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Gone With the Whip
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One of summer's biggest treats was when my parents took me to the amusement park. I don't know if amusement parks come so small these days, but it was big enough to thrill a nine-year old. No matter where you were you could hear the clatter, rush and shriek of coaster and riders, the miniature train's jingling bell, the cheerful, maddening tooting and thumping of the merry-go-round's mechanical drum and organ. The air smelled of cotton candy. My sneakers crunched on gravel, sawdust and discarded peanut shells. By the time I got home my soles were plastered with sun-heated, sticky chewing gum.

Near the park entrance, a low cinder block building formed a dim, cool cave full of flashing lights and ringing bells. I never ventured into the pinball lair. The two machines at the entrance of the arcade were what interested me. One stamped the Lord's Prayer or the Gettysburg Address on a flattened penny. Behind the other contraption's glass face a crane with a mechanical grabber hung above an enticing mountain of trinkets. I managed to snag a treasure trove: a Lilliputian pinhole camera with film, a miniature hectograph and a trio of ceramic monkeys which puffed smoke rings from their little cigarettes even while they saw, heard and spoke no evil.

I recall the atmosphere and anticipation more than the rides. I do remember my heart pounding as the roller coaster was ratcheted noisily up the impossibly steep incline until wooden platform and rails vanished and I looked straight up into nothing but blue sky before the bottom dropped out of the world. Then there was centrifugal terror as the whip's long, steel arms threatened to fling my car through the railings. Pressed helplessly back against the cushioned seat, I imagined a bolt coming loose, my car smashing through the flimsy railing and flying out over the passersby, over the popcorn stand to smash into the fun house. The stifling dark of the fun house comes back to me, the abrupt turns to avoid illuminated skeletons, the far more scary touch of invisible cobwebs in the dark. Also vivid is the feeling of delight when the miniature train train chugged past the boundaries of the park proper and into a wilderness of grass and picnic tables.

Not too many years ago, I passed by the place where the amusement park had been. The wooden mountain at the start of the roller coaster remained, though sagging and probably as rickety and unsafe as I'd feared it was so many years before. Scattered humps of rotting wood were visible between the tall trees that had grown up around the rest of the coaster. One cinder block wall of the arcade still stood, covered with graffiti. There was the platform where the whip had spun, roofless, empty. At one end of the park small, rusted tracks vanished into an overgrown field.

At the entrance a faded sign remained, promising amusements which were now ghostly memories. I was grateful that as a child I had not known it would come to this.

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