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Screaming summer - midway hawkers and carny rides

Living in a small town in Central Oregon means everyone knows every body's business.  You either love that people poke their noses where they might not belong, or you move to the city to get lost in the masses of people trudging like lemmings.  I lived that rural life until the early ‘90s.

June brought warmer weather; the much anticipated graduation ceremonies and a circuit carnival so there would be something to do, other than driving out to the caves for the kegger-rage.  Having walked the ceremony a few years earlier, it was now my sister who had a turn at the pomp and circumstances. After the procession and speeches that drawled on, the family gathered at the local buffet and posed for the requisite photos with the diploma proudly displayed. Anxious to be done, we escaped to the carnival with its sparkling lights, tinkling music, midway rip-off games and the gloriously fast, twisting, topsy-turvy rides.

 When you’re 18-ish you can still survive the head-spinning.

My sis, Suzy hopped in the back of our electric blue Ford Pinto.  Being the not-so-old married people, Lonny and I had stepped up to this modern day classic.  Sue could care less how we got to the fair; she just wanted to have fun, celebrating her freedom from the high school walls.

Meeting up with other friends, the sounds of the midway hawkers called and lured us to waste our money trying to win the elusive over-stuffed neon pink elephant that nobody really wanted, but that wasn’t the point.  We threw change at the weighted pins to be knocked down, ping pong balls to land in fish bowls and darts tossed at balloons, all to attain useless, tacky prizes.

in-tox-i-cat-ing:  exhilarating, exciting

Tiring of such a trivial pursuit, we were seduced by the whizzing, whirling, intoxicating pull of the Scrambler, Octopus, Giant Swings and Tea Cups.  Like most temptations, appearances are deceptive.  We took the bait, undaunted by the potential outcome.  Conquering what the first few rides hurled at us, we were invincible.  Emerging before our very eyes was the demure cups and saucers.  What could they possibly hold in comparison to our other crippling mastery?  Be careful what you think, smugness happens before tumbling in the torrents.

Taking our seats, we buckled up under the watchful eye of the wizened carny.  I think he might have secretly chuckled under his breath.  Starting slowly, the cups gently pirouetted around in diminutive circles, gradually picking up speed.  My husband has never been one to leave well enough alone, so he grasped the wheel in the middle of the teacup and began turning it feverishly.  We were in a frenzied out-of-control collision course; our heads and stomachs turned inside out with every frantic rotation.  I remember thinking that I would be catapulted out of the enclosure of my cup, and even prayed it might happen, but I was strapped in for the duration.

Time without end passed.  The pert ride floated to a stop, but not our tousled brains and bellies.  Had I only known, I might have chosen the kegger at the caves.

This adventure took place just a few years ago – oh, well actually quite a few since it was the summer of 1978 – and I haven’t totally given up on carny rides.  Ferris wheels and roller coasters would be my carnival addiction, that and corn-on-the-cob dripping with melted butter.

I’ve been on some pretty outrageous roller coasters, including the one on top of the Stratosphere in Las Vegas, but my beyond compare faves are the old, kind of rickety wooden structures that climb, creeping slowly to the top only to plummet to the bottom with a certain sway and swagger…and, oh yeah, you have to keep your eyes open and hands raised as high as you can, while screaming at the top of your lungs.

That, my friends is what summer is all about!


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  1. still laughing..loved it..nothing like small town central Oregon

    1. Small towns do have their charm! I still can't even think about looking at any ride that spins!


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