Carnival Glories.

A hundred billion years ago on X-E, I wrote a big article about a carnival that camps out near our local mall for one week each year. The article gained some notoriety for its ironically massive photo of the world’s smallest woman.

That same carnival has come back every year since, albeit on a smaller scale. They still dust off the Ferris wheel and the usual gamut of Flitzer/Himalaya rides, but they’ve ditched the more sideshow-like attractions that once gave it such a gleefully trashy appeal.

It hasn’t seemed worth it to go back there, even if I always love seeing the bright lights on my many drive-bys.

This year was an exception, though. I saw something that was well worth the price of admission:

I never, ever turn down a dark ride. Never ever ever. And this one looked like a winner.

The Haunted Mansion – set up in the standard one-story “railway” style – was virtually hidden in the carnival’s furthest corner, completely ignored by everyone but me and Ms. X. It was kind of a dead night there overall, but even that stupid game where you try to win live goldfish without considering the aggravation involved with lugging live goldfish around had at least five people playing it.

Besides us and the carny folk manning it, there wasn’t a soul paying any attention to the Haunted Mansion. I felt bad for it. I was Charlie Brown, and my Christmas tree looked like Satan’s Winnebago.

So we paid ten bucks for tickets, and went for a ride. It sucked, but I expected it to. The ride was literally less than a minute long. It was just us riding in a little cart through silent darkness, save for two or three minor animatronics baking under red lamps. (I tried to take photos inside, but they all came out black.)

I wasn’t disappointed at all when we stepped off. It may have stunk by 2012 standards, but dark rides like this have serious history. Decades of history. God knows how many names and motifs the Haunted Mansion has been through. Or how many rubber limbs and strobe lights have been in and out of it. Or how many state lines it’s crossed.

The fact that it’s alive and kicking at all is amazing enough. I’m glad to have been a part of something that’s seen way more action than I ever will.

As is usually the case with dark rides, the Haunted Mansion looked a lot cooler from the outside. Painted scenes like the one above used to frighten me up and down the Wildwood boardwalk as a kid. These days, I only wish I could find some starving artist to do up my living room walls like that.

PS: Take note of the woman being accosted by bat-eared goblins, bordering close to a nip slip. The Haunted Mansion is so old school. You never see that kind of depravity in dark ride decor anymore. These days, she’d be the bad guy, ordering the goblins to mop lava. It’s hard to qualify that as PC, but trust me, it is.

All in, it cost us ten bucks just to enter the carnival, and another ten to spend sixty seconds rolling through a big black closet. A rip off by any measure, but the only thing that truly disappointed me was knowing that I hadn’t quite gotten enough to make a story out of it.

Fortunately, a nearby game was there to help me pad out this entry.

This is a carnival classic. Not on the level of Flip A Flog, but still, a classic. You know the deal. Pay for darts, break balloons, and win cheap works of art, made of glass and tucked inside little paper frames.

I used to be obsessed with these games, and I had good reason to be. Since the glass pictures are such cheap prizes, there’s kind of an unspoken rule that you’ll always win one.

We forked over a fiver for six darts. Four balloons met their demise. The lady running the booth could’ve easily swindled us, but we were surprised to hear her tell us that we popped “special” balloons that would afford us bigger prizes.

As it always is with me, quantity beat quality. I could’ve gone home with a giant glass picture, but screw that. I wanted four of the little ones.

I must’ve spent fifteen hardcore minutes deciding which to go home with. I’ve put less thought into buying cars.

One has various WWE superstars, led by the Undertaker.

Another boasts an evil clown, smoking a cigar.

The third? Scarface.

And the fourth includes a smiling dolphin quartet, because I thought my other picks were running a little too macabre.

I think I chose well.

At least, I thought I chose well, until realizing that these weren’t actually made of glass. They’re just pieces of paper, with plywood backings and thin, plastic covers.

I feel pretty stupid. Now that I look at them again, I have no idea how I took them to be painted glass pictures. I was stone cold sober and everything. I guess I believed what I wanted to believe.

My triumph eradicated, I’m beginning to understand why the lady working the booth gave me the “idiot look” when I passed on getting a big prize in favor of these jokers.

So, let’s review. $25 was spent tonight. For this, we were awarded a one minute journey through nothing, and four pieces of paper.

My impulse was to end this entry with ASCII art of a foghorn, but since I can’t find that, here’s ASCII art of Foghorn Leghorn.

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Man. That didn’t copy/paste well at all.