Saturday, August 30, 2014

Nurse the Hate: Hate Skydiving

I had decided to go skydiving.  Almost no one in my life is interested or supportive of that decision.  It's hard to say if that is because there is a vague concern for my well being or an overriding boredom in the activity itself.  When you hit your forties there is really little debate if you are the type of person that can deal with heights and risk taking pursuits or not.  I am not aware of many librarians that suddenly say, "This James Joyce novel needs to get put away, but first let's fuck and hang glide off that cliff.".  Whatever niche you are in at this point is your niche.  As I am not about to take up accounting or camping, I think it is reasonable that I accept that my local friend base is not going to suddenly sprout an interest in skydiving when none has germinated in the past.  This was my white whale alone.

When deciding on a skydiving facility, I think we can all agree that safety is the highest priority.  I think we can also agree that if a skydiving facility has had a fatality and has somehow remained in business, the chance of them trumpeting that fatality on their website is probably pretty low.  This creates a situation in choosing a facility based on the quality of the website appearance and location.  This led me to Aerohio in Rittman OH.  For those of you like myself that were previously unaware of the sprawling community of Rittman, imagine a nice pocket of Kansas about 45 minutes from a major US city.  There are cornfields, dirty kids riding four wheelers, gravel roads, and a large freshly cut hayfield that has a plane take off and lets people jump out of it.  That appears to be the long and short of Rittman.

When I arrived at the facility I checked in.  What "checking in" means is that I filled out a 74 page document that words and re-words statements like "skydiving is a risk taking activity and you could die, however if that does happen you promise not to sue us.  Oh, and you also promise that anyone you know won't sue us since you'll be dead."  With the amount of litigation in this country, frankly it is amazing that like minded people like these haven't been prevented from doing this by some type of governmental committee.  There is probably a frumpy woman in an ugly suit trying to stop this type of fun right now "for the good of the children".  I initialed a mind numbing number of boxes and declarations that undoubtedly an enormous team of lawyers built to prevent an equally enormous team of personal injury lawyers from penetrating.  The funny part is in the end you would be suing Aerohio to win a small plane, two sheds, a trailer, a couple picnic pavilions, two porta johns, and a hayfield.  That probably wouldn't offer much compensation in the event of a horrific skydiving disaster.  The last time I went to the doctor for a sinus infection it cost more than the entire facility of Aerohio would lock, stock, and barrel.  My guess is "crushed spine" is more costly than the re-sale value of a used porta john.

I just wanted to have the experience of a free fall and not do a lot of mucking around so I paid for a tandem jump.  This means I would be strapped to another dude like I was an eleven year old girl.  It's hard to imagine a more submissive position, unless of course I was in assless pink leather chaps.  Still, I was willing to put up with the concept of having this strange man strapped to me if it meant my avoiding 5 hours of classes.  I just wanted to know what it was like to jump out of a plane.  I don't want to know how to deploy the emergency chute or untangle lines.  I just want to see what it was like to dive out into the sky.

I was called into the gear hut to get outfitted.  Before I was given my harness, I was shown a video hosted by a very strange looking man with a wild long beard.  This is a video that was part of the air tight legal defense.  Why they made the video hosted by a cross between a member of ZZ Top and a Civil War general, I don't have a clue.  This guy is supposed to be the patron saint of skydiving, and he spent most of the time on the video telling me that I could die and I shouldn't sue anyone if I was touched in a way that I felt was inappropriate.  This must be a big issue for these facilities now.  Every sixth box on the forms was about not freaking out because someone from the skydiving place was touching the harness around your crotch, and it was sort of important that it was adjusted so you didn't fall out of the parachute and die.  I viewed being groped in the nutsack as a small price to pay for a safe landing, but I can see how attractive women might run into a situation where they have extremely safe crotches and breasts after the dudes from the facility make really, really, really sure that the harness is adjusted.

