02 July 2008

Going to the rides

It’s summer again and a distinct childhood memory has surfaced: our family’s annual summertime foray to Myrtle Beach and “the rides.” Now, this was in the early-to-mid 1960s, so what is in Myrtle Beach today in terms of amusement parks (among other things!) bears no resemblance to the site, probably no more than a city block in size, then so worthy of our youthful collective countdown. Could it happen this week? we wondered. Which day do you think it will be?, we’d query (translate that: badger) our mother. Any state fair in the country – and likely even most county versions – now boast bigger and better rides, but in my memory that oceanfront, brightly lit space was something to behold, magical and thrilling.

The Ferris wheel faced the ocean and was my favorite ride. I felt as though I could see forever in at least three directions when the rocking little car reached to top. On more than one occasion, to my delight, the operator stopped the ride to attend to some mechanical something or to let passengers on or off, extending that most wonderful time of looking out and beyond the everyday. It wasn’t out of the realm of possibility for rain to move ashore while we all sat there either. Damp and even chilling at the time; a rite of passage memory now. And, there was that moment just past the top of the arc and that distinct feeling (much like the little dip as an airplane leaves the runway) of weightlessness as the car began its descent. How I did love the Ferris wheel.

Somewhere along the way I stopped liking the rides. The real attraction, I suspect, had to do with youth, for one thing, and the fact that it was my family spending an evening together away from home, for another. But, over the past 40+ or so years the rides have become more sophisticated -- bigger, faster, higher. They jar the system. On purpose. And, my system … well, jarring is not in its best interest. At this moment I’m sitting in a room with 10-foot ceilings and, as I look up and consider how high 10 feet is, I realize that my first roller coaster ride might not have taken me too much higher than that before the long turn to the right and the initial stomach-turning drop. There’s no doubt I could not handle a state of the art roller coaster. No doubt.

Why the memories? As I said, it’s summer again. But, the real reason, I know, is the death at Six Flags over the weekend, a young man from the midlands of South Carolina decapitated by a rollercoaster. His tragic death has been declared an accident. As that particular ride was reopened this morning, Six Flags was advised by Georgia Department of Labor officials “to post more fences, signs and security to prevent another accident” (on-line AP report).

I looked up the word “accident” and this is a portion of what Webster has to say: 1 An unforeseen and unplanned event or circumstance; 2 An unfortunate event resulting esp from carelessness or ignorance.

Unforeseen? Yes. Unplanned? Yes. Unfortunate? In spades. Resulting from carelessness? Yes, in terms of not being careful and being thoughtless and spontaneous. Resulting from ignorance? That one is more of a stretch, unless one takes into account youthful invincibility. He was a 17-year-old high school student; he could read. And, if asked, he doubtless would have acknowledged that fences exist to keep people out and that gates are generally provided for routine entry.

Scaling two six-foot fences and not heeding the posted signs warning of danger and denying entry can hardly be understood as an accident. One doesn’t fall over or even,as early reports stated, hop over such a barrier. That act took not only a decision but considerable effort.

The question of a law suit was asked of the young man’s father even before the charter bus carrying the diminished group left the parking lot for the return trip to South Carolina. If the family sues anyone perhaps it should be the callous person who sood there and asked the question.

I’m writing all this for a reason. I’m writing because I need to do something. A young man died who didn’t need to die and his particular gifts are now lost to the world. Who knows what he might have accomplished, what problems he might have solved, how his zest for life might have translated into a sense of purpose.

And, I’m writing because I hope some things. Like? I hope Asia LeeShawn Ferguson’s family doesn’t sue. I hope they can find it in themselves to refrain from blame. I hope the people who loved that young man decide not to take on themselves the role of victim. I hope in this instance our agonized, finger-pointing world will hear a grieving family say one simple sentence: Our child made a terrible mistake and we are so sad.

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