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Rob Curley: One last ride ’round as county fair winds down

She couldn’t have been 5.

Her face was painted like a tiger. There was a pink ribbon in her hair. She had just “won” a stuffed husky. It was too early to have a name picked out for the puppy dog, but the few being discussed indicated gender wasn’t going to be a huge concern.

More importantly, she was all about riding the Ferris wheel Saturday morning at the Spokane County Interstate Fair.

The “big” one. Not the “little” one. That cleared up the question of which Ferris wheel would be the first ride of the day.

The problem was, the carnival rides didn’t open until noon. That was only about 10 minutes away, but still …

The small family finally loaded into the circular, six-person gondola. All three of them on the same side. Mom in the middle.

If there weren’t any nerves while waiting in line, there certainly were now. The excited preschooler was now suspiciously quiet. Hands were being held. Tightly.

After the first trip around the nearly 8-story Ferris wheel, the quiet became laughter as she explained how her tummy tickled.

Then it stopped.

At the very top.

This was unexpected. And the middle-school girls in another gondola who were screaming didn’t help matters. Mom knew exactly what to say.

“Look how far you can see!”

She really could see a long way. And Mom was her guide to the skyline.

“Can you see our car? Look at the mountains. Can you see where the baseball team plays? That big building way over there is the hospital. Can you see the Steam Plant all the way downtown?”

Before you knew it, they were moving again. Then told to exit to the right.

“Can we ride it again? Please, Mom! Can we please get back on?!”

Most of us know exactly how she felt. That’s how many of us feel about riding the Ferris wheel at the county fair.

It’s one of those life moments where nearly every emotion can be experienced within literally 360 degrees.

Anticipation. Or is that anxiety? Others might call it boredom.

Faking confidence as you first sit down. Replaced quickly by a mixture of regret and anger, with a dose of fear.

“I can’t believe you talked me into riding this (expletive deleted) thing. You owe me, big time.”

The thrill of taking it all in as you go around and up and down.

The amazement of just how beautiful your hometown is to the eyes from this vantage point.

The sadness of it being over. Or is that relief?

Either way, you have this strange urge to either find a tasty beverage or visit the restroom. Possibly both.

There are certain things in life that are rites of passage. The first time you ride a Ferris wheel is one.

It’s the iconic image most of us keep in our mind of the county fair, likely because it’s the first thing you see from the parking lot when you arrive and the last thing you can still see in your rearview mirror when you leave.

And like most things in life, you don’t always miss or appreciate the Ferris wheel until it isn’t there.

This year’s Spokane fair opened without the huge 92-foot Ferris wheel. Fair officials can’t remember that ever happening. The folks with the traveling carnival can’t remember ever opening a fair without it.

Even for those who wouldn’t get on that darn thing for a million bucks, its colorful lights are as much a part of the fair’s atmosphere as the well-practiced ability to not make eye contact with any salesperson in the vendor hall.

Before this carnival made it to Spokane earlier this month, it was at the Evergreen State Fair in Monroe, Washington. That’s where a part broke. In basically the middle of the fair.

No one could ride it. So it sat, with the only motion coming from its uber-fun light show.

As you’ve probably guessed, you don’t call up your friendly, neighborhood Ferris wheel store when you need a new part. Oftentimes, that part has to be made. As in custom. As in this is gonna take a while. And way more expensive than you think it might be.

Luckily, or possibly coincidentally, a local shop here in Spokane could help. Just not in time for the fair’s opening.

So, something was missing when the gates opened a couple of Fridays ago.

By last Saturday, the four semitrailers that carry the huge ride were unloaded. Six dedicated people got it assembled and running in about 18 hours.

And life felt a little more normal on the midway.

Watching a little girl ride that giant wheel for the first time is a reminder of the sweet innocence and lovely goodness something like a Ferris wheel can bring us.

Our hometown does look so different from up there. Holding your honey’s hand is comforting in an oddly warmer way in that LED-saturated instance.

Maybe it’s an emotional perspective you only sense when you’re circling up high in slo-mo.

Whatever it is, it feels like something we all could use about now.

It’s been one of those weeks in our community that both breaks your heart and inspires you – people coming together to not only comfort each other, but to selflessly care for those who need our help the most at this exact moment.

It’s weeks like this when we learn we are stronger together than we are apart.

The fair closes tonight. The last ride on the Ferris wheel for another year will be done circling by 8 p.m.

That gives us just enough time to sneak in one more ride – one more chance for the simple joy the preschooler in all of us should get to experience.

“Can we ride it again? Please?”

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