I spent about 20 minutes with my instructor Nate telling me what to do during the process.  To be honest, I have no real idea if Nate had any qualifications at all.  He could have learned how to do this yesterday.  I just assumed that since the other kinda wacky guys in the shed seemed to think it was OK that I strapped onto Nate and jumped out of a plane that it was OK too.  I think that is what is referred to as "blind trust".  He seemed like a cool guy, and he didn't mess around with my nutsack too much so I was fine with how everything was coming together.

I figured I would be really nervous since jumping out of a plane at 9000 feet is pretty fucking scary.  For whatever reason, I was really calm.  The die had been cast and this thing was going to happen now.  I walked over to the plane with about eight other skydivers.  I was the only first timer.  The rest of the group was a hodge podge of dudes.  Three of them were going to jump out and do some sort of formation.  Two of them were in flying suits, like they were enormous flying squirrels.  One of them was slipping into the suit as I was getting into my harness.  He said, "There's only two stupid things you can do involving a flying suit."  What's that?  "For one, die in it."  OK, what's #2?  "Buy it in the first place."

I had bought the package with a guy filming me as I did it.  It seemed like wise decision as no one was with me, and I think I would face some skepticism that I had actually left work at 3pm to jump out of a plane instead of doing something suburban like going golfing.  Plus, between you and me, I was looking forward to looking at myself on video to see if I looked like Keanu Reeves in "Point Break".  I also bleakly suspect I look more like a paunchy middle aged guy having a midlife crisis that is strapped to another dude like a prison bitch.  The decision to film meant that I would be the second guy out of the plane after my camera guy and his Mohawk helmet went first.

The plane was really small.  I sat by the "door".  Door is a bit of a misnomer as it was actually a piece of plastic velcroed across an opening in the side of the plane.  I had never had the experience of taking off while sitting between another man's legs while also being three inches from falling out of the airplane.  Now I had.  We slowly worked up to altitude.  I was really comfortable.  Once again, I cannot explain why.  There was a real camaraderie amongst the guys on the plane as we all did the dude fist bump thing as we started to get really close to the jump zone.  The camera guy got up and started to unzip the door. Cold wind blew in.  Shit.  This is really going to happen.  I put my goggles on.

The plan is you sit with your legs out of the door.  You rock back and forth and on three you fall forward while arching your back and keeping your head up.  I didn't wear a jumpsuit.  I was wearing what all serious skydivers wear, Chuck Taylors, Lucky brand shorts, and a skull and crossbones t-shirt. At 9000 feet, it's pretty cold on your legs.  It's also rather counter intuitive to put your legs outside of a moving airplane.  One... Two...  And suddenly we are falling...

It sort of reminded me of diving into the ocean with scuba gear.  There is the sudden confusion of trying to make sense of your new surroundings while also having the sudden shift of the bulky gear you had on land no longer being bulky because gravity changed.  There was a twist and a turn then suddenly we are dropping in the familiar skydive position that you've seen in every action movie.  It's loud as shit with the wind roaring in your ears.  There is the sensation of great speed, yet it's hard to pinpoint exactly how fast because there is not much to provide context.  The camera guy is smiling at me while filming.  I am trying to think of something cool to do, but I've got nothing.  I lamely make a Judas Priest devil's horn sign.  Damn.  That's going to look bad.  Mostly I'm trying to just take it in.  It's a massive rush of sensory overload.  This moment is why those oddball guys get in the plane and do this.  It is an awesome experience that isn't like anything else.  I loved it.

It was a 40 second free fall.  It seemed like it was about 3 seconds.  The parachute deployed and I saw why those harness straps on your crotch needed to be well adjusted.  I would not recommend to any male reader that they mistakenly have one of their testicles slip into the area between the strap and leg.  This would make a 90 mph fastball to the cup seem like a bowl of candy corn.  We floated down and it wasn't until we got close to the drop zone that I realized how fast we had been falling, even with the parachute.  We landed perfectly as I skidded on my ass.  If I could have, I would have hopped right back in that plane and done it again.  And again.

