It’s a time-honored journalistic principle. Follow the screams.
That’s how I wound up standing by a carnival ride called the Zipper Saturday afternoon in Chewelah.
Positioned next to the Tilt-A-Whirl and the Octopus, the Zipper was just one small part of the Chataqua festival. But the line leading to it was among the longest at the popular annual event. Maybe 80 people waited their turn.
There’s just something about the appeal of seeing if you can ride the thing without throwing up.
The Zipper, an adventure in recreational whiplash, isn’t new. It has been a carnival fixture for years. The one in Chewelah last weekend was built in 1976 or thereabouts, said Deborah Carter, owner of Phoenix-based Candy Apple Amusements.
If you include the high-speed monster contraptions found at amusement parks, it’s far from the scariest ride around. But Saturday in Chewelah, it was the No. 1 test of daring - not counting actually sitting through the Whistling Midgets show over on the main stage.
“Teenagers are drawn to it,” said Carter, a sunburned fiftyish woman with a broad smile. “It’s the thrill.”
Riders take a seat inside a metal-mesh cage and then wait for the Zipper to start cranking them up and around like passengers on a demented Ferris Wheel with a bad case of vertigo.
If you are of a certain age and temperament, it can be almost irresistible.
Add a few years and, for some, it starts to look like a bad, bad idea.
Riding the Zipper can feel like you got shrunk to the size of a bug and are trapped inside a transparent baseball just as the Mariners’ Randy Johnson is releasing a curveball.
Most of the kids in line, many of them repeat riders, didn’t seem worried. Maybe the hum from the nearby generator soothed them. Or perhaps they had faith in the guy wearing a Chicago Cubs cap operating the ride.
But when the Zipper got up to speed, some of the riders did fair vocal impressions of teenagers being chased by a big psycho wielding a meat cleaver.
What could be more fun?
A few of those getting off the ride looked dazed. But most seemed ready to go again.
“No big deal” they said with their studied expressions and postures.
One girl who had been in a car with another girl made a production of adjusting her brassiere as she got off.
“How was it?” I asked a boy in a ‘97 Bloomsday shirt.
He shrugged his shoulders. “You know,” he said.
, DataTimes MEMO: Being There is a weekly feature that visits Inland Northwest gatherings.
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