You know those moments when the utterly mundane can become spectacular?
That's how I feel about carnivals.
Driving home the other night I navigated my car up the same hill, down the same street, when something flashed in the corner of my eye. Instead of the same boring, downtrodden, empty mall parking lot there sat a carnival. I fought the urge to immediately pullover and go inside, it was well after midnight, but I smiled the whole way home.
You see I love carnivals. I mean love them. Growing up every spring was marked by the dawn of the Baseball Carnival in the Reston, Virginia Sheraton Hotel parking lot. We'd see the flyers around town weeks in advance and I'd carefully x off the days on my She-Ra Princess of Power calendar until opening day. Where else could you run around, scream, laugh, feel your heart instantly drop to your stomach, and stuff yourself silly with cotton candy and corn dogs? Of course there were always amusement parks, but they were too permanent. Carnivals came and went. Carnivals set up shop for a few days, maybe a week, and then they'd move on to the next town. I always thought there was something beautiful about that.
I enjoyed all the rides at the carnival but my absolute favorite was the Tilt-A-Whirl. Unlike a roller coaster when you know where the twists and turns will be, the Tilt-A-Whirl keeps you guessing. One minute you're flying in circles clockwise, the next counter-clockwise. To try to describe the thrill of a good Tilt-A-Whirl is almost impossible. Tilt-A-Whirls are meant to be experienced.
And the best part about the Tilt-A-Whirl? My entire family would ride. My Dad, my little sister, me, even my Mom. My Mom never liked to go on any of the other rides but she'd always make an exception for the Tilt-A-Whirl. I used to love to watch her laugh, her fingers maniacally gripping the wheel as she turned our egg car this way and that. My father would gasp as we all slammed into his side of the car, then chuckle in relief as we slid the other way.
Sandwiched between my parents, spinning at warp speed, laughing together and watching as the lights of the carnival flew by in a haze of color - in those brief moments I understood the gift of family.