While I was bullshitting with the guys in the gear shed prior to the jump, a couple of them remarked "You would fit in really well around here."  There is some validity in that statement.  I could see myself really getting into it.  I would, of course, keep jumping until I tired of just doing that and bought the flying suit.  Then I would be doing halo jumps with a bunch of equally stupid guys.  That would lead to me really breaking through into a whole new thing as I would skydive with my scuba gear into a dive site, and then emerge from the water to my trusty sea kayak.  This "Sky-Scuba" subculture would become my whole life, and I would bore everyone within earshot with my enthusiasm for this new discipline.

Ultimately I just climbed in my car and drive home.  The gravel crunched under the tires as I started the long drive.  My DVD from the skydive hadn't downloaded yet and I didn't want to wait.  It had been as good of an experience as I had hoped.  I did it.  I was really excited about the experience.  As I quickly found out, no one else really cared.  This was my thing I wanted to do and the significance was mine alone.  I'll finish typing this and let that be the end of it.  It was just something that happened.  Still, I will watch the DVD when it shows up in my mailbox.  I hope I look just a little like Johnny Utah.                          

Friday, August 22, 2014

Nurse the Hate: Hate Night Driving

I was confused.  It was wet outside with the gray smear of a recently passed storm.  Cars hissed by on the nearby city street.  I had been sleeping behind the wheel of the van.  I had pulled into a CVS parking lot at 5:15 am, unable to drive any further.  I looked at my watch.  My eyes wouldn’t work.  It was as if someone had replaced my eyeballs with two raisins.  My contact lenses had fused onto my eyes somehow, the surface of my eyes shockingly dry.  I didn’t know it then, but blood vessels in my eyes instantly burst as I struggled to see.  7:00 am.  My neck was cramping.  Holy hell.  I had been passed out for nearly two hours.

There is a real skill in overnight driving.  Everyone has driven while tired, but to break through the threshold of when the challenges of the road aren’t so much the minor twists and turns of the highway but the hallucinations…  Now that’s driving!  In my case I had to ignore what appeared to be large bullfrogs that would periodically hop from the side of the road and attempt to cross in front of the unrelenting tires of the van.  Maybe this was homage from my subconscious to the video game “Frogger”, or maybe it was an actual frog I had seen gamely trying to make his crossing that just replayed over and over and over.  It’s really hard to say. 

I can never fall into a fitful sleep while others in the band are driving.  If I begin to drift off, my brain always sends a red alert in the form of an image of the van flying off the side of a cliff while Leo sleeps with his mouth open behind the wheel.  How I have not been claimed as collateral damage in the Leo Lifestyle is really a testament to the merciful side of The Lord.  One must maintain a certain vigilance to maintain a safe distance from a man that is primarily dedicated to “partying”, or in plain language “using all available intoxicants in his sphere until no one else wants to participate”.

No one else in the band appears to have this defense mechanism (or affliction depending on your point of view).  They all slept like baby lamb as I drove us from The Middle of Nowhere to Just Past The Middle of Nowhere without even a visible thought.  At 4:18 in the morning, a country road with construction cones can be pretty confounding.  A driver must keep his cool when he realizes he has been driving 50 mph on the wrong side of the cones and needs to swiftly pop over to the other side of the divide before driving off a sudden stop in his side of concrete.  A quick swerve.  A spinning cone spat out by a tire.  It’s all back on track.

We’ve made some horrifying drives in the past.  Bellingham WA to Cleveland OH is no picnic.  Austin TX to Lakewood OH in one shot is nothing to be scoffed at.  However, the late night suicide runs are the ones that will get you.  The only people on the road at 3:50am are amphetamine freaks, drunks, and degenerates.  Pull off at a Pilot truck stop anywhere in America at that time and see what the lowest form of humanity looks like.  That’s when you notice your own reflection in the mirror and realize that you are one of them too.  Barely classifiable as a human being.  More like a filthy ape.

