The Great New York State Fair has come and gone again, and as always I’m sad to see it go. I had wanted to go in a lot more than I did this year, but one factor stood solidly in my way: the heat. I went in for dinner briefly on the first Monday and it was so hot and humid I couldn’t handle it for more than an hour and a half. This past Saturday was another hot one, and it ended up being my last day at the Fair. I heard they surpassed all kinds of records on Labor Day, but good gads it was too hot. I have never done well with heat.
But this is not a story of this year’s Fair. This is the story of why I gave up rides on the midway.
Let’s jump back in the wayback machine to the magical year 1993, fully 25 years ago now. I was 16, and that year I worked at the milk bar. If you’ve never seen it, the Fair has a venerable tradition in which within the Dairy Products building, there’s a bar that serves milk (regular and chocolate, and in the distant past other flavors like orange or strawberry) for a quarter. It’s just a little cup of milk but people love it.
Some days I’d work the front side facing the building interior, and some days I’d work the back by one of the building entrances. In front you’d get to see more of what was going on, including the daily entertainment (not always a good thing), but it was incredibly hot. In back you could get a nice breeze, especially when it rained, but you had to contend with a loudspeaker (thankfully gone now) repeating dairy industry jingles. On breaks I went to my mom’s office which was nearby, where I could sit in air conditioning and got free Pepsi or Mountain Dew; at lunch I’d grab a hot dog for a buck at Twin Trees which has a stand right outside the milk bar entrance, and then walk to the office. I did a lot of reading.
I had one day off during that Fair: the second Friday, student day. I ended up still going in, but as a reveler, and my cousin who lived in Rochester joined me for the day. He’s about two years younger than me.
You’ll recall I said this story is about rides, so hopefully you’ll forgive the digression on the milk bar business. (The bad karaoke and the country bands I endured are another story for another day.) Let me explain about the rides: My family never had a lot of money growing up. My sister and I hardly ever got to go on rides, except some special times. Once we had a pass we could use for free rides, because a family friend was in turn a friend to the people who ran the event. But for a few years before and after ’93, we had access to cheap ride ticket books. For several years we were in that sweet spot when we could afford to go on all the rides we wanted, and didn’t have that little voice in our heads yet (or in our stomachs) that said we should pace ourselves. It’s like that feeling when you get to be an adult and have your own money, and for a brief few years you can buy all the cookies but can’t see a reason not to.
So on that fateful day in ’93, my cousin and I went in and toured the Fair. I hadn’t gotten to see a lot of it, really, because I’d been at the dairy building most of the time. We looked around. We did rides. We bought stuff. We ate. We did rides. And it was somewhere in there that we encountered the dreaded Tilt-A-Whirl.
As a kid, rides on the Tilt-A-Whirl never went long enough. In theory you have some control over how you swing, but the rides always seemed to last like 30 seconds and by the time you figured out how to really get your whirl on, it was over. This time was not that time. My cousin and I were darn near the only people on the ride at that time, for whatever reason, and the operator was generous to a fault and gave us the ride of our lives. We had time to figure out how to maximize the swing we got out of our pod, and it seemed like the ride went on for something like 15 minutes. It was probably more like 5-10. But I do believe that nobody else in the history of the world has ever experienced such a deep and fulfilling ride on the Tilt-A-Whirl as we did that day.
Unfortunately, as soon as we got off we both realized we’d made a hideous mistake. Motion sickness slammed down on us like an anvil.
We tried to fight through it. We drank a little something. We sat. Eventually he suggested we try going on the ride with the swings that dangle, because that only goes around in a simple circular motion and it might be pleasant, possibly resetting our equilibrium a bit. I took him up on that, and to my surprise, I think it did help a little. We had a nice easy swing and when we disembarked, I felt somewhat less horrendous than I had. My cousin wasn’t so lucky: as soon as we got off, the pizza and curly fries he’d had earlier made a break for it. Some of it splashed on my shoe.
After that, rides weren’t the same. Even with a year of distance, I found rides were too prone to cause motion sickness. I could do a few simple ones, here and there, but my interest fell right off a cliff. I literally no longer had the stomach for it. Thankfully, I discovered more wonderful Fair foods after that and found I had a stomach for those instead.
And my cousin? He’s a pilot now.