Back when Dino Drac was still a baby, I wrote about a traveling carnival that’s made my city one of its annual stops.
Well, it’s back this week, and better than ever! Or at least better than it’s been during certain years. Maybe it’s just as okay as ever. I don’t know. They had cotton candy.
The carnival sets up in the parking lot of the Staten Island Mall, guaranteeing both lots of foot traffic and the high probability that I’ll run into some forgotten enemy from fifteen years ago. There are pretty lights, interesting noises, and barkers who will insist that I’m not a man until I win Ms. X a Rastafarian banana doll. It’s no Wildwood boardwalk, but I enjoy it.
Here are some of this year’s highlights!
The Haunted Mansion:
I was happy to see the return of this dark ride, which you may remember from last year’s post. I thought they’d added some new decorations to the front, but comparing this year and last year’s photos proves that they did nothing of the sort. I think I just told myself that so I’d have an excuse to take 20 more pictures of the thing.
Remember, this carnival isn’t “ours.” It travels from town to town, crossing an unknown number of state borders. It’s fun to imagine what the Haunted Mansion might have endured since I last saw it. Dark rides bring out the weirdest in people, right? Has anyone like, done it in there? God, if only this Haunted Mansion could talk.
Jungle of Fun:
I stared at this thing for five full minutes, and I still couldn’t figure out what was happening inside. My best guess is that it was a redressed funhouse. There seemed to be a room full of punching bag obstacles, and I think the only exit was some strange ass slide that I swear was at a precise 90 degree angle.
The theme was great, though. Kind of a mix of Tarzan and tiki gods, all quietly sexualized. These days, I just appreciate the art for what it is, but I remember seeing this kind of stuff as a kid and being simultaneously fascinated and freaked by it.
Many of you have been on a Himalaya before, I’m sure. That’s the one that just spins at top speeds, forwards and backwards, against horribly loud music. I used to love them, and I have NO IDEA WHY. I couldn’t fathom going on a Himalaya (much less a Super Himalaya, which by all rights should only be worse) today. I’m not saying that the ride doesn’t share some of the same “freeing” aspects of roller coasters, but the entire point of it is to make you dizzy. I couldn’t begin to count the number of times a Himalaya took the wind out of my sails for an entire night. That’s code for “I either puked or spent the night feeling like I was about to.”
The other interesting thing about Himalayas? EVERYONE swears that they’ve been on the “worst” one. The one that spun the fastest, the one that was loudest, the one that switched directions most frequently. It’s an odd phenomenon. Everyone thinks they’ve seen the Himalaya at its meanest.
Ah yes, the classic giant slide. A much larger version of this was my first experience with anything resembling a “thrill ride.” (The one in Wildwood was twice as tall and provided potato sacks for you to ride in. The sacks not only kept you from sticking, but in fact made you travel fast enough to risk total annihilation when you landed. I loved it.)
The best thing about this “Fun Slide” is that it just looks so generic. Like it’s a Getty stock image or something.
It’s also kinda ominous, with the letters in that blinking FUN SLIDE sign looking like they’re one strong wind away from collapsing onto Jimmy and Tracey. Traveling carnivals pack so much more charm when they’re capable of mayhem. If there’s no sense of danger, you might as well go to Sesame Place. They sell fries shaped like Elmo.
Also known as a “twist,” I guess you could compare this to a tilt-a-whirl. You sit in suspended cars that spin around, and the ride is just disorienting enough to make you believe that you might crash.
I’ve lost my zeal for things like this, but I would’ve been all over the Sizzler as a child. When you weren’t ready for roller coasters, and when the kids riding the Himalaya seemed too mean and teenaged, the Sizzler was about as “big” as you could go.
I also love the name. “Sizzler.” Like the restaurant. Do they still have those? My last memory of a Sizzler is of going to one while wearing a bright yellow Dick Tracy Halloween trenchcoat.
It was June.
Rock ‘n Roll Fun House:
This may have been my favorite thing at the entire carnival. It was just so bizarre. Admittedly, I don’t know exactly what was going on inside the ride, but given the title, I guess we could expect darkened mazes, foam obstacles, and maybe a spinning tunnel. Whatever. The inside couldn’t possibly be better than the outside.
Paired with MTV logos, the painted stars were an extremely eclectic mix of rock and pop icons. Look close and you’ll spot Avril Lavigne acting as the ambassador of the distant planet of Grobulon. Look even closer and you’ll find The Black Eyed Peas teaming with Michael Jackson and a megaphone-toting Stevie Wonder. What?
The Rock ‘n Roll Fun House didn’t seem very popular, and it’s easy to understand why. If you’re a kid who can’t identify these artists, they are absolutely terrifying. Even the comparatively tame Giant Madonna Head looks like a “bad ending” from a Choose Your Own Adventure book.
Actually, no, THIS was my favorite thing at the carnival. Really and truly. It’s a glass-and-mirror maze on the first level, with an additional second floor stuffed with “funhouse mirrors.” The only way to exit without backtracking like a dope is by riding a slide that’s only large enough for maybe 10% of the people who go down it. Awesome.
The “western saloon” motif is tremendous, and they even had the right kind of music to go along with it. Weird piano tunes that will haunt my dreams for weeks. (I don’t mind. The ride would’ve lost something if it was scored by like, Maroon 5.)
Crystal Lil’s is what made this place feel like an actual carnival, and not just a bunch of rent-a-rides gathered in a parking lot.
Of course, there was more to the carnival than rides. I’m not going to cover the “do stuff and maybe you’ll win a prize” games, because the people running those booths were REALLY aggressive last night. Sorry, I can’t deal with that.
But I had to mention this, at least. Under a small tent were a few of those “Flip-It” machines. You know, where you drop a quarter down a chute and pray it knocks more quarters out? I first believed that you were only playing to win tokens, which could then be redeemed for hideously cheap stuffed animals. And from what I could tell, that was part of it. Then I noticed that, no, you could also win REAL MONEY.
Look, I’m not up to date on gambling laws. I know it’s being legalized here and there and everywhere, lately. But I’m still almost certain that you… kind of can’t do that here. Don’t get me wrong, I couldn’t care less. In fact, I’m all for it. I was just surprised.
Anyway, the guy manning this area gave me two quarters for some reason. I guess I looked like exactly the type of sap who’d spend two freebies and then blow an additional fifty bucks. And I usually am, but those sample tries were all it took for me to see that this was NOT going to end well. I walked away, proud of myself.
There was plenty of classic “carnival food” there, of course. The grub may be the best reason to go here. Where I’m from, we normally only see “deep fried Twinkies” on Food Network specials.
Okay, see those? Those are zeppoles. (The plural of “zeppole” is actually just “zeppole” again, but since that confuses me, I’m being willfully ignorant.)
I’ve mentioned zeppoles so many times in the past, and I’m always shocked by the amount people who’ve never heard of ’em. So, here’s a primer:
They’re deep fried globs of dough, best served piping hot. This picture only tells half the story, because just before the guy gives them to you, he’ll shake generous amounts of powdered sugar all over them.
It’s like eating sugary fried chicken.
I honestly couldn’t name a food that’s less healthy, but man, when you’re six-years-old and armed with a can of Coke, they’re the best things in the whole world.
I can’t come up with an ending for this one.
“Thank you for reading?”