The Giant Claw

The Giant Claw

Bill Cavanaugh, Contributing Writer

The summer of ’74 before entering the 9th grade, Misty, Melody, Frank and I were walking into the Funland entrance. It was a hot, sunny, summer day even as the gates opened at 10 a.m. Misty was looking especially good today. Her wavy, shoulder-length hair blowing in the breeze just melts me in my place. It wasn’t enough however, to curb my anxiety.

“There it is!” said Frank. “It’s even bigger than I remember!”

The girl’s played it off cool in that “damsel in distress” flirtatious mode. Melody said, “I dunno. I’m not sure it’s safe after all the stories I’ve heard.”

Misty echoed, “Me, too. It’s pretty old and made of wood. Very rickety looking.”

“Nahhhh,” said Frank. “It’s all good. Forget them stories of that kid from Chester High School not seeing the low ceiling of wood that lobbed off his head. If it wasn’t safe, it wouldn’t be runnin’.”

This and other similar stories were elevating my anxiety level beyond measure. My one and only experience with a roller coaster was a family visit to a fall festival carnival. A compact, portable metal coaster called the Demon Mouse, was one of the rides. I was in the first grade, and at my mom’s insistence and my dismay, she and I rode the single unbelted car through the maze of dips and turns. At the end of the ride, I was in full on tears, hyperventilating, screaming, and wanting to disown my mother, my family, and live in the woods. Better to be a “jungle-boy” than endure further torture from these people.

This has “marked” me for many years. I have recurrent nightmares of the experience. Sometimes in my dreams, the ride descends into deep holes of fire and heat, to which I wake to my own screaming, sweats, heart-racing, and gasping for breath.

“Maybe we should do some other rides first, you know, to warm up,” I suggest. No one responded.

Misty then looks at me with an enticing hair flip, smile, and playful hit of my arm, saying, “You better hold me nice and tight on that thing.”

What Demon Mouse? I was thinking.

From a distance, there it was: The Giant Claw. It was roaring loud as it sped along its deadly circuit. The sound was deafening, louder than anything I’ve ever heard. Did I just see a rider’s head get lobbed off and fall to the ground? My life was about to flash in front of me.
“Let’s get in line fast before the real crowds start to pour in,” said Frank.

As Misty and I dropped into the seat together, the lap bar was locked down and the belt pulled tight. Our bare legs touched under the bar, which momentarily distracted me. Misty snuggled up tight to me as I placed my left arm up and around her shoulder. While doing all this, my mind kept repeating, “I can do this. It ain’t nothing. Don’t look scared.” My heart is now racing, and I feel sweat on my forehead, and my mouth has gone dry. I think Misty hears my rapid hyper breathing.

“Are you ok?” she asked.

With a quick short nod of my head, the coaster train jerks forward as it pulls away from the station. Screams of excitement from nearby riders are heard, in addition to my internal scream of fear. I had a quick thought that my life to this point, had been pretty good. And if this was the end, well at least I sitting nice and close to Misty Matthews.