Archive for the ‘Florida’ Category

(circa 2005 — re-edited, images added)

A Review of Sorts

Slung into space...

It didn’t matter where you were in the Florida Centennial State Fairgrounds: the “SLINGSHOT” ride was always visible, towering — Godzilla-like — above the carnival skyline, daring you to rearrange your roving in order to take a closer look. I’d wager to say NO ONE passed by the other-worldly SLINGSHOT without standing silently for several minutes, head askew, looking straight up and wondering what kind of fool would pay $20 to be launched into space like that.


. . .is what a simple black, red and white sign nestled just beneath a $20 ticket price and a hoard of screeching seagulls boasted.

What other kind of fool is there?

“Hey, Pat,” I exclaimed. “Let’s do it!”

Coney Island's CYCLONE

I recalled a similar carny moment forty years prior when we both had stood in front of Coney Island’s infamous wooden-tracked “CYCLONE” roller-coaster ride. Only that time it was Pat who asked ME the same question. “Uh, uh,” I had stammered back then. “Not me.” But to no avail. Literally dragged onto the rickety ride, I remember screaming nonstop and nearly peeing my pants. “Wow, let’s do it again!” Pat had gushed back then, long before those intervening years caught up with her depthless curiosity, or — perhaps – wisdom had merely won out.

“No way, Tim,” said Pat emphatically in the here and now, watching the SLINGSHOT fling two screaming passengers hundreds of feet into the air in a matter of nanoseconds. “Some rides are best taken from a distance.”

“Aw, come-on, Pat,” I pleaded. “Remember when we went last year on that Bush Gardens ride — the one that flipped us upside down in cork-screwy loop-de-loops? That was FUN!”

“Not the same thing,” she said. “No, YOU go on. I’ll wait over by the corn dog stand.”

Left brain: NO! Right brain: NO!

Now, undecided about taking the Florida Stare Fair SLINGSHOT ride sitting next to a total stranger, I began checking out the structural integrity and underlying engineering principles of the SLINGSHOT ride; my brain started clicking. (I do exactly the same thing while sitting in the window seat of a Delta airliner just before takeoff: Flaps down? Engine connected firmly to the wing? Any sounds of screeching metal against metal? Brownish fluid dripping from the wingtips? Ground crew appears alert and on top of things?)

The SLINGSHOT consisted of a two-passenger seat suspended dubiously on two metal guy wires that hung down from either side of twin erector-set towers (sturdy masts of super-cranes that once worked on mile-high skyscrapers or perhaps in a shipyard?). A 20×20-foot spring assembly, made up of literally HUNDREDS of individual and tightly-coiled steel springs, was hydraulically winched down immediately before every launch sequence using a classic Rube Goldberg pulley system. The cocking process took a couple of minutes, during which time I was able to clearly note the whites of the passengers’ eyes flashing like disturbed stars just before going supernova.

And then, without warning of any kind, WOOOOSHHHH!

Here is a YOU Tube video of the SLINGSHOT ride. In this version I notice a cage surrounding the two riders has been added. The one my sister and I watched was an open air two-seater. You get the idea…

Just like a ball bearing hurled from a gigantic slingshot, the terrified passengers TWANG! into deep space, clamped firmly to their seat by restraining devices similar to vice grips. At the apogee of the flight, the chair seat turns briefly upside down in near zero gravity before plummeting back to the earth in true bungee-cord freefall fashion. Major screaming going on here. Up and down. Springs creaking. Up and down again. Way MORE screaming, passengers gyrating like yo-yos amid a sudden cloudburst of corn-dog-colored confetti.

The seagulls go wild.

Mercifully, the passengers are lowered to the ground, where a zillion springy coils are once again compressed, waiting for the next forty-dollar twosome. . .

What could possibly be more terrifying than THAT?

A nighttime SLING... That's what!

No thanks. Pat was right: “Some rides are best taken from a distance.”

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(circa 2004)

The Florida State Centennial Fair was an eye opener in more ways than one. Right off the bat I felt out of place, kind of like I’d, uh — been born in another century or something. “Pat,” I said to my sister as her teenage daughter and two friends disappeared into a seething crowd that swallowed them up in a matter of seconds. “How are you going to find them when it comes time to leave?”

Pat did something inside her purse. Then she handed me her cell phone. “Say hello to your niece,” she said. “Ask her where she is.”

“Hi, Kate. Where are you?”

“Hi, Uncle Tim.” Kate tapped me on my shoulder.


I snapped the cover shut and handed the postage stamp-sized cell phone back to my sister. Kate had vanished again, sucked into the teeming midway like a crumb down an anthill. I caught a lingering whiff of deep-fried corn dogs and maybe even a little barbequed garlic from a nearby steak-on-a-stick kiosk. “Cell phones have certainly changed everything, haven’t they?” I asked. “I remember when Dad whistled for us when he wanted us to come home,” I said. “You and I had different whistles.”

“Yes, cell phones have changed everything,” agreed Pat, tucking the cell phone in her purse and patting me on the back. “I was never a good whistler. You need to get out more.”

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Old Man Cowbird

(circa 2002, Florida)

To folks who live in Florida, I’m sure cowbirds (often misnamed and known as Snowy Egrets) are no big thing. In some communities they’re even considered nuisances. But I think they’re a hoot.

Snowy Egrets look like miniature white storks, comical almost with a short, staggering stride and bobbing crooked necks. The other day while cruising a cobblestone section of Sun City Center in Mom’s electric cart, I discovered one of them stepping into a marked crosswalk directly in front of me. I slammed on the brakes and slid to a stop a yard or two away. The bird cocked its head in my direction, looked me up and down. Then, unhurried, it strutted across the road while staying within the crosswalk’s painted lines. The cowbird looked just like a little old white-haired man crossing the street in bare feet.

I cracked up laughing.

Ignoring me completely, the egret hopped onto the sidewalk and stabbed its beak into a stand of palm fronds, retrieving a wriggling lizard. With a single flip of its head, the bird flicked the flurry of green down its gullet. The flashing yellow beak made a few hollow clicking sounds, and the lizard was gone. The cowbird hopped back down into the cobbled crosswalk and strolled nonchalantly back to the other side of the street.

A car horn honked from behind my paused golf cart — an obnoxious sound given my quiet commune with Mother Nature. The white cowbird-little-old-egret-bird-man-thing paid it no mind and ambled down the sidewalk. As I continued my afternoon electric cart ride, a gleaming red Cadillac swept past like a stroke of coarse sandpaper.

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