• Tuesday, August 7, 2012

What is it with people getting stuck on sky-high carnival rides?

Last month, two people were rescued from a stalled Ferris wheel in Myrtle Beach. The riders called 9-1-1 when they were left cooling their heels on high at the Family Kingdom Amusement Park. They were rescued without injury.
On the left coast, a roller coaster stalled 150 feet above ground, stranding a dozen riders at Six Flags Discovery Kingdom. The Superman Ultimate Flight roller coaster stopped at the very top of the ride. Rescuers used a bucket crane to deliver water to the riders. A park mechanic eventually restarted the ride, which went backward and lowered the riders safely to the ground.
Also in Cali, firefighters used a 100-foot aerial ladder to retrieve 10 people stranded on a double-decker Ferris wheel in Hollywood. The ride was set up for the premiere of "Toy Story 3." (There’s irony in there somewhere.) The strandees were 85 feet up in open-air seats that were rocking to and fro.

Rocking to and fro? I’d have begged the other passengers to braid their hair like Rapunzel so I could shimmy down like a monkey.
Oh, who am I kidding? I’d have curled up in the fetal position, covered my eyes and gibbered like an idiot.
I have adult-onset fear of heights. As a child I climbed tall pine trees without fear, and fell out of a few, too. On vacation at the Outer Banks, I trudged to the top of a lighthouse and looked out at a view that spread for miles across the ocean and barrier isles. It was exhilarating.
Today, I’d black out.
I wish I knew what made the fear—which starts in my stomach and ends when I lose the power of speech—set in, but like my frog phobia, it remains a mystery.
The first time I realized something had changed was during a roller coaster ride at Busch Gardens. I hopped aboard without a qualm. But when our car reached the apex of the first hill, about six stories high, I looked down and just about died.
I was so scared I clamped my eyes shut and began drooling. Then I started screaming hysterically. When the ride ended I couldn’t walk. Tres embarrassment!
Years later, at the North Carolina State Fair, my then-husband talked me into riding the Ferris wheel. “You’ll be fine,” he said. Being an idiot, I agreed. Ten seconds after it started, I put my hands over my face and started mumbling. He said it sounded like, “Hummana, hummana, hummana.”
“Open your eyes,” he coaxed. I did. Then I shrieked and started peeling his shirt off. Maybe I wanted to put it over my eyes to block the view. Who knows? Unfortunately it was a collared pullover, so by the time the ride stopped I’d almost strangled him to death.
The first time I went to Las Vegas with Widdle, he wanted to show me Hoover Dam. After a nice tour we reached the observation area where, to my horror, the only thing between us and the waters far below was a simple four-foot barrier. I shrank back against the gift shop wall and refused to move. “Come closer, it’s a beautiful view,” Widdle said, holding out his hand.
“Hummana hummana hummana,” I replied. I’d be there still, if he hadn’t gently led me down the stairs to safety.
On the subject of heights, my father used to say, “I prefer terra firma. And the more firma, the less terra. Ha! Ha! Ha!” He liked to incorporate Latin into his puns, which explains a lot about my sense of humor.
But now, I know exactly what he means.
Julie R. Smith, who gets woozy on a stepladder, can be reached at widdleswife@aol.com.

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