Tuesday, April 22, 2008

The Flyer

At the end of every summer, the Canadian National Exhibition (a.k.a. The CNE or The Ex) runs for around 5 weeks at the CNE fairgrounds down by Lake Ontario. It's a huge production, including roller coasters, games booths, performers, parades, and around a dozen warehouse-sized buildings filled with food, crafts, flea markets, livestock, etc. I couldn't tell you the size of the fairgrounds, but it takes around 15 minutes to walk from one end to the other, assuming you don't get side-tracked, which is next to impossible.

The Ex was cleaned up during the early '90's, and is now much like a giant, open-air mall. It's still fun, but I honestly preferred it when it was seedier, dirtier, more like a traditional carnival.

My mom, cautious lady that she is, would not take me to the Ex. Her younger, more adventurous sister stepped into the breach. Auntie N is 10 years younger than my mom, 18 years older than me. When we started going to the Ex together every year, she was still in her 20's, and full of beans.

The first thing we'd do once we were inside the gates is get ice cream sandwiches made with hot waffles. That was Auntie N's numero uno priority. Then we could wander around the grounds and make our plans for the day. Greasy games barkers with jailhouse tats and mullets hollered at us to come throw darts at balloons to win a prize every time, or to throw a basketball into a barrel and win a giant stuffed unicorn.

We always rode some of the rides. I found out later, from someone who worked as a carny one summer in the prairies, how these rides are assembled. The trucks pull up to the fair ground shortly before the fair is scheduled to start. The carnies all pile out of their vans, tired from a long day on the road, maybe a little drunk, and get to work. The guy in charge doesn't let anyone go to sleep that night until the rides have all been completed. By 3:00 or 4:00 am, if the ride is finished and there are still a few parts, a few "spare" bolts, lying around that obviously should have been installed somewhere in the structure, most likely the workers will just shrug, throw them back in the box, and head to bed.

Maybe (I hope) the standards have improved since the 1980's, but that's apparently how it was back then. And truly, the rides looked like they had been put together with Tinker Toy. We rode them anyway.

We rode The Flyer, a wooden roller coaster that was at least 30 years old by then. These days, roller coasters all have harnesses that lock down over the riders to keep them firmly in their seats. The Flyer had one metal bar that locked down around six inches above our thighs. You were expected to grab that and hold on real tight. I never let go, because I was convinced I would fly out of the car if I did. The whole structure shook and rumbled as we zoomed around. The Flyer was torn down in the early 90's when the Ex got a makeover. I understand that it did not come close to meeting modern safety standards, but I miss it.

We went on other rides too. One memorable time, Auntie N decided that she simply must have a Bratwurst on a Bun With Onions just before climbing on a ride called The Screamer or The Octopus or something like that. As we swooped through the air, she started feeling queasy. "I don't feel so good!" she moaned in my ear. Just then we caught sight of a news crew filming the ride for the evening news. Auntie N was convinced that she was going to hurl onto the news crew and be humiliated on national television. Fortunately she lasted out the ride without any tossing of cookies. More than 20 years later, Bratwurst on a Bun With Onions is a running joke between us. All I have to do is hold my stomach and moan "Oooooh, Bratwurst!" and she'll laugh.

Those were the days...


Warped Mind of Ron said...

Good ol Auntie N.

That was a nice childhood memory thanks for sharing. Mmmmm... Bratwurst!

Tink said...

Ever kid needs a relative like your aunt!

unsigned said...

I stand outside the Gravitron and wait for the people to come out. Then I watch the puking begin.

Gravitron = Pukeitron!

1218Blog said...

As a kid, I used to love traveling Carnivals. I loved the rides, bad food, stomach ache afterwards.

But then as I got older I found out too, that the rides were pretty much assembled the night before with a wrench, and an old screwdriver. This changed my whole perspective. Now you can't get me near a Carnival with a ten foot pool.

Oh how I miss being a kid and so naive. Those were the days!

San said...

Your description of the seedy carnivals of your childhood bring back my own memories. Sticky cotton candy, tossing coins in cheap, gawdy bowls trying to win one (why?), getting woozy on the Tilt-a-Whirl. I'd rather toss coins than cookies any old day.

jameil1922 said...

lol. awww! that was so cute! i esp. love the brat groan. hilarity. ours was called stumptown. every year at labor day they assemble all these rides and we used to have a blast!!

Nilsa S. said...

Love this post! It reminds me of the Thirteen Carnival, organized by Washington University students - I used to go to it as a kid. I clearly remember getting on a ride with my dad that was entirely too scary. And before the ride even started, I began screaming to let me off. Next thing I know, my dad has joined me in the screaming, until they let us off. Ha. Those most certainly were the days.

whatigotsofar said...

The first time I went to the Ex would have been in the late 90s. My parents would never take me. Didn't make much sense. Wonderland is much closer and apparently has much better rides.

Sparkling Red said...

Ron: I've never eaten Bratwurst myself. After that incident, it never tempted me.

Tink: Yeah, I was really lucky. :-)

Unsigned: There's a lot of puking at the Ex.

1218blog: I still ride a couple of rides every year, even though I half-expect them to collapse at any moment. I like the giant ferris wheel, and the swings that twirl you in a circle 40 feet in the air.

San: Yes, cotton candy! That was such a magical substance to me when I was a child. And yet, not well-designed as a finger food for hot summer days. You can't avoid getting sticky!

Jameil: Sumptown? Really? That's such an odd name.

Nilsa: The too-scary rides can be way overstimulating. Most of them are beyond me, these days. I'll happily hold all the backpacks and jackets while everyone else pays money to get flung around the sky.

Whatigotsofar: Wonderland is definitely safer. It's also more expensive. I rarely got to go there because it was so far away and so costly. I liked the old Ex best. It smelled like horse dung and hot ketchup.

Jenski said...

Yay, seedy carnivals! I distinctly remember one we would frequent when I was little. While the adults watched the horse races, we rode the Zipper. You get strapped into a cage and that turns, and it rotates around a long arm. I guess like a zipper, but not really.

Sparkling Red said...

Jenski: Oh man, The Zipper! I never had the nerve to try that ride. It had the highest proportion of barfers to riders of all the rides on the midway. You were one brave kid!

Nicole said...

Ice cream sounds good, especially with fresh waffles, yummie :)!
Rides were never really my thing, I'm a chicken :)
Later on they just got way too expensive!
Bratwurst - I would love a Bratwurst now :D

Keera Ann Fox said...

Reminds me of going to the Los Angeles county fair, which was not held in Los Angeles county. Cows, pies and cloggers. And a boyfriend who did throw up. Before getting on the rollercoaster. A good thing for all concerned.

Sparkling Red said...

Nicole: After all this talk of Bratwurst, I'll have to try one myself. I never did get around to it...

Keera: "Cows, pies, and cloggers" - I can see that as if I were there! I was at an old- fashioned country fair in Markham just last summer, with prizes award to best baked goods and best quilts. Fun times!

Nicole said...

You never ate Bratwurst???
You gotta be kidding me :D!

(Btw. is there any way for you to enable the general comment Atom feed?
I really don't want every single post in my reader :S
I would be forever grateful ;)!)