Roller coasters

Photo from the Indiana State Fair newsroom photos on Flickr.

I love the Indiana State Fair. I love the crazy fried foods the vendors provide, even though I generally take one bite and pass it off to someone else or trash the rest because my old, gall-bladder-deprived body can’t handle the fat. I love the animals. There is nothing better than looking into the deep brown eyes of a gorgeous Jersey cow and saying thanks for the yummy and delicious ice cream she provides at the dairy barn across the road. I never fail to visit the Red Gold tomato booth and stand around talking to strangers about the virtues of their products, which are canned RIGHT IN THE FIELD. I MEAN, SERIOUSLY, PEOPLE. IT DOESN’T GET FRESHER THAN THIS! IT’S LIKE SUMMER IN A CAN ALL YEAR LONG. RED GOLD, WHY AREN’T YOU PAYING ME?

I sometimes miss the fair because August in Indiana is mother-freaking miserable. Have you ever been in a sauna or a hot whirlpool? Don’t stop thinking yet. You don’t quite have the mental picture. Sitting in a sauna or whirlpool, there is that point where you are just done and it’s time to get out. Suddenly, the steam and heat overwhelm you and you must escape or die trying, so you jump out to cool off in the open air or even dive in a pool. Well, that feeling — where you are on the verge of fainting from heat stroke and know you HAVE to get out of the suffocating, hot moisture that has filled your lungs, is sticking to your eyeballs and makes you want to tear off your hair — that’s what Indiana feels like from mid-July to late August. All. Of. The. Time. And the best part? You can’t escape. It just goes on and on and on until someone gets stabbed.

Floridians often try to stake claim to having the most miserable summer heat. I’ve experienced it. Florida in the summer is a bleeping swamp on fire. However, bring Floridians to Indiana during a humidity wave and you will see the cry-baby in all of them. In Florida, y’all know how to deal with the heat. You have air conditioning in outdoor places and those cool spray fan things every 10 feet. Heck, at DisneyWorld, you have hand-held spray do-hickeys. You crank the A/C higher than our thermostats allow. You limit your outdoor activities. When you spend time outside in the heat, it’s on a boat, where the wind dries the sweat from your skin or on the beach, where you can jump in the cool water at a moment’s notice. In Indiana, we only deal with this for about six weeks a year. That’s not enough time to invest in great A/C. We don’t have beaches or delightful Gulf breezes. We just sit around in our front yards with our feet in a baby pool of tepid water feeling incredibly sorry for our sweaty butts. And because we sometimes luck out and don’t get the steam table experience for the entire two months, our event organizers are perpetually hopeful that this year is going to be the one time their outdoor concert doesn’t end up in a heat wave that causes overheated rednecks to start a knife fight at the back of the crowd. We are an optimistic bunch.

So, it’s not always a real blast to be standing around the state fair in that pressure cooker atmosphere with 900,000 other Hoosiers suffering heat-induced brain damage. The smell of human sweat, cow and chicken poop melding with fried Oreos and roasted turkey legs, while existing alongside fired up tempers, can be a tad overwhelming. The constant threat of us all dying from E. coli or swine flu a week later only adds to the excitement.

But my desire to see my Jersey ladies, show my kiddo what a state fair champion 4-H project looks like and delight in the experience of all-things-Indiana is a powerful draw for me. That leads to the annual juggling act of “what days am I available to drag the kid to the fair that coincide with lower than 1,125% humidity?”

The Indiana State Fair midway. I’m not sure if that’s the coaster in the back.
I’ve tried to block it from my memory. You see the haziness of this picture?
That’s the 1,125% humidity causing it. (From Wikipedia, used under
Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported.)

We made it last year and it turned out to be an unseasonably pleasant day. By “unseasonably pleasant,” I mean that as long as we interrupted our hikes around the fairgrounds with trips to the indoor, air-conditioned exhibits, I only had to worry about back sweat and didn’t have much trouble with streams of salt water running into my eyes. Beautiful weather, really.

I tend to avoid the rides at the fair. Not because I don’t love rides, but because who the hell trusts carnies?* When I see the guys running the rides who clearly haven’t showered in days, who look like they might devour every teenage girl in sight and certainly have the appearance of someone just released from prison, I think, “no effin’ way do I trust they properly tightened all 10,000 bolts on that machine currently flipping 200 children upside down.” My rule has always been that I only ride roller coasters at theme parks where I assume the employees are full-time, passed a background check, are certified in something related to bolt-tightening,** shower daily, wear cute uniforms, and get health insurance.

But, when you have a kid in tow, there is only so much “can we ride that one?” repeated incessantly in moderate humidity you can take before you cave and put your lives in the hands of criminals.

So, cave, I did, on a really fun-looking roller coaster. It wasn’t until we were standing in line with tickets in hand that I thought, “WHAT ARE YOU DOING?” But it was too late. She’d already been incensed.

As I watched perfectly alive people exit the ride, I psyched myself up for the experience and created positive thoughts of spending a long, happy life reminiscing about that particular roller coaster ride. I envisioned living through it without a single missing-bolt incident.

