The Ferris Wheel
By Christopher Dearman
By far the worst ride I got to operate in my short time helping out the Rides Department had to be that ancient old-ass Ferris Wheel. I still have nightmares to this day about the first time I had to work it. Give me the fire truck with no brakes, or having to dodge throw-up from the riders on the Tarantula any day. Having to control that dreaded Ferris Wheel still puts a shiver down my spine, just thinking about it.
The Ferris Wheel was my introduction to working in the Rides Department, and what a horrible way to break my ride operator cherry it was. I had heard many times how people dreaded having to work it, so after I was sixteen and able to operate a ride, I was none too happy when I found out it would be the petrifying, prehistoric piece of junk they called a Ferris Wheel.
The day began with me beaming full of excitement for finally having the opportunity to work in the Rides Department. I had been waiting months for this, and even when I learned I was assigned the Ferris Wheel, I confidently walked over to Coney Island determined to enjoy myself. There was a little trepidation after hearing more than a few snickers when the manger said I would be working it, making it feel like some sort of an initiation process, but I kept telling myself all I had to do was simply push a button and pull a lever—how hard could it possibly be?
Once I arrived at the Ferris Wheel, one of the Ride Leads* was there waiting to teach me how to operate it. He told me the most important thing was to counterbalance the people when loading and unloading the carts that the people sat in. That it was crucial to do this as the old wooden wheel had seen better days, and could not handle uneven weight. This seemed easy enough. I figured it doesn’t take a rocket scientist to keep everything as equal as possible—what was the big deal? He went on to show me how the gear lever that made the wheel turn worked. Move the gear shift forward, and it moved the wheel clockwise. Pull back on it, and it slowed the wheel down to a stop. There wasn’t much to it, so I figured it would be a piece of cake. Turns out I had no idea how damn scary this was going to be…
Slowly people started to trickle over to the ride once the park opened, and I quickly learned it wasn’t as easy as I anticipated to balance out the wheel so that it would run smoothly. When kids were riding it was easy enough, but as soon as you had multiple adults—things got much more difficult. The more weight on the carts, the harder it was to force the gear forward far enough to basically lift the heavy carts up and over the top of the wheel. Get too many adults stopped between the nine and twelve o’clock position, and the weight would actually cause the wheel to start moving the wrong way in the opposite direction!
Needless to say I was now terrified of this spinning deathtrap. I kept trying to project my thoughts telepathically to everyone that came my way. Please don’t come ride this. Wouldn’t you rather ride the Tarantula? —but the people would not stop coming. This continued for the next couple of hours, and by this time I was a nervous wreck from constantly trying to keep things in order.
At this point I didn’t think things could get any worse, but while looking around desperately for a break person to come save me from this wretched hell, a horrifying sight came walking toward me. My eyes grew wide, and fear crept across my body as I prayed they would just walk past me. Nothing to see here; move along—but alas, my Jedi mind trick did not come true . There, coming right at me, was a lady that had to weigh at least three fifty—maybe four hundred pounds—holding a huge stick of pink cotton candy in one hand, and a plastic dish of cheesy nachos in the other. Even with her relatively small child walking beside her, I knew this was going to be trouble.
Being that my break was in five minutes I figured I could stall, or at least divert her attention until my replacement came. “Ma’am, there is no eating on the Ferris Wheel, but just down the way there is the picnic area where you can sit down, get out of the sun and enjoy your concessions!”—I said enthusiastically, hoping I would hear a loud beeping sound like from a dump truck in reverse while she backed that huge mass of an ass out of line. I would have no such luck. She replied that she would be done by the time it was her turn to board, and immediately inhaled both concessions like a vacuum. Licking the cheese dish of the nachos so thoroughly clean that it could have been reused and resold.
Knowing I had no option but to let her on, I watched as Large Marge tried to squeeze into the small seats of the cart. Her child almost disappeared in the folds of her stomach, and I was left wondering how the kid could possibly breathe. With my hands shaking at the impending predicament that was sure to come, I pulled the restraint bar down over her triple D breasts, and watched as it comes to rest on her ample stomach—there was no turning back now.
I said a quick prayer to myself, hoping to God that the wooden wheel would hold up, and forcefully pushed the gear ahead. The cart lurched forward and I watched a huge shadow overtake me as she rose up into the air. Aware I had to time this out very carefully, I leaned on the gear until she reached the top, then pulled back on the lever to bring it to a screeching halt. Now I just needed to find enough weight to even things out.
As I looked up to see fatty licking her chops, trying to get the last of the nacho cheese from her lips, I turned my attention over to the line of people to try and find the greatest amount of heft to actually be able to counter balance her. Looking the line over I was thinking there must be some sort of Ethiopian convention in town, as the line was filled with only skinny-ass adults and malnourished-looking little children. This could definitely be a problem.
Searching all over for my damn replacement that was probably hiding out in the trees, watching me sweat my ass off from the immense stress this comical (if it wasn’t happening to me) situation brought, I realized I was on my own to deal with this impending doom. Not having much choice in the matter I loaded what amounted to maybe a total of 150 pounds worth of people into the bottom cart, as a feeling of dread blasted into the pit of my stomach. With eyes closed I pushed the gear forward, hoping for a miracle. This unfortunately was not to be the case…
Looking up into the sky I saw gravity starting to do its thing. The wheel began to make a sickening noise as it lurched in the wrong direction. Scared out of my mind I pulled back on the gear to make it stop, and desperately tried to regroup. What the hell am I going to do now? The people in line started to realize what is happening as I tried to play it off that I know what I was doing. Where the hell was my damn replacement? Looking around for help that was obviously not coming, my mind started visualizing what was going to happen when I pushed the lever again. I was going to have to watch the wheel continue to turn in the wrong direction, break free of its axle, and start rolling down the walkway with terrified people screaming in terror!
Realizing I had no other option at this juncture, I slammed the gear forward again. The wheel started to moan like an elderly man trying to pass a kidney stone, and actual smoke began to spew from the apparatus. With no turning back I desperately strained to press the gear as far forward as possible, and somehow the wheel finally gave itself enough power to recover and go in the intended direction.
A sense of relief poured from my body as I immediately brought the whale of a woman to the bottom platform, and let her off. Oblivious to my now sweat-soaked trembling body, she started complaining that she only got to go around once. I’m about to make up something to the effect that it was time for the wheel’s scheduled maintenance when I saw my replacement finally walking my way with a wicked smile on his face, obviously having watched this whole terrifying ordeal play out. Not about to let this slide, I tell fatty to sit tight and gladly hand off my position. Let that ass have to deal with her, as I was off to go tell Management that I had suddenly come down with a bad case of the stomach flu!
* LEADS - This was a term for the various assistant managers of the park. Usually they were not that much older then the rest of the workers, but had seniority due to working at the park for multiple seasons. One of the perks was having a walkie-talkie.