Last weekend we drove back from a festival that primarily offered camping as accommodations.  I’m not much of a camper, and do so only in the most dire of emergencies.  My last two camping experiences both involved band dates in places so remote there was a real fear of a late night buffalo stampede.  At one of them we attempted to set up a tent in the pitch black and woke the next morning to find what we thought of as a “satisfactory” job was closer to “poor to very poor”.  Imagine if fabric was spread haphazardly with the highest point being 10 inches above ground.  The other time Krusty and I quietly lay in the flimsy tent while listening to Leo struggling to figure out how to open the tent and enter.  We wisely didn’t offer any help as he was fucked up beyond belief.  Leo later found shelter that had been offered by a very friendly homosexual man with romantic designs .  That did briefly fill us with some guilt.  After a very uncomfortable incident, they were able to work out a platonic solution.  I suppose all’s well that ends well.  The combination of both of these experiences did sour me on future camping trips though.

A man of my age and experience should not find himself waking up in a beat up van at 7:00 am.  While not “rock bottom”, this is in the general neighborhood.  When you are in Rock Bottom, you certainly don’t want the neighbors waving at you in recognition.  This is a place you want to look at from afar while shaking your head and saying, “How does someone let themselves wind up like that?”.  It really was a bit of a wakeup call.  It means that I now have to become more tolerant of off-kilter country roadside motels that look like they exist only to murder prostitutes inside, or become more adept at camping.  While neither is particularly of interest to me, I think I can sleep through the screams at the motel.  It’s got to be better than camping.  


Friday, August 15, 2014

Nurse the Hate: American Friday Afternoon

He sat in the chair somewhat defeated.  Slumped at the shoulders, he checked his phone more by habit than with the hope that anything of interest had arrived in his various electronic receptacles .  All around him in the restaurant others were doing the same thing as if the quiet whispered temptation of the phone offered something more interesting and genuine than the actual reality of this moment itself.  He expertly flicked his finger across the screen moving deftly from his email to his work email to his Facebook messages to his text messages to his Twitter to his Instagram to his Linked In.  There were messages, many of them screaming urgency with a red “!”, but he was unable to decipher what any of the alleged emergencies meant.  He ignored it all.  It was all noise.   

He ate a tasteless turkey sandwich staring at the TV replaying yesterday’s sports highlights in an endless loop.  He checked his phone repeatedly as if magically some message would arrive to give his life meaning and purpose.  He paid the bill, walked out to his car, and checked his phone again to make sure that nothing important had arrived on Facebook, Linked In, Work Email, Personal Email, Twitter, Instagram or text.  Nothing.  He started the car and talk radio washed over him.  He merged into traffic as a dented Honda Civic swerved dangerously close to the side of his car.  The driver, a young woman aggressively smoking a cigarette, was staring down at her lap undoubtedly in the act of sending an email/text/Instagram.  The Buick in front of her began to brake.  He saw she had not yet looked up as he passed.  A screech of brakes announced itself over the radio ad for “a guaranteed way to consolidate credit card debt”.  Disaster averted.

He parked his car and walked into the drab two story building.  He checked his phone during the walk.  Social media had alerted him to the fact that someone he barely knew was at Cedar Point, someone else was sad about a dead celebrity, a video clip of the band Killing Joke was “badass”, a woman gloated over recent weight loss, another was excited about her cat, a picture of a bowl of soup, kids in Little League outfits, invitations to events he would never attend, and multiple inspirational quotes which he found to be neither worthy of quote or inspiring.  He lifted his head at the traffic light.  Red.  To his right perched on the roof of the abandoned fast food restaurant was a large black bird.  They stared at one another.  The bird moved its weight to the right and then left, leaned forward and flew off.  He watched for a moment.  The light changed color.  He crossed and checked his phone.

