Friday, January 18, 2008

Day sixteen...You must be this tall to ride this ride.

Inspiration comes from the damnedest of places.

Take the Tilt-a-Whirl for example. What an amazing American invention.

To quote Wikipedia: "Herbert Sellner invented the ride, in his patent text he clearly demonstrates an appreciation of chaos -- "A further object is to provide amusement apparatus wherein the riders will be moved in general through an orbit and will unexpectedly swing, snap from side to side or rotate without in any way being able to figure what movement may next take place in the car."

Family legend states that Herbert experimented with a chair placed on the kitchen table. Herbert's son Art sat in the chair, and Herbert rocked the table back and forth.

This guy must have been a fun dad.

I loved riding the Tilt-a-Whirl at Lincoln Park, one of the great footprints of a time when the area where I grew up in was innocent, optimistic, and civil.

Lincoln Park was a wonderful amusement park that I had the pleasure of being taken to on more than a hundred occasions by my family. It opened originally in 1894 and was located on Rt. 6 in North Dartmouth, MA. It was legendary. Rocky Point may have had clam cakes and a better theme song, but Lincoln Park had history. Lincoln park had the Super Slide. Lincoln Park had The Comet. Lincoln park had the Tilt-a-Whirl.

When I think about what it feels like to grow up, and I mean it in the most literal sense, my mind fills with memories of Lincoln Park.

I remember being no more than 5 or 6 and playing in the 'kiddie' portion of the park. That was fun as I liked motion and I liked anything with colored lights on it. But it got old pretty quick, as did I.

As I got a bit taller I was allowed to ride the bumper cars. This ensued much to the dismay of my adult companions who suspected I'd learn some habits which would prove hard to break later in life. I fear their concerns were valid. As it is I have lost my license twice at last count. The one habit that stuck...always wear your seat belt. Because you didn't want the operator to yell at you. He might stop the ride and come out and put it on you and then everyone would point and stare. No, that happened to the kids from the projects. It didn't happen to me. Not to Frederick Johnson. I was smarter than that.

There were plenty of wonders which did not involve rides at all that were equally enthralling. The shooting gallery for instance. That damn squirrel. Running back and forth like that. Laughing at me. I showed him. Bang! Right in the kisser. You...old piano playing guy...Bang!... Bang! Bang!...and then he would play. I think that shooting gallery is where I heard Scott Joplin for the first time...with a rifle in my hands. It seemed so natural. Thankfully I never did get an itch for a firearm permit. And though I did take piano lessons in college it must have been the fear of getting shot at that kept me on the six-string.

The years rolled by and taller still I grew. Soon a host of other rides were at my disposal. The Spider, the Fun House, The Round Up, the aforementioned Tilt-a-Whirl, and ultimately The Comet.

The Comet roller coaster was the be all and end all of parental nightmares and it was also the last height restriction I had to overcome. I'll never forget the countless times I stood there under the "You must be this tall to ride this ride" sign. Upon positioning myself properly, I would impatiently move my hand between my neatly parted cowlick and the wooden hand of the man. Aw jeez. Not even close. Someday I would be that tall. Someday I would ride that ride.


My family was petrified at that prospect. But I grew fast and ultimately was allowed to ride The Comet.

The Comet was, and still is a legend. It was built in 1946. It was loud, fast, wooden, and dangerous. With a top speed of 55mph it put 20 riders at a time through the most hellish two minutes and ten seconds of their life. If the hormones which produce euphoria hadn't completely taken over my consciousness I would have been scared out of my mind. "Click-click-click-clickclickclickclick" it pulled you up bit by bit as time stood still. For just few seconds before the cars broke the crest of the hill you raised your hands up and completely surrendered yourself to fate. It is what I suspect those who choose a deeply religious lifestyle must feel when they turn over their will to God. But we were at Lincoln Park for Christ sakes. This is no time to be philosophical. Not now. In charge of your life now were two thin rails, the combined weight of you and 19 others, and a very unconcerned operator nervously waiting for his man to show. And in what seemed like 20 seconds of pure adrenaline it was over.

