Last Sunday at Maker Faire, my sister Megan and I were walking out of the freakshow tent and talking about finding some coffee when we saw this:
“Ooh, look at that,” Megan said.
“Wow,” I said, “that looks scary. Are those guys flipping over?”
“I think so,” Megan said. “How does it work, though? They don’t seem to be pedaling much, and the guys on the outside are doing most of the pushing.”
“I think the guys on the outside are just steering it.”
A girl in a Mexican dress came running up to us, her frog-shaped backpack jumping behind her. She stopped just short of crashing into us. “You have to do that with me!” she yelled.
“What?” I said.
“You guys have to do that with me!” she said again, pointing at the scary wheel.
“Oh HELL no,” I said.
“”But they only take people in groups of three!” she said. “If you don’t do it with me, then I won’t get to do it at all.”
I’m not afraid of heights, exactly. That is, I’m not afraid of safe heights. I can look out over a tall balcony, I can admire the view from the top floor of a skyscraper, and I can climb the steep stairs to my seat in the nosebleed section of any arena without too much white-knuckling. Hell, I can go up to the top of the St. Louis Arch even though the thing rocks back and forth in a stiff wind. But when it comes to tall trees and tall ladders and roller coasters, I’m a total sissy. These are things that I just don’t DO.
“I’ll do it,” Megan said. She and the frog backpack girl looked at me expectantly. If I didn’t ride the star wheel, frog girl wouldn’t get to do it. Well, she’d probably find some other people eventually, but I’d still feel bad. By this time the wheel had rolled its way over to us, and the wheel guys were unstrapping the riders to let someone else have a turn. “Come on,” one of them said to me. “It’ll be fun!”
“Oh, FINE,” I said.
“YAY!” cried frog girl.
I had barely come to terms with my decision when a wheel guy shoved a clipboard into Megan’s hands. “You guys all have to sign this waiver,” he said. If this thing crashes and we all die, I thought (irrationally), my parents will lose both their children and be unable to sue for damages. I signed the waiver.
“What do I do with my purse?” I asked.
“I’ll hold onto your bags,” one of the wheel guys said. How said it must be to take part in putting this contraption together with scrap metal and old bicycles and plastic chairs, and then have to be the guy who holds the purses. “Hey, what do we have here?” he said, glancing inside my open bag as I handed it to him. “A phone, a camera. Nice.”
“So that’s how you guys are paying for this thing, huh?” I said. He laughed. I asked him to take pictures.
When it was my turn to get strapped into the wheel, I put the seat belt on, cinched it tight, and stretched my feet out to the pedals. They were too far away. “Wait, I can’t reach the pedals!” I said to one of the wheel guys.
“Then I guess you’ll have to slouch,” he said, and we were off.
“HOLY FUCK!” I yelled as we started rolling. My chair began to swing wildly. I really couldn’t reach the pedals. “OH, SHIT.”
“Pedal, ladies!” the wheel guy shouted. “The more you pedal, the less you’ll flip over!”
I slouched down, but my chair was swinging like crazy, and I was already at the top of the wheel.
“Whatever you do, don’t look up!” one of the wheel guys said.
Reach the pedals, don’t look up, try not to flip over. The ground was close, and then far away, and then close again. I was starting to feel sick. I stretched out a little bit more and found the pedals, and my chair stopped swinging almost immediately.
Once the swinging stopped, the ride got a bit better. The pedaling did indeed make the wheel turn; the wheel guys were there to make sure we didn’t roll into a tree. When we had to turn a corner, we’d stop pedaling and wait for the guys to turn the wheel in the proper direction. It got easier to pedal and look around me at the same time; when my chair was at the top of the wheel I had a really nice view of the fair. But I still didn’t let myself look up, and I think I got some good cursing in when we went over a bump in the road. Eventually three new riders were waiting, so they stopped the wheel and let us off. When my feet hit the ground I noticed that I was shaking.
“THAT WAS AWESOME!” frog girl said.
“You know,” I said, “I think you’re right.”
“And too short! Way too short.”
“I don’t know about that,” I said, looking up at the top chair, at how high it really was. “But I’m glad I went. Thanks for making me do that.” I turned back towards frog girl, but she was already gone.
“Do you still want to get coffee?” I said to Megan as we hobbled away from the wheel.
“Nah, I think I’m awake now,” she said.