Hampton Daze: A look at my carnival ride fears

Death By Zipper




I didn’t realize what a wimp I’d become until I was at the carnival in Southampton on Saturday night. I found myself paralyzed with fear while staring up at the infamous ride, The Zipper. Just looking at the long, rotating, oval boom made me weak in the knees. Listening to the screams of small children as they experienced strong vertical G-forces and numerous spins made me want to run for the hills — or at least to the closest cocktail bar.

I may not have been the most adventurous child, but I was still always ready to ride the Gravitron or the ferris wheel. Believe it or not there was a time when I wasn’t afraid of rip tides or carnival rides or even riding the subway (don’t judge!). Still, for the most part, I was no daredevil. Now, I’m somehow super aware of my own mortality just riding a bike down a semi-busy Hamptons’ road.

At the carnival my friend Christine we realized that both of our parents wouldn’t allow us go on The Zipper as kids. For a moment there was talk that we should go for the first time. Talk that I quickly ended. The screams from inside that swinging oval of death were enough to have me break my “Whole30-ish” cleanse and go stress-eat a churro. (FYI, Whole30-ish is a new cleanse I’ve started, it’s Whole30 without giving up wine or lentils, and I feel it will be wildly successful.)

I’m not big on the sense of unpredictability that comes with carnival rides. The words of my father are always in the back of my head: “You’re going to trust a ride that’s taken apart and put back together every week?” When I told him the next day that I’d gone to the carnival, his stance on the issue had not changed, and now has become my own.

We’ve all heard the horror stories: cages coming lose, doors flying open, helpless riders flying through the air to an untimely death. I’m just not into the idea of willingly being upside-down in a piece of machinery that is disassembled onto a truck and transported from site to site each week. Even if the odds of something bad happening are extremely low.

A quick Google search of “death by zipper carnival,” and all of my fears were confirmed. The internet is littered with videos with titles like “Inside the Death Trap Fair Ride, The Zipper” and headlines like “Life And Mortality At The Carnival.”

It turns out in 1977 the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission urged carnival-goers not to ride The Zipper after four deaths occurred due to compartment doors opening mid-ride. While this happened long before my carnival days, I now understand my parents’ hesitation for us kids to ride it. My sister Jenna eventually wore them down and would ride The Zipper non-stop, but I was always alright with the initial rule to stay away.

Today, as an adult, you literally couldn’t pay me to ride it. I’m more about the “let’s try to win a goldfish and eat a funnel cake” type of carnival vibe.

So on Saturday night we settled for The Sizzler and a dinosaur-themed version of the Tea Cups — basically the only two kiddie rides that didn’t have height restrictions. My first choice was The Caterpillar but I sized out being taller than five feet. Even though it was mostly small children I have to say that The Sizzler was the most frightening thing I’ve done since walking across the Brooklyn Bridge (seriously, those rickety wooden planks they call a bridge do not feel safe!).

At the end of the evening I was satisfied with the dose of classic Americana the carnival provided and proud of myself for riding The Sizzler, even if my screams could be heard in Montauk. I’ll probably live my life never riding The Zipper, and I think I’m OK with that.

jessica@indyeastend.com
@hamptondaze