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

Nurse the Hate: Robin Williams

It was odd to me that I did not learn about Robin Williams death on Facebook, which I now regard as the #1 news source of celebrity death in America today.  It’s almost as if everyone that you know is in a race to try and post some sort of flimsy RIP as if they will be personally affected by the recent passing of someone they watched on TV or listened to on record every once in awhile.  For example, I was at first genuinely shocked to see the number of James Garner RIPs that cascaded by me after his death until I remembered all the times I have been invited over to people’s homes for “Rockford Files” marathons.  And how many times have you heard people recently say, “That Leonardo DiCaprio was good in “The Wolf of Wall Street”, but he was no Jimmy Garner!”?  James Garner factored into each one of our daily lives, of that there is no debate. 

Now that we have Robin Williams death, I find it interesting to watch the reaction of the general public.  Stories of his humane acts are populating websites dedicated to selling cheap cost per thousand impressions.  There’s nothing like trolling people’s interest in celebrity death while serving a $6 cost per thousand for a razor ad on Buzzfeed dot com.  This morning at every shitty website like that, staff meetings were held with directives like “Get as much Robin Williams material on the site as possible!  That stuff is gold right now and we need to keep our traffic up!”  (FYI, most websites make money by selling ads on their site and charging by the thousands of site visits.  The more traffic to the site, the more money they make.  This can lead to some rather flexible morality on staff much like those loathsome human beings on TMZ.  There are ghouls trying to find crime scene photos of the Williams house as we speak so they can “drive web traffic”.)

This morning on the Today Show, “The Tragic Death of Robin Williams” (said almost as one word) was intoned right before launching into a greatest hits of his comedy clips and a quick dismissal of the circumstances of his death with a wave of the hand.  It is the collective look of sorrow from the cast that quickly turns to that morning news chippiness I find most nauseating.  They all look mournful at the camera and make a remarkably quick emotional 180 to dump into the next segment.  “Oh, he brought so much joy to people!”  He sure did!  Now let’s take a look at the weather and what it means for your weekend!  (Big smile!)  


I suspect I might share the opinion of many people.  Robin Williams was clearly a talented but troubled man. He seemed to be one of those guys that had a God given gift and unfortunately had that other side of the coin with depression/mental problems.  David Foster Wallace, Hemingway, Kurt Cobain, Ian Curtis…  Maybe a level of genius accesses something else in the brain that just can’t be controlled.  Who knows?  Williams definitely had a gift, and there was always the vibe that something wasn’t just right.  He was always shot out of a cannon like he couldn’t stand to just be by himself in the silence.  When he would show up on talk show appearances to shill his latest movies it always seemed that the hosts would look at him with that patient “OK, I know your thing is to babble like crazy until you say something funny and I am supposed to wait it out, but maybe we can have a normal exchange here?”.  He had some terrific high water marks.  Good Will Hunting, Good Morning Vietnam, and The World According To Garp come to mind.  Those were a long time ago though, 15 years+ for the last big critical/box office hit.  That’s a lifetime in show business.  For me at least, Robin Williams had retreated into the background.  I wasn’t exactly pining for “Night At The Museum 2”, and I’ll bet you weren’t either.  Sorry.

The focus on his death has been less on the shocking suicide, or trying to understand the black hole of clinical depression.  It’s almost like he had a heart attack or got hit by a bus.  No one was mentioning he hung himself with a belt in a closet.  Damn.  Think about that for a minute.  That’s a guy dealing with some pain he desperately wants out of at all costs to go down that road.  Oh well…  Let’s brush that all under the table and watch that “Mrs. Doubtfire” clip!  Look at the funny thing he said at the Awards Show in the late 1980s!  HAHAHAHAHA!  Then come the Facebook and Twitter messages of deep personal loss from people that never met him, would never meet him, and knew him as that guy in “Patch Adams”.  Whew.  What a blow.

