Monday, September 2, 2013

Memory Lane -- the Tilt-A-Whirl (Part 1)

Greetings WYMOP fans!

This past Wednesday, as some of you found out from my FaceBook status update, was my son’s birthday —  y’all know him as Handsome here at While You’re Making Other Plans. For his birthday, rather than throwing him a party, we decided to take him and a friend of his for a day at Canobie Lake Park, an amusement and water park up in Salem New Hampshire.

They had a whole lot of fun and went on every ride they could think of, although Handsome went on more rides than his friend did. Friend said he gets motion-sickness somewhat easily sometimes and begged off a few of the more nasty rides. I didn’t go on them either, explaining to Friend that I had a bit of an ‘experience’ with an amusement park ride when I was about his age. He asked about it, but I told him it was a rather long story and I’d tell him about it sometime.

This is that story.

Those of you who live in the Salem Ma. area might recall way back when there were rides at the Salem Willows Park. Those of you who do live in the area, but are just too damn young to remember, there used to be rides at the Willows. There haven’t been rides there in thirty years or more, which just goes to show how old I am. So gather ‘round the foot of my rocker, kiddies, and I’ll pull my rug up tighter about my knees and you can listen as I tell you the story of my last Tilt-A-Whirl ride…


I was about nine or ten years old and it was the first week of Summer Vacation: time for the Willows Day picnic. Our teachers had all handed out ticket packets during the last week of school —  a couple of free tickets to the limited rides here at the Willows, a food voucher good for a hot dog or hamburger, a drink voucher good for a single soda, stuff like that. Now, celebrating my freedom for yet another Summer, I hopped on my bicycle and headed down to the Willows to use my tickets.

Before I go on, a word about the bike I had that summer. My old bike was gone —  stolen,
if I remember correctly —  and I had found this bike at a yard sale. It was a red Schwinn, and it was far too big for me. My father had lowered the handlebar and seat just as far as they would go and I could still barely reach the pedals. Standing over it at a stop was out of the question: when I rolled to a halt I had to let go into a sort of ‘controlled topple’, falling to one side (usually the left) and landing on one foot while the other foot stayed up on the pedal, which was stopped at the top of its revolution.

This was usually my only option if I wanted to avoid smashing one or both of my testicles on the top bar of the bicycle’s frame, often referred to (at least by young boys, who greatly fear such things) as ‘the ball-buster bar’. Trust me: I wanted to avoid smashing my testicles.

In order to get moving again I had to kick the pedal forward, just into the beginning of the downswing in its cycle, and hop forward on that left foot. I’d hop along, pushing that big red bike like it was a weird sort of skateboard, one-two-three hops and then a jump, landing on that right foot, the one positioned on the pedal. All my weight would come down on that pedal, forcing it to move, propelling the bike forward, and if I could maintain my balance (and I usually could) then I was off and riding.

That three paragraph monologue about my bicycle may look like just a complicated bit of filler up there, but it will all make sense in a bit. I hope. Anyway, I got on my Big Red Bike and headed off to the Willows. I turned in my food tickets for a hot dog, popcorn and a soda, none of which lasted very long. I was young, unsupervised, and had a couple of free ride tickets burning a hole in my pocket so I bolted the food down just as fast as I could. I had some money in my pocket as well, but these tickets were for free rides, and free is like bacon: it makes everything better!

Well, almost everything.

I stood in the short line for the Tilt-A-Whirl, my free ticket clutched in my buttery little
hand (I’d been shoveling the popcorn in with both hands, so of course I’d scorned the napkins. I was about ten, remember?) and ran up onto the ride platform as soon as the attendant unclipped the ‘keep-out’ chain. I hadn’t hooked up with any of my classmates yet, so I sprinted to one of the empty cars, threw myself in and yanked the lap-bar down in the hopes of discouraging anyone else from joining me on the wide, curved seat. I was going to ride this thing alone for the first time, and I was going to have a blast!

It worked. The attendant came by, saw me all alone in the car and didn’t bat an eye. He flipped the lever on the lap-bar, locking me into my seat, and moved along to man his station by the ‘START’ lever.

Now, if you’ve never ridden on a Tilt-A-Whirl before I may have to explain that last part.
The car is curved, a little bit like one of those half-circle booths you sometimes see in restaurants. It’s that big, too; you could fit three or four people in there if you wanted. The ‘lap bar’ is a single curved bit of steel that matches the curvature of the car and hinges down by the pivot-point at the front of the car (in front of your feet). The bar swings down to lay across your lap, pinning you to the seat. Once the bar is in place the attendant slips a latching bar in place down by the hinge and hey-presto! You’re trapped in that seat until someone releases that latching bar that you just can not reach.

Trust me, I tried. But I’ll get to that.

The ride began. The platform began to spin, whipping the cars around like a fast-motion carousel. A carousel with rises and dips and jolts built in. Meanwhile the individual cars began to spin, whipping about in their own revolutions within the main revolution, spinning faster or slower depending on the movement of the platform. I whooped and cheered, offering a huge smile and a big thumb’s up to every other rider I caught glimpses of as we spun and danced about each-other in a superwaltz from hell.

The free hot dog, popcorn, and soda were giving me little pokes in the gut toward the end of the ride, just gentle reminders that they were still there. I ignored them, distracted by my determination to get every bit of fun out of my free ride.

The music died down, my spinning car slowed, and the Tilt-A-Whirl ground to an eventual halt. I sat and considered taking a second ride on the Tilt, waiting for the attendant to come by and release me so I could offer him my second free ticket right then and there, without even getting out of my seat. My lunch protested, but weakly. I was pretty sure it could handle that second free ride, especially if I could get it without even having to stand in line for it.

No line? Double score!

I heard his booted feet as he moved about the platform, heard the clang and creak as he released riders from their captivity. My car had come to rest facing out from the ride, so I saw nothing but trees and sky as I heard the other kids all exiting the ride, then the tinkling clatter of the attendant releasing the ‘keep-out’ chain again. Excited feet ran about as the other cars filled up around me and then the creak-clank of safety bars locking into place. There were booted footsteps, the ratchet and clank of the control lever, and the Tilt-A-Whirl swung into motion again.

He’d never even seen me in my car —  never even come by! I was getting that second free ride without having to stand in line, hell, without even having to give up my second free ride voucher!

Booya! We have a winner!

My car circled and do-si-do’d the other cars on the platform, as I hooted and hollered and waved to the new crop of faces that flashed by as the other cars spun past. I waved two fingers at everyone I saw, wishing that would somehow convey the message that I’d gotten two rides for one ticket —  and a free ticket at that —  though I knew there was no way for them to know of my amazing good fortune.

They had no idea, but still I gloated.

Well, I gloated for a while.

To be continued...

Yeah, sorry about that, but I did mention at the outset that this was a long one.

Talk to you next time, where I'll continue the story of my last Tilt-A-Whirl ride!
Funny video of the week!

You may have seen me post this on Facebook this week, but if not here it is!

I love this!

No comments:

Post a Comment