(The first part of this post is just below, and additional images can be found on my Flickr page, which links via the animated gif at left.)
It is the night I enjoy. This shouldn't surprise anyone who's been reading for a while. It was also no surprise to me that returning to the carnival after sunset felt more like a real experience.
It was the last night of the fair, and technically summer was already over. The actual equinox had been some time in the afternoon. I was trying to feel it, to be in that zone of special attention. I was eager to assign meaning to the carnival, the passing of summer, the dawn of autumn.
It wasn't easy to even feel autumnal, hot as it was. I was forced to spend a certain amount of brainpower thinking about sweat and heat, which knocked me clean out of the atmosphere I was attempting to create within my head.
Still, wandering a carnival alone can be an interesting thing. Immediately I noticed that the sense of people having fun was much greater than it had been during the afternoon. The barkers were busy calling victims to their tents. I don't know if it was because it was the last night, or if they were doing it all along, but I noticed many of them guaranteeing prizes to the children of those with the pursestrings.
"I'll make sure the little one wins," I heard more than one of them say. It struck me us unbearably sweet. Carnivals are, after all, the province of children. That single block and the tiny overflow onto side streets was no doubt an endless new world for some of the children who hurried back and forth beneath the colored lights.
I know that these things always seemed that way to me, when I was young.
I walked and I watched, snapping pictures when the mood struck me.
It occurred to me that I might be able to see the skyline from the heights of the ferris wheel, so I plunked down four dollars to be slowly spun to its apex. The operator was not gentle, though, and each time I reached the top and stopped, I found myself in a wildly swaying basket. With all the motion and my camera's low-light limitations, this is the least blurry shot I was able to get. The others are more...abstract.
I was able, however, to get some general shots of the carnival from up above it.
After the wheel I became camera-shy. I don't know why. I think it had something to do with not being content any longer to merely observe. I wanted to experience something as well. Perhaps the notion that I might have enjoyed the wheel more had I merely looked around rather than fighting with my camera sparked this idea.
I walked up and down the length of the carnival several more times before finally deciding that what I truly wanted to do was get some small slice of the fun I would have had here as a boy. I wanted to be flung and shaken by a great beast of a machine, spun and dizzied and out of my own control. I wanted to tap into something primal with speed and wind and motion.
Another four dollars got me enough tickets to accomplish this feat.
Some of you may know that about five years ago, my chronic stomach problems developed in such a way as to make me carsick. So it was with no small amount of trepidation that I kept circling the machine I had chosen, retreating, pondering maybe just riding the ferris wheel again. Here is the ride, which is also in the last post as the example of last year's cell phone photography, what Minx is calling the "red spinny thing."
Eventually, nervous beyond speech, I dared to climb the steps and hand my tickets to the operator. I sat alone in a dangling cab, pulled the enormous bar down over my head and body to secure me within it. Four or five times I nearly raised it up again to exit. I honestly did not know if my stomach could handle it.
The fact that I can debate myself endlessly sometimes meant that I still had not completely made up my mind, stay or go, when the ride let out a metallic groan and began, ever so slightly, to move around its axis. The machine's purpose was to spin and spin until we were lifted into the air and parallel to the ground, then it would tilt and sway us around as we hurtled through space, trying out this angle or that until the operator decided we had gotten our money's worth.
The beginning was tough, the slower part. I focused my eyes on the empty car in front of my to minimize the dizzying effect. Soon enough we were airborne, whirling and hurtling along. I gripped the bar tightly, pushed it down into my leg with enough force that it briefly hurt, and I wondered if I had crushed the cigarettes in my front pocket. I had the thought that I would really want at least one to remain undamaged should I survive my ordeal and walk upright among people again.
People like these sorts of rides for different reasons. For me, I suspect, it is the exhilaration immediately following the ride which makes me love them. My body telling me for the span of the ride that I am in peril, that I might not survive, only to be reassured in a set amount of time by a slowing down and a stopping. A new lease on life, a chance to live again.
And I did feel that exhilaration as I wobbled through the gate and down the steps from the ride. I had not even felt sick once we got moving, had conquered that small part of myself for at least a small moment of time.
I walked down the length of the carnival once more, and back again. Now I was smiling slightly to myself. I was a part of the carnival, I was one of the revelers, there in the dark on the last night of summer.