It stands looming on the midway of the North Dakota State Fair, looking mean and menacing to the easily intimidated carnival rider. It’s not as big or twisting and spinning as a few of the other big rides, but it’s still not one to be challenged or messed with. The ride is The Zipper, a staple of the midway with lines easily two miles long on any given day.
Once a seasoned rider and no stranger to the midway, I wanted to relive old times and take a spin on The Zipper this year. My friends and I used to frequent this ride as well as most of the others in our heyday of fair-going, but The Zipper was the favorite. It’s similar to the Ferris wheel, only the cars, which resemble cages, also spin as the big, oval wheel spins around, flipping the riders multiple times, more or less depending on which car you get. If you’re a serious rider and want a car that spins the most, you’d watch the ride and figure out which car it is and then try to fix your place in line in order to get that specific car.
The last time I went on The Zipper was 10 years ago and it was still fun after a solid 10 years of Zipper-riding, but also scary. However, there also comes a time in life when you have to grow up and move off the midway and the thrilling, scary rides to the shuttle bus for a leisurely tour of the fairgrounds. I felt like 23 years old was a good time to say goodbye to my carnival riding career, and it was until the thrill-seeking bug bit me and I wanted to take a spin on an old favorite ride. I wanted to ride The Zipper again and that was my goal for the 2013 North Dakota State Fair.
Almost the whole week cruised by without any hope of riding on The Zipper. My co-worker, Flint McColgan, and I had made tentative plans to go on The Zipper on an afternoon while we were both working, but our schedules hadn’t coincided. Finally, though, on Thursday, we made it work and set up a time frame and my goal of riding The Zipper was going to happen.
While waiting for McColgan to show up, I decided to eat a corndog. Unfortunately, the corndog wasn’t made seemingly anytime today, but I was hungry and took a bite. And that’s the only bite I managed to take because, when attempting to push the corndog up so as not to get a bite of stick with the breaded hotdog goodness, I accidentally pushed the whole corndog off the stick and it fell to the ground with a sick thud. Goodbye corndog. I did not buy another one, either, because by then McColgan arrived and it was time to make our way over to The Zipper.
Standing in line for that ominous ride, I grew more and more scared by the minute. Hearing blood-curdling screams from the riders and remembering how scary it was from times before didn’t help, either. I wanted to go on this ride, though, and I wanted a good story so I tried not to think about anything other than how much fun the experience would be and that helped a little.
McColgan and I made friends with one of the carnival workers for The Zipper and he promised to get us on the best car, the blue one with the number six painted on its side. Come to find out after the ride that McColgan asked the worker to set it up so that we would be in the car that spun the most and told him not to tell me. That car spun around about 10 times, too, while I was unknowingly clinging to the padded bars with a Vulcan death grip, at times convinced that we were going to die.
The Zipper’s wheel spins around in one direction and then pauses in the middle before spinning in the opposite direction. Not even halfway into the ride, though, I stopped thinking we were going to die and realized that I was having fun and not just ordinary fun, but thrilling fun that I was sorry to see end. By the time our car made its return to the ground and the carnival worker pulled open the cage door, I was full of smiles and thinking about taking a second ride, and probably would have had I not had a deadline to meet. This ride on The Zipper was the best $5 I’ve probably ever spent.
Riding The Zipper 10 years later was still a scary experience. It’s a scary ride, no doubt, especially when the car is stuck upside-down and it looks like it’s going to meet the ground at record speed and you’re about to meet your demise, or when the car endlessly spins and you don’t know where you are in relation to the ground. But it’s a fun type of scary and one I will definitely try to repeat more often. Wherever I am, if there’s a carnival and The Zipper is there, I will take one more spin.