A week later and I'm still posting pictures of Iowa. I've been so busy unpacking and getting our lives in order that posting has taken a back seat. Sometimes you have to make the hard decisions - posting on a blog... or grocery shopping for your family.
These photos were taken at Adventureland, an amusement park that my sister and I grew up going to. Many years ago, I wrote an essay about this place, so here it is:
THE BUMPER CARS
I’ve always been amazed by the calculated way life is so random. It’s like bumper cars with four billion people in a rink, running into one another, getting angry, falling in love; traveling in little blue, yellow and red cars with that electric buzz above us, all the while aware we are run by a grander force—the thirteen year old freckle faced boy pulling the lever, drinking a slurpee, thinking about breasts.
My sister loved the bumper cars at Adventureland in Des Moines, Iowa, because Disneyland was 2,000 miles away. Every year we anticipated that one hot summer day where we were each given a crisp twenty dollar bill for admission and a funnel cake, to bask in the black pavement of Midwestern amusement; that smell of tar and diesel, the sound of pressurized air, the scream of brakes on the roller coaster jarring to a sudden stop after loops and twirls and neck-wrenching splendor.
For one day out of the year we got along. It was a place where siblings actually liked each other and nothing could spoil the 364 day wait for downhill exhilaration. But it was the bumper cars my sister adored. She had the control to steer and veer, to choose her victim from all the rest, the poor soul or sister, friend or foe that for $1.25 could cry out in whip-lashed surprise. I hated the bumper cars. That zap above, indigo sparks, like an electrical fly zapper, snatching moths and beetles on my grandparents’ farm in the middle of the night; the small gnats barely audible, but every few minutes that deafening jolt of power through gigantic flapping wings. I hated the bumper cars.
The roller coaster with its clean departure, climbing the metal rung like latches on a belt buckle, to the top for a dramatic pause…overlooking acres of green corn fields, so green its almost blue, like the ocean we’d never known—and then before there is time for a single breath or ‘I wish I’d never done this,’ swoosh into the sea, laughing and crying, loving each turn more than the last-- and finally into the overhang, where we gasp and show off with exasperated faces for the poor fools waiting their turn. That was what I lived for, the roller coaster, that, and to lick the powdered sugar from my funnel cake.
My sister was magical because she was two years older and could make a tootsie pop last seven hours, with slow patient licks, savoring grape sugar for the better part of a day. And so it was that she would save the best for the last, the bumper cars for the night.
With strong parental concern, we were warned to stay together, forced to endure annoying sibling habits, like two very different peas in a pod. I was made to stand in line and watch the violent thrashings, the burnt rubber, the ferocity of children and grown adults smashing into each other in clownish cars, with seatbelts where one-size is supposed to fit all.
And when it was time to pick our cars, thirty screaming kids ran like rats to a donut. We would claim our own. We would ride alone. Climbing in, frantically attaching belt to buckle, the thirteen-year old freckle-faced boy pulled the lever and the electric jolt, the zap of power beneath our fingertips began.
My car roared as I distinguished break from accelerator. I peeled out into a circle and whipped around, searching not for a victim but a way out of my circular nightmare. Holding close to the sides, I drove around and around, avoiding accident after accident, the frightening, vengeful faces of strangers who were suddenly out to get me.
Finding a safe spot in a major traffic jam, I peered out to find my uteran partner in crime...and there she was, with a look so full of despair, like the world had let her down. My sister, my poor sister whom I’d hated for the better part of my eight years, was sitting in the middle of the rink, completely still. And then it hit me, not a car, but a thought, a realization that haunts me to this day. She got the DUD. The bumper car that for some reason failed to move or bump or swerve, and me in the Rolls Royce, speeding along, hating every second. How could this be? The park was closing. It was too late to wait in line—no second chances, no refund, no best for last. In the search for ultimate control, to steer and power her life for 1.5 minutes, she was denied. My sister got the Dud. And I realized that I loved her more than anyone.