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Saturday, July 06, 2013

The Highs and Lows of Summer Carnivals

Summer is in full swing here in Canada. And for the most part, I am very excited to see it arrive.

I guess if there was one thing that I dislike about the summer is the humidity that seems to accompany the months of July, August, and half of September. I don't do very well with the hot and steamy temperatures of the summer months. If it weren't for the fact that I am still a little bit self-conscious of my body, I would definitely go outside half-nude just to get relief from the heat. But, as it stands, I do not have the body to even remotely consider that option, so for now, it's staying in air conditioned comfort as much as possible.

But even on the hottest days of the year, there were always ways in which one could cool off. And for this edition of the Saturday Smorgasbord, I'm going to share with you some personal stories about one place where I used to go to cool off and have fun all at the same time.

I know that normally I would be devoting the first Saturday of the month to a toy or a game...and there will be some references to both of these in this blog. But there's a lot more that I want to discuss within this blog entry.

How many of you remember going to a fair or a carnival during your youth? I know I remember going to several as a kid! Back in the days of the 1980s and early 1990s, summer carnivals were all the rage. It seemed as though another carnival would spring up every two weeks or so filled with attractions, rides, games, and concession stands.

And, for me, a summer just wasn't complete if I didn't find a way to go to the fair at least once.

Whether it was visiting Lake Ontario Park in Kingston (which unfortunately ditched their rides), or going to the Shriners Fair here in Brockville, or attending the Spencerville Fair in Spencerville, Ontario, it was something that I always looked forward to as a kid.

Mind you, nowadays, I doubt that I would go to a fair simply because the last time I rode one of those rides, I ended up getting violently ill. I suppose my resistance to motion sickness has not improved with age.

But this blog is all about the childhood memories that I have that were associated with the many carnivals that I attended as a child. And the way that I have this blog set up is similar to a like/dislike list.

While there were many things that I did enjoy about fairs and carnivals, there were also things that I did not particularly care for. After all, not all childhood memories were absolutely perfect.

So, purchase your tickets at the booth, and grab yourself some cotton candy and a churro. It's time to reminisce about the carnival!

LIKE: The sounds and the lights of the carnival

You know how bright and loud the city of Las Vegas, Nevada is with its slot machines ringing, and every building having at least five hundred thousand neon lights flashing outside? Well, I always saw carnivals as a minature version of Fremont Street. Everywhere you turned, there were brightly coloured lights, and people running around all over the place, waiting to get in line for their favourite rides. And, I suppose that like Las Vegas, you are also surrounded by games of chance...only instead of pulling a slot machine for silver dollars, you're spinning a wheel in order to win a water pistol. I'll be talking about this more in detail, but I always found it a fantastic experience to go to a fair...especially as the sun is setting.

DISLIKE: The cost of a roll of tickets

If I could, I would have spent the entire day riding on the various rides in the fair. Unfortunately, riding every single ride in the fair took up a LOT of tickets. A roll of tickets back in my day (and let's for the sake of argument say that you could get 20 tickets in a roll) cost twenty dollars (basically a dollar a ticket). That might not seem like a lot of money now, but back in 1988, it was a fortune. And when you also take into account that the best rides of the carnival would charge as much as FOUR tickets to go on a four-minute ride, the value just simply wasn't there. Lately, I hear that depending on the fair you attend, the cost of a roll of 20 tickets has doubled (or even tripled) in price, but the length of time you ride on the ride remained the same. My parents did make sure that I had enough tickets to go on at least five different rides while we were there, which was fantastic and incredibly generous of them given our limited family income at the time. Still, I just wish that the cost of going to the fair was a little less expensive so that we could have enjoyed ourselves a little bit longer. Sadly I don't see that changing any time soon.

LIKE: The Go-Gator (well, at least until I turned seven, anyway)

When I was old enough to begin going on rides, I remember that the options for me were very, VERY limited. I mean, yes, the merry-go-round is fun for all ages, but it was just there. The Berry-Go-Round bored me to tears. I had a slight fear of heights, so I couldn't take any ride that went up extremely high. And, while I loved going on the inflatable castle because of the bouncy factor, I couldn't really call that a “ride”. Though, given that the attraction was just two tickets a piece, it was certainly affordable.

But then there was the little roller coaster with the alligator head at the front. That roller coaster was something that I absolutely loved riding on. I know that the stereotypical roller coaster goes up several hundred feet, but this roller coaster stayed low to the ground, which given my fear of high places was an added bonus. I would ALWAYS ride up at the front of the coaster because I wanted to have the absolute best view.

DISLIKE: The ferris wheel (at any age)

It should come as no surprise that given my admission to not liking high places that I would place this attraction as one of my least favourite rides of any carnival. In my thirty two years on this planet, I have not gone on a ferris wheel once! I refuse to even sit down in one for two reasons. One, I have the fear of the the seat that I am sitting in coming loose and me plummeting to my death below. And, two, when they stop the Ferris Wheel at periodic intervals to let riders off, I worry that I will be at the very top of the wheel rotation and I will pass out from height-related vertigo. I seriously do not do well with heights, and I can't do the ferris wheel because of it. Nor can I do super high roller coasters, that ride where you sit down in those swings, or that Drop Zone ride that you might find at Canada's Wonderland or MarineLand.

LIKE: The Tilt-A-Whirl and The Scrambler (tie)

I had a really hard time selecting which of these two rides I liked I decided that for this edition, I would choose both. I spent so many tickets on both of these rides growing up.