The innocent-looking carts pulled up and my daughter and I boarded. I wasn’t the least bit worried about the coaster itself. It seemed tame enough. I mean, I enjoy a good “loop de loop” at theme parks. You know — 20 years ago when I was last on one. The rush of the wind, the excitement of swooping down steep hills — I really was looking forward to that part of the ride. This coaster was tame in comparison to the many giant ones you wait two hours to ride at parks.

Then, we started climbing the big mountain.

The view was great. We could see tall buildings miles away. We could see the distant parking lot where we had to make the long trek back to our car. We could see the entire fairgrounds, as the coaster curled slowly one direction and back. It was fun! I was loving the view and the anticipation of the “whoosh” feeling coming in the next moments. In my mind, it was going to be exactly like hitting a little rise while driving along a smooth road. It would tickle my tummy. My daughter was already happy and having fun, so the whole thing was worth it. I was going to survive!

Then, a split-second later, all hell broke loose inside my head.

The coaster was designed to give the carts the experience of hanging over nothingness, while whipping through dramatic curves several stories above the midway. It operated on a single track, with the carts pivoting about 180 degrees on their center point for the maximum “swing over the open air” feeling, while always keeping a mostly forward position. From the ground, I had missed these design elements.

As the coaster rapidly spun through a series of sharp corners, picking up speed and knocking us about, for the first time that I can ever remember, I panicked on a ride. I wanted off. Like, “UNHOOK THESE EFFING STRAPS, I’M GOING TO JUMP NOW” off. I couldn’t breathe. I could only panic.

Normally, I’m someone who laughs hysterically on those rides, enjoying the wild freedom and adrenaline rush. I’m an adventurer who, although sometimes scared that my body will fail me, likes to get on roofs, climb trees and use power equipment. I’ve never screamed before, that I can remember, on a coaster. I just laugh and laugh. But this ride, this feeling, it overwhelmed me. If I’d been standing, my knees would have gone out from under me. I really think I was on the verge of fainting. My brain couldn’t keep up with the emotions I was having, as I swam in the hormone stew that had me alternating between laughing and screaming, then, finally, just screams.

We headed down an impossibly steep incline and I couldn’t stop screaming. Tears were coming. I could only breathe through the scream. I could think nothing but, “STOP.” I was vaguely aware of my daughter laughing hysterically next to me. In retrospect, I can now appreciate that she was simply enjoying the moment and thought I was screaming with joy. She doesn’t have the history of emotions that I have experienced. Her brain doesn’t have deep patterns of fear existing inside of it. While she has been through some incredible and unfairly painful experiences for her young age, I’ve got 30 years on her. And, frankly, I think she is better at processing emotion than me. She knows how to let go. So, while I was in emotional hell, she was at the peak of joy.

As the coaster started to slow, my screams stopped and the laughter came back. My daughter was in fits of giggles at the way I had “acted,” with (thankfully) zero understanding that those moments were horrific for me. And, by that point, the horror had dissipated, so I was able to laugh with her. I’d been a crazy person. It was true.

Naturally, as we coasted to a stop, the relaxed, happy after-effects had both of us talking about a second ride. However, the outrageous ticket prices kept us away from another spin. I wondered, though, whether I would have been able to handle a second ride. Would it have been easier the second time? Would it have been WORSE? Could I have done it without the uncontrolled screaming? Could I have just enjoyed the ride? I’m not sure. It was pretty bad and I think it would have taken more than two rides to get over it. I wasn’t willing to have that much life experience at that moment. With the sick feeling I have in my stomach writing about this eight months later, I’m not sure I ever want that much life experience again.

The last few days have been like the screaming part of that roller coaster ride for me. I feel caught in an uncontrolled moment that seems to go on forever. I’m vaguely aware that there is something happier around me, but the rage and the desire for it all to STOP has powerfully overwhelmed me.

I’ve been reading a lot about control with the constant theme in my reading that we orchestrate our personal destiny, i.e. we control our lives. I accept this. I have been told that with things that seem outside of our control, we always have control over our response. But do I? Emotions are tricky and powerful things. With something that wasn’t in my control — like a freakishly and surprisingly scary roller coaster ride — did I really have any control in how I responded to that overwhelming rush of adrenaline, other hormones I can’t name and past experiences welling up in my brain? I was on autopilot and feeling took over. That’s how I feel right now. Like waves of feeling have taken over my body — bad feelings that cause more bad feelings that are making me act like a nutcase.

I want this roller coaster to slow to a stop. I want to depart safely and admire the fair from the ground, thanking my lucky stars I made it back alive. Then, I want to head to the dairy barn and get some vanilla ice cream made with whole milk and with some M&Ms stirred in for good measure.

*My apologies to all of the honest, hard-working, crime-free carnival workers out there. This is a terrible bias I have. I’m working on it. Maybe think about providing hand sanitizer on the rides. And stop leering at our daughters.

**I am certain all of the bolts on all of the rides at the state fair are tightened by experienced professionals. However, my horrific bias, as explained above, and my love for being alive keeps me from total confidence.

Author: rosie

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