Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Get Off That Merry-Go-Round

As fall approaches, one of the things I look forward to every year is the state fair. To be honest I don’t go to the fair very much — mostly out of fear of being shot or accosted in some way in downtown Dallas — but I went last year and I’m sure I’ll go again this year.
One of my favorite things to do is to walk down the midway, watch the people and eat a funnel cake. I love funnel cakes.
I have to admit, the food of the midway has gotten a little out of hand over the past decade or so. Now, it seems every vendor has to get a little more creative than the next by frying something different. At last year’s fair, I sampled deep-fat fried Snickers bars (it was okay), deep-fat fried Twinkies (this should never happen to America’s favorite treat) and deep-fat fried fat (it was delicious).
I used to love riding all the rides on the midway, but that was when I was much younger, more agile, and didn’t care that it costs $75 to ride one ride.
I say I used to like to ride “every” ride, but I guess that’s not exactly true. Even when I was much younger, I never did like to ride the rides that take you round and round and round.
My first experience on a round-and-round ride was when I was probably 5 or 6 years old. My aunt and uncle came over and we all went to the Oklahoma State Fair in Oklahoma City. We were having a great time, eating hot dogs and fat (that was before anyone thought to deep-fat fry fat). We were stuffed to the rim with food and fun.
It was about that time we all decided to ride The Avalanche.
The Avalanche is one of those rides where two people fit in a car on a small track that goes round-and-round while going up-and-down a hill. There is usually loud music involved of the rock n roll variety. I believe it was 1971, so the music was probably Led Zepplin’s “Stairway to Heaven,” “Aqualung” by Jethro Tull or “Baby I’m-a Want You” by Bread. Now that I think about it, it was probably the Zepplin song, but I could be wrong.
We got on the ride and laughed and joked until the fun commenced. The ride jerked to a start and we all held our hands in the air and laughed an evil laugh.
“Hold your hands up,” I shouted to nobody in particular. “This is probably the most fun I’ve had in my life.”
It probably wasn’t the most fun I’d had up until that point, but what did I know. The ride was probably going for two minutes when it started to slow. Our laughs slowed down as well to a slow giggle. I started reaching for my belt to get out of the car.
Then it happened.
“Now we’re gonna go backwards,” the cracked-out carnival worker from behind the glass shouted into the microphone.
“Yeah, let’s go backwards,” Uncle Art shouted.
“No,” I said. “I’m ready to get off. Enough fun already.”
For the next two minutes, the cars went backwards around the track, forcing our heads down and to the left.
“Are you still having fun,” my Uncle Art shouted over Zepplin.
“I’m about to throw up,” I said.
I spent 30 minutes after the ride with my head between my knees, trying not to throw up deep-fried bile. I was mad at my Uncle for wanting the ride to go backwards. My Aunt Jo cheered me up a little when she said, “don’t worry. Your uncle was a little green under the gills too.”
Green under the gills? That was the first time I ever heard that phrase. It was strange, but I understood what it meant. I think.
Sometimes life is like that.
We get up that merry-go-round of life with all the loud calliope music and the plastic, colorful horses made to look like they are at full gallop. It’s enticing to get up there on those horses and ride and try to grab that golden ring each time it comes around.
The problem is the merry-go-round doesn’t go anywhere. The plastic steeds are just that: fake. They don’t gallop. They don’t stretch their legs as they deliver their rider to greener pastures. The golden ring is always just out of reach. The calliope music drowns out any conversation with our self and others.
Rides that go round and round and round tend to only give us motion sickness: It makes us just a little “green under the gills,” as Aunt Jo might say. 
That’s the way I felt a couple of years ago as I tried to get back control of my life and shut the ride off for a little bit. I was on the merry-go-round and it would not stop.
It was all fun and games at first. Then the sparkle of the ride wears off because the scenery never changes and we want off. But it just keeps going round and round.
My life was confined to a small space in a 360-degree circle.
The problem is with this ride, there’s no cracked-out carnival worker to stop this ride. I had to make the decision to stop the merry-go-round and get off. I wanted to explore the other parts of the midway of life. I wanted to meet some other people and experience other riches the world has to offer.
So, I grabbed the reins of that plastic horse, yelled stop, and walked right off that crazy ride.
For a while I had to sit with my head between my knees and contemplate what the next step was, while trying to hold down my lunch. But I did it.
I still get on the ride every now and again. Now, I enjoy it for what it is: a temporary distraction. Then I get off the ride, go explore the world. Eat. Drink. Be Merry.
And every now and again, I look for something deep-fried to eat.

To read more of Rodney Hays’ humor, check out his blog at him on Twitter and become a friend on Facebook.

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