“Oh come on, it’s gonna be a blast.”
“There is no way on earth I’m getting into that death trap.”
“Come on Clair,” begged her boyfriend, “You only live once.”
Un-wavered in her decision, the petite brunette fired back at Rick, “Ya and you only die once too, but today is not going to be that day for me!”
As a young boy, Rick had always been the daredevil type. If the other boys went off the diving board while swimming in the pool, Rick “Danger Boy” Meyers would insist on being the first one to brave the high dive. When it came to bicycles, he would gladly try new tricks or jumps, especially if the possibility of losing some skin was involved.
One particular summer afternoon when he was about ten years old, his buddies decided to climb the backyard fence and see who could balance while standing on the top rail. Not wanting to be outdone, Rick scaled the large oak tree nearby and didn’t stop until he was about sixteen feet off the ground. Looking down at his friends below and then motioning towards the limb in front of him, he called out, “Do ya dare me?”
Two of the three boys started chanting, “Rick, Rick, Rick!” while the third one shouted, “I double dog dare ya!”
With that Danger Boy started his circus like performance inching his way out onto the limb. It was reminiscent of the high wire act he’d seen under the big top a few weeks before.
After making his way out about three feet from the main trunk he stopped and announced triumphantly, “Ta Da…!”
Egging him on, one of the boys asked, “Is that all you’ve got?”
This was all the encouragement the young Evil Knievel protégé needed to hear.
With a twinkle in his eyes he said, “You want to see something else?”
“Come on, what-do-ya got?” another hollered up.
“Watch this!” Rick confidently proclaimed.
With steadfast determination he extended both his arms as far as he could to achieve maximum balance and then slowly started lifting his right foot off the sturdy moss covered limb. The next thing he knew, his arms were flailing wildly and he was free falling, picking up momentum as he sped toward the hard earth below. Miraculously he managed to miss all the other limbs on his descent to the ground and with a THUD he hit…hard!
The other boys came rushing over to see their injured friend who now lay in a crumpled heap at the bottom of the mighty oak, but instead of crying or screaming out in pain as most kids his age would have, Rick slowly got up laughing. As he regained his footing he took a couple of steps while cradling his left wrist and chuckled saying, “I think I broke my arm.”
Sure enough, that’s exactly what he’d done, but true to form it barely slowed him down as it healed over the following weeks.
Rick looked at Clair and said, “I’ll tell you what. You go on this with me and I’ll go on anything you want to later.”
“Anything…?” she said.
“You wouldn’t dare!”
As much as she dreaded the thought of getting on the ride in front of her, she knew Rick was right where she wanted him…completely at her mercy.
Half asking, half demanding, she quizzed, “Pinky promise?”
“Oh all right,” but he insisted, “We ride this first. I don’t want you chickening out later.”
Getting into this contraption that to her looked like it was held together with bubble gum and bailing wire, would be way out of her comfort zone, not to mention totally out of character. For as every bit of an adventurer Rick was, Clair was as equally opposite and reserved.
The biggest risk she could remember taking during her sixteen years on the planet was to make a couple of prank phone calls from the house of one of her girlfriends during a slumber party. Living on the edge or even taking small chances was simply not a part of her growing up.
Even while standing at the entrance to the ride with all the loud music in the background, the flashing lights and the ever present yammering of the greasy haired carnies, all she could think about was her fathers voice in the back of her head.
He was a safety inspector for the state who coincidentally just happened to be the one in charge of overseeing safety protocol of the county fair she and Rick were attending that evening.
Every year he would come home with horror stories about how one of the ride operators would forget to assemble something properly creating the opportunity for disaster to strike an unsuspecting rider. If that weren’t bad enough, he would also tell his wife and daughter about any major accidents that had happened at other fairs during the course of the year.
“You’re not going to believe what happened at such and such a place,” he would lecture.
Every year she had heard nothing but the dangers of these traveling carnivals so needless to say Clair’s exposure to this type of venue was considerably more skewed than the average attendee. In fact, the only other time she had set foot inside the fair grounds was during the annual Forth of July fireworks celebration, and then it was only because her father would never dream of lighting those “dangerous fireballs” (as he called them) off in their front yard.
“Do you know how many people get injured each year because of those things?” he would always say.