As you walked towards the exit, past everyone else waiting in line, you would invariably have to smooth your hair, adjust your overalls, and fish around for the sunglasses that were no longer on your head. At the same time, involuntary looks of accomplishment and concern were offered. Looks that seemed to convey, "I made it...good're gonna need it." to the 20 kids passing you pushing and shoving to get the best seats in the death trap.

But after about 100 or so rides on that final totem to adulthood I learned an awful lesson.

I learned that some things get boring. Even the dangerous ones.

As I grew into my teens I had the pleasure of performing at Lincoln Park. My band was playing on one summer day back in 1986 when someone fell to their death from the top of The Comet. Word spread fast and the room cleared. I thought it was us. I was devastated. Then I found out what really happened and I couldn't believe it. The Comet shut down shortly after that. And it was the last time my band played there.

My band at the time was called Atria and my Aunt Lynda was our manager. But that's a whole 'nother story. And believe me I plan to tell it. When that cork fully gets dislodged from the dyke of lost memories watch out. It's gonna flood.

But back to the Tilt-a-Whirl.

Yes there was something special about that ride.

First it was a bit disorienting walking up the planks around the cars and getting in the damn thing. Upon entering, the car would immediately start swinging back and forth. The seat was wooden with a thin layer of padding so you wouldn't get splinters. You had to hold onto the bar in your lap or you'd get thrown around pretty bad. But what I remember most was the black metal grill behind your head.

Yes it was the grill.

When that thing got going fast inertia would take over. Your head was batted around a bit from side to side but more importantly, the back of your head was forced against that damn grill. You know how sometimes a painful action like pressing on a sore tooth, or rubbing a small abrasion oddly feels good? That's what the grill felt like. I can let my mind go and recall the memory of that sensation and for some reason my mouth starts to water.

You know what produces that same exact feeling?

The back of a police cruiser.

Yes I finally made the discovery back in December. It was only after the inertia took over and my head was forced against that rear window grill of the Crown Vic blasting off at top speed that my mouth started to water. I'm not kidding. I was cuffed of course and I had been strapped in by the operator er, I mean the cop.

As he hit that accelerator and blasted off down Pleasant St. I was glad I was wearing a seat belt. I flashed back to Lincoln Park and the Tilt-a-Whirl and The Comet and the Bumper cars and how it's because of those rides that I always remember to wear my seat belt.

Because you didn't want the operator to yell at you. He might stop the ride and come out and put it on you and then everyone would point and stare. No, that happened to the kids from the projects. It didn't happen to me. Not to Frederick Johnson. I was smarter than that.

I wonder how many times Herbert Sellner took that ride downtown.

Inspiration comes from the damnedest of places.


Libby Spencer said...

Alex you're blowing me away with this blog. I read news and blogs for 6-14 hours a day. I've just been off line for eight hours. I have a dozen mandatory sites to visit and dozens of emails to answer. The greatest compliment I can give you is to tell you that I stopped here first because I didn't want to miss an installment.

Great stuff.

Anonymous said...

Alex, *the big slide* aka magic carpet circa '79 was always bittersweet for me. It signaled the end. It was by the parking lot and it was also only one ticket to ride as opposed to 3 for the tilt-a-whirl. Only those mom and dads lacking in thrift got their kids stamped. I got stamped a couple times and trust me it was a BIG deal! I'd always save one ticket for the slide, winded at the top of the stairs I would scan the lot for our shiny sorta-new gold Chevy Nova knowing it was the last fun of the day. With rug burns from a previous ride and still confused as too which way the fucking carpet was supposed to face - geez look what you have done Alex - you've brought out the inner journalist in us all. much love man! no matter how this turns out you are being true to yourself in a moment. It's all about that elusive truth.

you get another musical unconditional love, Norm