Sunday, July 30, 2017

Mass Times Acceleration

I used to delight in driving past the Woolco parking lot and discovering that the carnival was in town. Not the animals/sideshow/wall of death kind of carnival. The big tractor-trailer train of quick setup and quick breakdown contraptions that were designed to get those nachos and cotton candy to come right back through the use of physics experiments discarded by NASA as "too cruel" for testing its astronauts. My brothers and I were not done until we had sampled them all. If the workings of our inner ears did not come screaming out of our skulls begging for relief, we hadn't had the full experience.
There was one particular ride that may have had a catchy name, as most of them did, but the years and the damage done to my brain by all those turbulent forces has wiped it clean of that fact. I do remember its function: Like a Ferris Wheel, but the cars were not mounted on a horizontal axis. They were vertical, with a wheel in the center so riders could control their spin. If they chose to. My brothers and I were the kind to do just that.
We were the guys that the operators of the Tilt-A-Whirl would ask to exit the ride only to find us right back in line, doing laps trying to encourage the spin by tossing ourselves from one side of the car to another. We were the ones furiously pawing at the center wheel of the Teacup Ride in Disneyland. It wasn't enough to be thrown around by these machines, we wanted to enhance the ride in any way possible. Hands up on a roller coaster? Hands up, eyes closed, with your big brother holding your hands so you couldn't put them down if you wanted to in a lightning storm.
We were those guys.
Back at that nameless Torture Wheel, my brothers and I were sizing it up as we climbed into one car, a tight fit, but if we were going to go, we would go together. The operator smiled at us, soaking in our enthusiasm as he leaned in to give a yank on the latch to our compartment. "Ya like these rides?" We nodded furiously. "I do all the work on this baby myself." He gave our car a pat with his left hand, the one that was missing two fingers, and off we went, into the night sky.
In all those years and all those rides, nothing bad happened. We kept our nachos down, and we walked away a little dizzy from time to time, but we emerged essentially unscathed.
Which is why my heart breaks when I read about accidents like the one at the Ohio State Fair this past week. Like all those fireworks that warn "light and run away," the forces at play on rides like the Fire Ball are just barely understood, which is what makes them such a thrill. If you considered the possibility of being flung into the parking lot by one of these beasts, you might not get in line at all.
Gravity: It's not just a good idea. It's the law.

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