I have a suspicion.  I think that the response to Robin Williams death is less about our collective feelings about the loss of him as a comedian/actor, and maybe more about our own fear of the unexpectedness of death.  Holy shit… Robin Williams is dead?  And he did what?  He always seemed so happy and like a good person.  Does that mean I could do that?  If he lost it, does that mean I could too?  Am I going to die?  Soon? 

Williams was in the suicide risk group of men 60+.  For men in American society, the years of being needed and having purpose appear to be over.  After the “best years”, what is left?  Toss in a chemical dependency, and that’s a bad situation.  Robin, I’m sorry you felt so much pain that you couldn’t take it another moment.  You made people laugh, made them forget their problems for a moment, and probably made yourself forget yours too.  I’m not mad at you.  Just these damn TV shows and social media posts…  

Monday, August 11, 2014

Nurse the Hate: Madrid

Madrid in the summer is hot. The days run up to 95 degrees, but with low humidity and a slight breeze it isn’t as oppressive as it sounds. Good looking people walk confidently through the major plazas in light linen clothes. The city has that particular Spanish combination of old history combined with ultra-modern style with the emphasis on beauty rather than function. It is as if everyone and everything knows it is being observed by a critical eye, and wants to shine in its particular moment.
Spain should not function. It appears that no one actually works. Once in a while a man in a suit can be spotted leisurely walking down a street, but it seems he is going to stop in a café for a coffee as opposed to rushing to make a stress filled presentation. At any given time 40% of the population is sitting down having a drink while watching the other 60% of the population walking on their way to meet someone for a drink. Once seated in cafes, waiters will drift over at some point in the to be determined future, take the order, and disappear for incalculable lengths of time. Madrid is not a place to be if you are in a hurry.

There’s a whole lot to like about Madrid. With multiple art museums hosting perhaps the second best collection of art outside of Paris, it’s an ideal place to wander around getting lost in paintings. While the Prado gets the most press with their incomprehensible number of historically significant paintings, I gravitate toward the Thyssen and their vast collection of more modern art. Monet, Matisse, Van Gogh, Dix, Picasso, and on and on. The masterworks are almost like little flowers that open up. Poems that have been written decades ago and whispered into your ear. I found it to be almost exhausting intellectually and emotionally to move through the galleries at the brisk pace I maintained. A stop in the Renia Sofia is a must as well, as the impact of Picasso’s “Guernica” is necessary in person to appreciate the size and scope of the work. While there, it’s also a good opportunity to question if Salvador Dali was a great artist or a great hustler (or both).  Between us, I don't think he knew what any of those paintings meant either...
In the mid 1700s Spain decided to build a palace to knock the socks off visiting dignitaries. It appears that the people designing it had the sensibilities of The Real Housewives of Orange County. Imagine if Lil Wayne had an unlimited budget to build a house a few hundred years ago. That’s what it looks like inside. It’s insane and well worth a peek. Though the other tourists were all groups of Japanese taking dour photos of one another in front of the building, or Eastern Europeans in track suits, I was still able to take in the sheer excess of some of the rooms. The throne room alone is worth the trip. Pop into the cathedral across the plaza too. Get yourself some Jesus.

A short walk away is the Plaza Mayor. This has always been a main meeting place going back to when it was the spot to hold executions during the Spanish Inquisition. A good venue is always a good venue. Now there are plenty of tourist trap souvenir shops and expensive cafes, but make sure and get a beer in La Torre del Oro. It’s a great bullfighting bar packed to the gills with memorabilia, photos, and enormous stuffed bull heads. The bartenders ply you with tapas while keeping one eye on the never ending bullfighting feed on the TVs. It’s my kind of place.  Any bar that features an enormous photo of a horn going through a matador's face is a good spot to knock back a cold one.