But it took me a really long time for me to go on them. When I was five, the height restrictions prevented me from boarding them because at that time, I was too short. Then the following year, I had a major growth spurt and quickly became one of the tallest kids in my class and was tall enough for them. Unfortunately, I grew up with one of the most overprotective mothers on the planet, and she absolutely refused to let me go on either ride even though I really, REALLY wanted to. I think I was almost nine years old before I was considered “old enough” to ride. Fortunately, my sisters were far less overprotective of me!

Part of the reason why I loved the “Tilt-A-Whirl” so much was because of its unpredictability. Depending on how many people were in the car, and depending on which way you leaned, you could spin a little bit, or you could spin continuously. And, I'm sure that everyone would agree that the more you spun around, the better the ride was. I loved spinning right round, baby, right round, like a record baby...

Ahem...sorry, where was I?

The Scrambler” was a more linear ride. You went around in a circle with the speed growing faster and faster each rotation. But I didn't care. I loved it. On a very hot day, riding the Scrambler was like instant air conditioning. The breeze blowing against your face was definitely a blessing in disguise in the battle against humidity. But there were three lessons that I learned when riding “The Scrambler”.

  1. Never wear a hat – it WILL blow off.
  2. Wear sunglasses to protect your eyes. You do not want bugs flying in there, especially with the neon lights attracting those suckers in the same way that a flower can attract a bee.
  3. If you're small in stature, NEVER sit on the far left of the WILL get crushed.

DISLIKE: The Crazy Dance

I so wanted to like this ride, I really did. When I saw this ride featured on “Problem Child 2”, I really wanted to have the chance to ride it (well, without Junior Healy cranking the ride settings to maximum speed, that is). I finally got my chance when the “Crazy Dance” was one of the new rides introduced at the Shriners Fair in 1995 or 1996. I was in my early teens at the time, and I was excited to finally ride on that ride.

Unfortunately, the expectations that I had for the ride were way too high. It wasn't nearly as much fun as I thought it would be. It was kind of boring, actually. I actually kind of wish that there was a Junior around to crank up the speed.

LIKE: Bumper Cars

Come on. Who DOESN'T love the Bumper Cars? I lived for the Bumper Cars! What better way to take out the aggression that you festered inside of you for waiting in line for your favourite rides by taking a padded car and smashing into everyone and everything in your path? I always made sure that I rode in the green or purple bumper cars, as they were my favourite colours. I wish I could find the picture of me driving a bumper car at Lake Ontario Park back in the summer of '96. It was absolutely perfect! But, since I can't, I'll tell you the story of the summer of '76 (of which I was not yet born), and how my dad and eldest sister rode on the Lake Ontario Park bumper cars, and they bumped a woman so hard her wig flew off and got caught on the front of their car. Can you imagine my dad and sister riding around in a bumper car with a hairpiece? Funny stuff. I wish I had been born to see that.

DISLIKE: The Fun House

Most Fun Houses were never that fun. I found them dull, boring, and it was rather embarrassing to try and run through that spinning tube at the end of the house. I kept falling flat on my face. Not fun at all. If the Fun House was like the Fun House in that retro game show “Fun House”, I would have spent the whole day there for sure.

LIKE: Sno-Cones

I didn't eat much fair food. One, it was overpriced, and secondly, it was never really as good as I thought it would be. I mean, there are only so many foods that one can deep fry until all of them begin to taste exactly the same.

The lone exception was the Sno-Cone, a delectable (and affordable) treat that I had to have every time I left the carnival to go home. And, the Sno-Cone almost always had to be cherry flavoured, though I could do grape in a pinch if cherry wasn't available.

Runner-up would be cotton candy, though I didn't like it as much as I did the Sno-Cone.

DISLIKE: The popcorn stand that sold popcorn that was usually incredibly stale and tasteless.

I mean, seriously...I think the popcorn that was discarded on the movie theatre floors had better flavour than fair popcorn – not that I made a habit of eating food off of the floor or anything...just making an analogy using a rather disgusting metaphor.

LIKE: The Fish Pond game

I was not the most skilled child when it came to motor playing carnival games for the oversized Ninja Turtle or Batman toys was not my strong suit. However, there was one game in which I excelled it. Of course, it WAS the one game in which everyone won a prize, guaranteed.

It was the fish pond (or duck pond). Every time you caught a fish, or selected a rubber duck, you won something. Most of the time, you ended up winning some el cheapo dollar store toy like an oversized comb, an inflatable crayon, or a whistle that only worked half the time. But I didn't care. I was such an easy child to please that I was happy with anything. Now, if the person caught the fish that was red in colour, or selected the duck that had a dot on the bottom of it, then you could win a larger prize. But in all the years that I played the Duck Pond/Fish Pond, that never happened to me. But, I ended up winning something, and that was worth it to me.

Runner-Up: Whack-a-Mole. Sometimes you won a prize, and sometimes you didn't. But whacking plastic moles over the head was always my idea of a good time!

DISLIKE: Any other game at the carnival

I never realized this as a kid, but many of those carnival games are rigged to the point that it is almost impossible to win. But yet, people still shell out tens and twenties in order to win their child an overstuffed toy that they could probably buy at Walmart for eight bucks.

I mean, has anybody EVER won that game where you try to cover up the red circle with five smaller metal discs? I don't know anyone who succeeded in that one. Has anyone ever won the giant prize by playing the game where you try to throw a ring over the one solo yellow bottle in a sea of other bottles? It's darn near impossible to land a ring on ANY of those things.

Even the games that weren't necessarily rigged were games that I didn't like playing. I hate the sound of balloons popping, so any of those “Pop-a-Balloon, Win a Prize” games were out of the question for me.

And, that's my list of likes and dislikes about the fair. What are some of yours?

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