Hard Candy Ferris Wheel


My mom didn’t let my brother and I eat those colorful, sweetened cereals when we were young. We probably knew every Froot Loops, Fruity Pebbles, and Lucky Charms jingle by heart, but we weren’t allowed to eat them. With colors so blatantly artificial, there could be nothing redeeming about a bowl full of the stuff, she reasoned.

We protested then, believe me. But I think I understand now what she was getting at.

Consider the sports car painted in outlandish colors with the telltale spoiler that raises from here to infinity. Or the high school date wearing far too much makeup to prom. Or in the case of this photo, picture the Ferris Wheel dotted with the sort of saccharine colors that gives you cavities just by looking. In each of the situations, it’s like someone is trying far too hard.

On this particular day, my family was meandering around the Elk Grove Western Festival. Never quite a mainstay of my youth, it was nevertheless an occasional hometown destination for my friends and I on warm Friday nights. For just a couple bucks, you could gorge on the best junk food this side of the California State Fair. And if you went to the midway on the first night of the fair — “Suicide Night” — all of the rides were half off. My sources explained that they called it that because they were still testing out the rides on the first night, and well, you never know what could happen. Cue the story of a nondescript kid from the next town not leaving the fair alive years ago.

Twenty years later, I had returned to the Western Festival with one more wife and three more kids than last time. And while it was not Suicide Night, it seemed most of the usual suspects were there. Perhaps many of these are the same attractions that traveled to your home town for a few days each summer: the Gravitron, the Tilt-a-Whirl, the House of Mirrors, or that mainstay of small town festivals, the Ferris Wheel.

What was nostalgic (and more than a little disconcerting) was that these rides looked as beat-up as ever, only with new coats of paint. In all truth, these rides had probably never looked new. They most certainly never had the sort of safety assurances you’d expect from a ride at Disneyland. But they are painted and re-painted with the sort of wild colors that cause us to take another look all the same. Something that colorful must be fun, right? Something that shiny couldn’t be dangerous, right?

“Don’t even think about it, guys,” my wife warned. She could tell that the kids and their dad had their eyes glued to the rides. “Daddy, will help you find something else to do.” She distrusted carnival rides with all her heart, seeing past the inviting colors. I snapped a photo of the hard candy-looking Ferris Wheel for old time’s sake.

And then I bought my kids snow cones adorned in the same ungodly colors.

I may not have put my kids on one of these multi-colored deathtraps that day, but my choice in treats wasn’t any more redeeming. Each of them seemed to hide something false and empty behind tempting colors … trying too hard to lure us in.

Forgive me, Mom!

Hang this photo on your wall

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What’s your guilty pleasure at the local fair? Tell us about it in the comments below.