The pace of life in Spain is very civilized.  Lunch is around 2p.  Stores remain closed for the most part until 5p, though many international chains have abandoned the old ways in search of profits of additional open hours.  Dinner is around 10p, though by 7:00 many residents have begun the long parade of visiting various favorite bars for tapas (or small plates) of kickass little snacks.  I'm a big fan of the octopus grilled with paprika, ham croquettes, the small dish of meatballs, and the small wedge of egg/potato quiche thing.  However, all of those take a backseat to the glories of jamon Iberico.  These small slices of ham from pigs raised on acorns are perhaps one of the world's greatest foods.  It was so hot, I found myself drinking lots of cold beer with it, though certain cafes have begun to be more serious about their wines.  Inexpensive albarinos and verdejos are easy to find.  My preferance would be for a nice red Rioja or Ribera del Duero, but 90+ degrees is too damn hot to be drinking red wine outside. 

Stop in at a place.  Have a drink and a snack.  Some conversation.  Go to the next place for their specialty.  Repeat again.  Suddenly it is 10:30p and time for a light dinner.  It is odd to be outside on a Tuesday at 11:30p to see families with small children just finishing their dinner.  However with the weather that warm, it really is the nicest time of day.  To sit outside surrounded by nice architecture, thoughtful lighting, and good food is much better than the American Tuesday night of staring at TV isolated inside our air conditioned shacks.

Spain certainly has a laundry list of problems.  Unemployment rates are out of control.  Young people emerging from college have no chance at a job in their field. Separatists blow up things now and again to remind everyone that the Basque people and Catalans want to go their own way.  Still, the spirit of the people and their joy of life is what makes this one of my favorite places to visit.  The dedication to forging a new path while remaining respectful of old traditions is what makes this such a place of contradictions and interest.  I look forward to a return visit sooner rather than later. 

Wednesday, August 6, 2014

Nurse the Hate: The Memory of The Hellhole

It may have been due to the fever that descended on me yesterday like a storm.  Perhaps it was the TV droning on in the background as I twisted in the sweaty sheets.  Whatever it was, I was struck by a vivid memory of a summer night years ago.  The memory is clear at points, but at others hazy in that dream-like state where it is completely unclear of the conditions that led to the scenario in question.  I have some doubt that this happened, and when and why it happened remain obscured in the fog of lost memory.

I must have been about 15 or so.  I was at Conneaut Lake Park, a small crumbling amusement park that had a surprisingly good rollercoaster and most of the typical rides featured at traveling carnivals and fairs.  They had “The Octopus”, which featured a car in an extended mechanical arm that twirled the occupants around in various speeds depending on the up/down motion of the arms.  This ride also maintains such aliases as “The Spider” or “The Tarantula” if I am not mistaken.  There was “The Bobsled”, which moved everyone in a circle up and down small hills with an interior paintjob that evoked a Korean political prisoner artistic take on what they believed winter in The Alps would look like.  “The Scrambler” spun the riders in figure eights while providing the illusion that an imminent crash was unavoidable with the other riders.   The moment after each one of these rides started, tooth rattling popular rock music of the time blasted out of PA horns located at all corners of the ride area.  What Kenny Loggin’s “Danger Zone” or Meatloaf’s “Paradise By The Dashboard Light” had to do with the Swiss Chalet motif of “The Bobsled” I don’t know.  The thought must have been that kids like rock music and they like rides, so let’s combine the two and make a fortune!

The one ride that this amusement park had that I rarely saw elsewhere was “The Hellhole”.  I don’t think a park would be so politically incorrect to name a ride “The Hellhole” now, so much as have a ride like this in their facility.  The Hellhole was actually genius in its simplicity.  It was an enormous circular room.  Riders would enter the room and stand by the wall.  The cigarette smoking kid in the wife beater that operated the ride would throw the switch and the whole thing started to spin faster and faster.  Eventually the centrifugal force was so great that you would be pinned to the wall.  That was when the floor would be dropped down leaving riders plastered against the wall unable to move from the G forces staring down at the situation they had placed themselves in.

