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.


At August 20, 2014 at 1:20:00 PM EDT , Blogger Dave R in Buffalo said...

Nice. Lots of Bills tee shirts were puked on at Fantasy Island's (Buffalo) Devils Hole ride in the 80's.

At August 24, 2014 at 10:52:00 PM EDT , Blogger Brian R. Johnson said...

Greg\I remember that Hell Hole ride! You're right, there's no way you would find that in any modern day PC park. Conneaut Lake Park seemed like the big time place to go before Waldameer sold their carousel horses and bought some new rides.

Love the column - keep it up bro!

At May 16, 2016 at 5:14:00 PM EDT , Blogger elitediner said...

OMG! This is great! If you're not a writer, you should be. I've see that scene play out on a bunch of different rides down here (Wildwood, NJ) and it was just as funny to watch as it was to read here. I haven't laughed so hard in years. Thank you so much for a great laugh.

At May 19, 2016 at 9:52:00 AM EDT , Blogger Greg Miller said...

Thanks. That's how it happened. When I was a kid I went to Wildwood but at age 6 was clearly too young to be barfed on at that version of the Hellhole.

At August 7, 2017 at 7:45:00 AM EDT , Blogger Amy A. said...

I was just telling a friend about this ride last night! So I'm Googling it this morning - only to come upon this article written by a certain Greg Miller. I'm thinking, this can't be the same Greg Miller I worked with at 92.3. It surely is. Small world. Great article. This ride horrified and mystified me. I was an avid observer but never a participant. In my searches this morning I also came upon the following article. The name surely fits the ride. Pretty horrifying.


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