Bright Lights, Dizzy City — The Social Experience
Every year, for the last 100 years, Portland celebrates the riches of the Pacific Northwest heritage by serving up a variety of programs and events under the umbrella title of the Portland Rose Festival. This festival, in its many incarnations, lasts for about three weeks and in 2007 was named by the International Festivals & Events Association (IFEA) as the Best Festival in the World. The festival's two most popular events are the Grand Floral Parade, one of the nation's top two all-floral parades, and the Waterfront Village, which features carnival rides, fireworks, The Circus Project (a troupe that performs Cirque-like acts with aerial arts, acrobatics, dance and music), an exotic animals exhibit, a petting zoo & pony rides, The Big Sling (a human catapult that slings riders skyward nearly 25 stories high at over 3 Gs of gravitational force), the Artisans Pavilion, and other specialty events rotated on a weekly schedule. Also included in the Rose Festival are events like MusicFest, the Dragon Boat Race, Fleet Week, a Starlight Parade, a 5k "fun" run, a road racing event called the Rose Cup Race, a Rose Garden show, historical tours and golf tournaments. Of all of Portland's summer events, to which there are many, the Rose Festival is the most highly anticipated one of the year.
While most of these things look fun on paper, and probably are ideal for people with kids, I personally find things like parades and races to be a bit lackluster in experience. There's a lot of standing around watching other people have the fun. And golf? Give me a golf tournament and I'll give you a really good nap. MusicFests sound like a good idea but never are, you go hoping for some good tunes and end up trapped in a crowd of beer sloshing drunkards listening to music you'd turn off if only you had the plug. So every year when the Rose Festival hits town what I most enjoy is the city's energy, the hustle and bustle of temporary structures being built and banners being strung, the sexy sailors roaming the streets for Fleet Week, and of course, all of those sparkly lights.
But the one thing I do participate in every year is the Waterfront Village. Show me some carnival rides and cotton candy and I'll show you the manic excitement of my 12 year old self. I get bouncy. I squeal. I hold hands tightly and I tug arms "this way!", "over there!", "look! LOOK!". So this year Nat, Carl, and I drug my curmudgeonly husband out to the festival grounds for an evening of FUN. Perhaps my insistence on riding rides I know will make me dizzy is somehow my defiance of aging. Like if I say, "no thank you, that ride will make me feel like I want to die", I am somehow admitting defeat. Like growing up has gotten the best of me and well, that's a little like dying right there. Adam, who is already mostly dead inside, has no problem saying no to the rides. He claimed they make him sick and I claimed he's just a big fat scaredy pants. We love each other.
So! The first ride that Carl, Nat and I get on is one that lets you fly like Superman. You lay stomach down in a harness attached to a carousel kind of setup and it spins you around and up and out and down, wave like, as you fly through the air! Getting off the ride I felt my stomach drop a little and my head felt dizzy, but all in all it was the first ride of many to come so I was all right. I had to be! The next ride was one that only Nat and I went on, it was ... terrifying. People use that word all the time to describe an emotion that is probably more accurately described as frightening and not terrifying. Terrifying is like when a bear is chasing you or like when you're caught in an undertow and can feel yourself drowning. Terrifying is not a scary movie or a bee following you down the sidewalk. Terrifying is the carnival ride that Nat and I could have sworn we were about to die on. Imagine a time when you were little and someone older and taller than you would grab your hands and spin you around and around, lifting you off the ground as you screamed with delight and adrenaline. Now multiply the force of the spin by about a million, put yourself in a metal two-seater backed bench with a metal bar across your lap and lift yourself about 40 feet off the ground. Sit next to your best friend and as the ride goes from happy smiley fun-town to, is this actually supposed to be happening the ride must be out of control terror, accept death. It felt like something from a cartoon where they show the speed that the ride is moving on one of those dials with speed indicators that read "Slow", "Fast", "Really Fast", "The Ride is Out of Control - Abort!" and the dial was swinging all the way to the right past the word "abort!" and then it makes a "boing!" sound and springs pop out of the dial and steam shoots everywhere and the ride lifts from the ground and spins out into space and they show the cartoon characters on the ride with their eyes bulging and their tongues hanging out. And then they explode. During that ride the real life version of that cartoon was happening in my mind. As I started to experience the terror of the idea that the ride was out of control, and the terror of my imminent death, and the terror of how it would probably hurt a lot, I looked over at Nat who was sitting right beside me to see if I was maybe, just maybe, overreacting. What I saw when I looked at her however, confirmed it all. She too had recently accepted death, and she too knew it was going to hurt ... a lot. And even as we got to this stage in our experience with the ride, it just continued to get worse, it just continued to spin us faster, tilt us further, take us higher ... it just. wouldn't. stop. But then it did. And we were alive. And I looked at the carny who was operating the ride to see if he looked nervous, like perhaps the ride WAS out of control for a few minutes there and boy was he ever relieved that he had gotten control of the situation again because a dozen dead kids was the last thing he needed, again. But he looked all nonchalant, I mean, there was a moment where I saw him hide his scythe but otherwise, as normal as a carny man can look, yeah.
After the shock and trembling wore off a bit we got right back on the proverbial horse and the three of us got in line for a ride called Kamikaze. For whatever his reasoning, Adam decided that of all the rides through all the years that we've been going to carnivals, this was the one he was going to ride. His first carnival ride in over ten years. I rejoiced. I bounced up and down so excited that Adam was finally going to ride a ride with me, I hugged him tight and smiled my goofiest smile. And then he saw that the Kamikaze went upside down. And he started to fidget. "Maybe this isn't a good idea", he says. "It's a great idea!", I reply, desperate for his company and not wanting him to back out now. So he stays, looking uncertain and cornered, and when we board the ride and they shut us in a cage he starts to sweat. As the ride starts swinging us back and forth I see all of the color drain from his face. He becomes clammy and as rigid as stone. I decided that a distraction would be the only thing that could help him through this so I start talking about, what else, superheros. The ride seemed to last an eternity and while the going upsidedownness and swinging back and forthness was making me sick as well, I was so distracted by keeping Adam calm that I barely noticed at all. We got off the ride and sought out a clearing in the grass off to the side where Adam and I sat to gain our bearings and overcome nausea. Unfortunately none of it subsided quickly and we eventually gravitated toward a table and chairs where the four of us sat and ate candy apples and popcorn silently, as though it was a private and sacred ritual not to be disturbed by chatter. I swore then that I would never tease Adam for not riding rides because I thought he was a big fat scaredy pants. They really did make him sick. And seeing Adam sick is like seeing Hercules fall.
The rest of the night was spent playing carny games and posing in photo booths. Carl and I braved a "haunted house" which I initially thought would be totally cheese-ball but ended up to be truly inventive and thrilling. Granted, I spent most of the walk through clutching the back of Carl's t-shirt and squealing, but it was pretty awesome. The evening ended with a Ferris Wheel ride, surprisingly enough Adam willingly accompanied us on that ride as well, something he didn't even do in years past, and while he had moments of, "why did I do this again?" I think it was a pretty painless experience. The rest of us thoroughly enjoyed the Ferris wheel, the most popular of all carnival rides, and as the night wound down and we eventually found ourselves at Zack's Shack eating hot dogs and french fries and quelling our old age woes with beer, we agreed that next year, we're totally doing it all over again. Except maybe for Adam.
I'll go next year!
Next time will you take me with you!!!!! I want to go!!
Oh, man! GREAT post. You captured the Ride of Death perfectly! This just makes me want to go again! lol
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