I was a rather fearless young man when it came to amusement park rides.  Blessed with strong stomach, I could eat a chili dog and hop right onto “The Scrambler” with nary a second thought.  I once went to an amusement park with a cousin of mine that barfed his way through the park, his final humiliation coming on the planes where you manually moved the rudder to increase the sway of the car.  His small blonde head hung over the side with vomit streaked down the back of the plane when we decided to call it a day.  I was not afflicted with the same curse and did not fear “The Hellhole”.  I welcomed the experience.

The group of us waited in the line which appeared to be exclusively boys between the ages of 12-16.  There was one older boy with the faint beginnings of a mustache and a Nazareth t-shirt that commanded respect from all of us in the line.  A savvy veteran of “The Hellhole”, he promised to really put on a show during the ride with a wide litany of stunts.  All of us were filled with the overstimulation that is only capable in 12-16 year olds.  Despite the nervous frivolity, there was a serious tone in the line.  This was The Big Time.  This was the ride that divided the poseurs from the real daredevils at the amusement park.  This was a real test of burgeoning manhood.

I took my place against the wall next to my two friends.  For the life of me I can’t remember who they were, and this failed memory is the one that really makes me question if this happened at all.  I do recall the sensation of being pushed back against the wall as “The Hellhole” hummed louder and louder as it picked up speed.  The boy with the mustache took that opportunity to flip himself on his side.  Timing it just right, he was able to crawl against the centrifugal force just prior to being pinned down in a position lateral to the rest of us and horizontal to the floor.  For a Hellhole virgin like me, this seemed quite the feat of daring.

My muscles strained against the force.  The sensation was actually rather uncomfortable as the floor began to drop out from under us.  That was when I heard the yells of alarm to my right.  While I was completely confident in my ability to eat cotton candy, peanuts, and a chili dog prior to hopping into “The Hellhole”, my youthful lack of foresight became quickly evident.   One of the boys to my far right had thrown up down his shirt.  With the rapid movement of “The Hellhole”, this was spreading the vomit along the wall at an alarming pace.  The boy with the mustache strained to turn his eyes towards the disturbance to his right.  I don’t know if he knew what was coming or had resigned himself to his fate.  Either way, he maintained a defeated expression as the vomit spread across his head and shoulders on its inevitable journey towards me.   

My head was plastered to the wall of “The Hellhole” facing the wrong direction of the oncoming threat.  I strained looking out of the corner of my eyes as I was helplessly pinned.  I began to make small panic noises of “Eh!  Eh!  Eh!” as the brownish yellow fluid began to inch closer and closer.  The ride had begun to slow as the floor rose, but it was clear that I was in the firing line.  I felt the warm vomit crawl across my arms and my prized Buffalo Bills t-shirt.  Screams and moans filled “The Hellhole” as at least half of the riders had been tainted.  When it finally stopped, the boy who had vomited lurched out of the area with shrunken shoulders, his friends taunting him.  The boy with the mustache blinked in disbelief.  The ride operator walked into the ride area with a filthy mop, swabbed out the area in a half assed fashion, and barked orders for the next group to enter (which against all logical expectations, they did).

I’m not sure what that fever unlocked in my brain for that memory to come back to me.  It came back to me with a clarity that was as startling as it was vivid.  I can still hear Bob Segar’s “On The Road Again” playing in the background as I feverishly took small napkins from a dispenser on the counter of a funnel cake stand.  The dull expression of the dyed blonde girl working the booth is cemented in my head.  The scent of stale cigarette smoke clinging to her cut through the smell of the sweet grease of the funnel cake.  It was as clear as if it had happened an hour earlier.  At least it felt that way.  Ultimately, I can’t be sure if any of it happened, or if my brain just made it all up.  Fever is unpredictable that way.