A ride found at amusement parks, carnivals, and county fairs. You lean against one of the not-quite-vertical wall segments inside a round room. The ride operator, in the center, sits in a booth and plays loud music.

Here's where the fun begins. The room begins spinning around the center booth. As the room spins faster and faster, the wall segment behind you spins outward -- and upward -- lifting you off the floor.

Then after a minute or two, the operator presses a button and the room slowly stops spinning. Everyone's piece of wall slides back down to the floor, and you all walk out holding onto the handrails for balance.

Kind of like the spin cycle on a washing machine.

Going to the ghetto carnival, the operator of the gravitron does not ask anyone to buckle-up but simply makes sure you are standing against the wall. Once at speed with the pressure pulling, this allows you pursue spiderman tactics for the duration. Much more fun.

It was time for the county fair, and this year we had decided to go on the rides. We met at the Old Engines exhibit, and headed for the Tilt-A-Whirl. Not as much fun as when I was a kid, but still pretty good. Then I saw the Gravitron, a flying-saucer-shaped spinning room. I thought it looked like fun, so I asked Dave if he would go on it with me. "Sure," he said. He's an agreeable kind of guy.

So we stood in line. The little blond boy in front of us was excited and chattery. "Are you gonna go on it?" he wanted to know, looking up at us with his clear eyes, his smileful of little teeth.

"Yup," we replied.

"Are you gonna go upside down? I'm gonna go upside down!"

His little sister was with him, just as blond and obviously trying hard to keep up so he wouldn't call her a baby. Just before the gate opened, the parents showed up. "Hold my nightcrawler!" demanded the little sister, forcing upon her mother a grey wiggly length of plastic with an alarming number of legs. Mom calmly tucked it into her pocket.

Then the gate opened, and we all filed in. The gate closed, and the UFO- shaped room started to spin. Faster and faster. Little Blond Boy, glued to the wall, scooted around so that his feet pointed at the ceiling. He was chortling, yelling for us to do it too. What else could we do? We turned our heads toward the floor.

Then he started yelling for us to stand up. I tried to sit, but my head seemed to have been surgically attached to the wall while I wasn't looking.

Which is heavier - a ton of lead, a ton of feathers, or a ton of brains sloshing around inside your skull?

I lifted my head with my hands. The rest of my upper body was easy. I didn't stand. Neither did Little Blond Boy, on the other side of Dave (who is smarter than me, and remained flat). We sat on the spinning wall.

After a while, I lay down again. I turned myself right side up. All the while, the boy was shrieking and giggling. "Are you having fun? I am! Stand up! Go upside down!" I looked around at the other riders. All of them were younger than me and Dave. Their parents were probably younger than us. The ride was taking forever. Shouldn't it have been over by now?

Looking at the others, I remembered an acid trip at some party or other, probably 10 years ago at this point. Two people were lying on the floor, zoning out. Someone else said "They look like they're dying." And another person answered "That's because they are."


It was loud and stiflingly hot in there. The operator, in a booth in the middle of the room, was smoking a cigarette. The whole experience started to feel sick and unreal. Everything fell away, except the horrendous weight of my own body. It was like being in a pressure cooker. I lay back to wait it out.

When it was finally over, I staggered out into the late afternoon light. "It's like bad drugs in there," I commented to the Mom, and lurched queasily away.

Dave and I found a quiet grassy spot near the fence around the racetrack, and sat for a while. I couldn't believe how bad I felt. Dave couldn't believe I had told the Mom it was like bad drugs in there.

The pre-rodeo show started, and I had to turn away from the Bitterroot Mountettes riding around and around with their glittering shirts. I decided, to Dave's dismay, that I was not well enough to sit through the rodeo. We slogged our separate ways through the crowd, back to our vehicles.

I got home before Dave did, and sat down to drink a glass of water and read some email. Muffin, across the room from me, threw up so quietly that she had already finished by the time I noticed. Fortunately for me, it was chunky instead of soupy. I surprised myself by cleaning up without making my own steaming pile of half-digested food on the carpet.

It'll be a long time before I ride one of those things again.

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