#12 Ride a Ferris Wheel
Why #12 Ride a Ferris Wheel?
When it comes to amusement park rides, I stick to merry-go-rounds and antique cars on tracks. I have never ridden a ferris wheel or a roller coaster. Ever. Beside the facts that they are very high, and often look to me to be in disrepair, my chief problem with ferris wheels is that once they crest the top, they pitch forward in a way that seems queasy-making, even from the safety of the ground. But I figure I’ll never know what they’re like, unless I try. It’s a good time to get a grip, and give the ferris wheel a whirl.
Facing #12 Ride a Ferris Wheel
Susie and I go to the Seattle waterfront to ride the big new ferris wheel. It’s my birthday and this is the first of my fears I’ve decided to face. I’m feeling okay about it, when I see the signs:
If you suffer from claustrophobia, vertigo, or panic attacks please do not ride the ferris wheel.
I do not suffer from any of these conditions… until you tell me that having one of them could be a problem while riding the ferris wheel. I nod toward the sign as if to say, “I knew it. I knew this thing was going to be cramped, dizzying, horrifying, suffocating…”
“Actually, when you think about it,” Susie says encouragingly, “you’re only up high half the time.”
I look up. This is a major mistake, because standing under the ferris wheel and looking up is like staring up at Jack’s Beanstalk. I’m not sure I can even see the top up there in the clouds. But there really is no turning back now. The line is moving and my feet are taking me up a few stairs to a gondola.
The attendant is a tall, white-haired man. He pops his head into the compartment to tell us about the panic button. Yeah, that’s right. The PANIC BUTTON. I ping-pong stare at the guy, at Susie, back at the guy. “Not that you’ll need it,” he says. He must see that I don’t believe him – that I’m examining the button – because he adds, flatly, “You won’t need it.” He closes the door and slides a bar across it. Clunk. I confirm a new self-diagnosis: claustrophobia. Yup.
Susie is asking if we should sit together or face-to-face. But her voice is far away. I say something about how if we sit together it might unbalance the gondola. Of course, that’s pure foolishness. This monolith was built in 2012. In the SpaceX era. It’s not going to fall over if two people sit on the same side. Susie shrugs, “Let’s try it.” She sits with me and the car tips. Maybe an inch. I gasp and claw.
“Or, we can just do face-to-face.” She slides back to face me.
Our gondola is moving, but just a bit. As it loads, we move backwards and up. It’s a gray day, with gulls floating beside us, and a ferry moving out into Puget Sound. What I’m worried about, really worried about, is just about to happen. We will crest the top, and just as ferris wheel inventor George Ferris intended, we will be thrust “out into the sky, for the outward curve down.” On their website the Seattle Ferris Wheel folks brag that their wheel “extends nearly 40 feet beyond the pier!” Oh God…
As the youngest in my family, I’ve borne the brunt of “let’s scare Mary” stunts. I’ve been dangled from heights screaming and crying and begging to be put down. I’ve imagined falling. I’ve been hauled back to safety and looked into the faces of my delighted siblings even as my legs have wobbled. I’ve never actually been dropped. But that utter loss of control comes back to me like a wave in this moment.
I look at the flannel sky and the container ship out in the harbor. From here the containers look like child’s blocks: mustard, pomegranate, gorgeous weathered colors. I swivel just enough to find Seattle’s skyline banking up against me. I am up high. This view…
As the gondola presses out over the water, I am overcome with a euphoric rush. This is it. Right here. The reason I’ve never ridden on a ferris wheel. And I’m doing it! And it’s absolutely going to be okay.
“I’m okay now,” I say to Susie. We go around 3 more times and now I’m not focussed on my fear, but on the ride. It feels like a metaphor. As we step out of the gondola I want to hug the panic button dude. I want to thumbs-up the other riders Top Gun style. But I know this hasn’t been a big deal to them. Just, you know, a ride on a ferris wheel, for God’s sake.
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© Mary Elder, 2015. All Rights Reserved.