Labor Day closing ends State Fair's thrills and chills One last wild ride

September 06, 1994|By Jonathan Bor | Jonathan Bor,Sun Staff Writer

Getting whipped in a steel cage between two giant pulleys, flung end-over-end until all sense of gravity is lost -- yes, that might be the worst way to spend a perfectly brilliant, late-summer's day.

Or, if you're a teen-ager, the best.

"It's something you don't experience otherwise," explained Brian Hartig, a 13-year-old ride aficionado from Timonium who had just strolled off the dreaded Zipper at the Maryland State Fair. "It's just something you've got to do. It's the feeling of free-fall, those high-gravity turns."

"It's awesome," said his friend, Ed Van Wesep of Baltimore, who is also 13. "It gives you an adrenalin rush. It makes your intestines, like, screw up."

In a hierarchy where bad is good and worst is best, the Zipper may be the "worst" ride at the State Fair. That means it's a favorite among teen-agers looking for high-speed machines that do their best to instill terror.

And, if you are of a certain mind set, that can be a good thing.

While others staggered off the Zipper in disbelief, Ed and Brian were so impressed that they rode three times in succession.

The fair ended its 10-day run yesterday with clear skies, pleasant temperatures and an estimated crowd of 60,000, one of the largest single-day totals, though not a record.

Fair spokesman George Wills projected that by late afternoon, 560,000 people would have attended this year's fair, 20 percent more than last year.

Although a hefty total, it wasn't enough to break the 1990 record of just over 600,000.

Yesterday, while some fair-goers shot balloons, admired livestock or sampled homemade jam, Ed and Brian joined six buddies on a quest for the fair's "worst" ride.

On the Zipper, people sit in swinging cages that get hurled between two pulleys, one positioned at each end of a 30-foot-long piece of scaffolding that rotates around a hub. After a minute or so, the cages do complete somersaults as they make their way over the top.

"We flipped over four times in a row," Ed said approvingly.

For a comparable thrill, less experienced riders might have tried the Pirat, a misspelled pirate ship that elicits frightened shrieks as it rocks back and forth across a wide arc. But the guys dismissed it, noting that it doesn't make 360-degree loops as the vessels at big-name amusement parks do.

Ring of Fire met the test. It's a 10-seat train that rides along the inside of a towering hoop. At first it teases, rocking back and forth in arcs that start small but get progressively wider. Finally, it reaches the top, hanging riders for a suspended moment that must seem interminable. Then, it gets down to business, racing off for a half-dozen complete loops before stopping.

"My favorite was when it went all the way up but not quite over," said Brian. "It's kind of fun to have your feet hanging above you."

"Sometimes it's nice to get your organs rearranged on these things," said another friend, James Bredeson, 14, of Lutherville.

"But the Zipper's better," Ed concluded, explaining that the ride feels unpredictable no matter how many times you try it. On Ring of Fire, "you know what's going to happen next. It's the same thing every time."

Next was Gravitron, a large circular pod that does nothing more than spin at a frightening speed as centrifugal force pushes its victims against paneled walls.

Apparently, the fun is working against this force to change positions -- say, from vertical to horizontal.

"That was better than Zipper," said 14-year-old Brett Gorden of Baltimore. "I felt like the skin in my face was moving back," he said, affecting the facial expression of an astronaut in a wind tunnel.

"That's because it was," said Ed.

Having sampled the three worst rides at the fair, the riders swore they never experienced that feeling of dread -- of having made a terrible mistake -- that afflicts many people as a ride first lurches forward.

The next voice was Ed's.

"Anyone want to do the Zipper?"

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