring back down and whooshing by at several hundred K. It was the real deal to an excited kid with cotton candy stuck all over his face.
That thing never failed to scare the spit out of me and my friends and dump all the change out of our pockets when it went upside down. Breaking the sound barrier by causing the girls (and the guys who would never admit it) to scream their lungs out.
And after a screaming session on the Salt and Pepper Shaker, my friends and I would wobble down the midway feeling more than a little queasy, and vowing never to go on another ride again. Until we reached the next one.
I’ve come to the scientific conclusion that many such fair rides have a mysterious unseen force invented by George Lucas that pulls kids in like giant magnets.
One minute you’re looking frantically around for a barf bag or reasonable facsimile, and the next you’re back on the Orbitron of Terror spinning at a thousand revolutions per second, 20 metres off the ground in a thin plastic capsule that is held on by a rusty one-cm bolt.
However, as a dating strategy, I favoured the Round Up, which over the years has had many different names such as Space Wheel of Terror or The Regurgitator. It’s one of the few rides that you stand up side by side for the entire time, stuck against the wall of the circle as it whirls around creating large amounts of horizontal gravity.
Since I spent my teenaged years so perpetually short that any girl I ever took out was head and shoulders taller than me, when I took a date on that ride, I would — with great effort — inch up the wall of gravity as the ride began to turn until I was the same height as my date next to me.
For those fleeting moments of maximum whirling nausea, I was as tall as she was!
At least I think I was on account of the skin-squishing G-forces made it impossible to move even my head to as much as glance in her direction. Forget holding hands. Besides, when the ride was over, I usually got sick all over her shoes.
Ahhh, the good times.
But now it seems those days are all but over for me. I don’t think I’ll ever get to experience some of the new rides that make the Zero Gravity Inverter Spider of Terror look like the Choo Choo Charlie Train of Joy in the Kiddieland section of the midway.
In fact, a few short years ago, my good wife and I decided that a ride at the fair “looked like fun.” And although it had been a while since we had been on anything with a name like the Spin-Out Tornado of Terror or the Himalayan Starship Sizzler, we thought it would be “fun” to give it a whirl, so to speak.
Within the first four seconds, we both knew this was a very bad idea.
Never before had a person’s centre of gravity and sense of balance been so completely discombobulated. That ride made more moves than Wayne Gretzky on a breakaway. It went directions I didn’t know existed, and furthermore it went several dozen completely different directions at the same time.
After about a week and a half on the thrill ride (which, turns out, was also known as the Regurgitator of Terror) having our DNA turned upside down, inside out and backwards all at once, we staggered straight home like drunken sailors, and still occasionally twitch uncontrollably at random times without warning.
I reluctantly decided that perhaps modern thrill ride technology had finally triumphed over the aging adventure genes that had always served me so well at the fair before.
Still, I can’t wait for the fair to come to town. I’ll be the old guy wandering around searching for the Salt and Pepper Shaker.
I want to stand at a safe distance, watching, a corn dog in my hand, and cotton candy all over my face. Fondly remembering when me and my gag reflex were young and fearless.
And after that, my wife and I are going to check out Kiddieland. I just hope there isn’t a height restriction, because that Choo Choo Charlie looks like a lot of fun.
Harley Hay is a local filmmaker and freelance writer.