It was no wonder the young girl stood there in a daze contemplating what she was about to do.
“Clair…yoo-hoo…Claaair…” Rick said as he waved his hand in front of her face, “We’re next.”
“Hold on, I think this is the one my dad was talking about.”
“You mean Mr. Safety”
With a raspy growl the ride operator grumbled, “You two going or what?”
Clair continued her stall tactics, “Are you sure it’s ok?”
Rick knew if he didn’t get her on the ride this time around it would be all over. She would dig in her heels and wuss out for sure. He decided to take charge. He grabbed her hand, gave the man twelve tickets and pulled his girlfriend up onto the platform.
“We’re going!” he said.
The red metallic car, more like a cage, they were getting into was a tattered looking one that auspiciously had the number 13 in a black on white circle just above the door.
“Perfect!” she thought.
As the attendant closed and secured the door he gave the top of the car a little shove causing it to pivot back and forth on its central axis. This in turn caused Clair to let out a shriek.
Rick managed an evil laugh and said, “We haven’t even got started yet.”
No sooner had he said that and the car shot backwards and up the track so the attendant could load the next one in line. Clair’s heart was pounding so hard and fast she thought it was going to explode at any second. The Zipper was typically a ride one worked up to, but for Clair Daniels this would be her very first carnival ride.
“So help me Rick, if you make this thing spin upside down I will throw up all over you!” she exclaimed.
With a devilish grin he said, “Who me?”
Even with his “caution to the wind” personality, Rick was thoroughly convinced tumbling the car would be his final act of bravado on this earth. Still, he did feel compelled to test the waters by causing it to rock just a little bit, each time receiving a glare or a threat to his longevity.
Every time they bolted backwards to allow the next couple of people to climb into an unoccupied car, Clair would let go another squeal. Finally, after what seemed like an eternity of stopping and starting all the passengers were loaded and the ride officially got under way.
The cars, aka cages, began their backwards travel along the track while the entire group of them started rotating forward in a motion similar to a Ferris Wheel. If this weren’t unnerving enough for the queasy stomached Clair, each individual car had its own pivot point too.
After the first twenty or thirty seconds of the ride, Rick was sure he'd be deaf in his right ear by the end of it. It seemed Clair was able to reach an octave with her screams that was sure to make a few canines three counties away perk up their ears.
Surprisingly though, after the initial panic had loosened its grip on Clair, she actually started smiling…a lot! The exhilaration she felt surging through her body was almost euphoric. It was the perfect combination of fear and excitement. Something she had never experienced before.
The next words that she shouted shocked Rick as much as they did her own ears.
“One spin…all the way around!” she yelled.
“Seriously?” Rick asked.
“If you make me think about it I might not do it.” She told him.
“Ok, lean back and when we get to the top of the circle push forward with all you’ve got!”
Rick was thinking to himself, “Is this the same quite and demure girl that he had to drag onto the ride just a couple of minutes earlier?”
“Wait…not yet, wait…NOW!”
They both threw their weight forward at that precise moment causing the car to go into a series of summersaults. When lucky number thirteen finally righted itself the two of them turned to look at each other and burst out into laughter.
About a half a minute later they came staggering and slightly disoriented, out of the red metallic cage that had brought them so much amusement. As they made their way down the platform to the steady ground below, they continued to laugh and carry on about how Clair had conquered the Zipper.
Walking down the midway they barely noticed the carnies trying to entice them to try their luck at the various games. They were too busy enjoying each other’s company to give any of them a second look.
“All right,” Rick said, “Time to hold up my end of the bargain. What ride do you want to go on?”
Looking at her boyfriend for his reaction, she said, “Well, I was really wanting to go on the carousel.”
Without skipping a beat, Rick said, “The carousel it is then.”
After her willingness to let her hair down on the last ride he wouldn’t have cared if she’d had said the choo-choo ride in Kiddy-Land.
“But…” Clair continued, “Now I’m thinking about the Scrambler instead.”
“Cool, I love that one,” he said, “but first we ride the carousel.”
He may have been one of the most reckless boys she knew, but he had just shown her a softer, more compassionate side of himself that very few others knew about.
With her arm around his waist and her head on his shoulder they continued their way to the ornately decorated Merry Go Round. Rick reached into his pocket then handed the operator the tickets and said, “Two please.”