Riverview Ramble

When I was a teenager in the 1960s, an invitation to the Riverview Ramble was most coveted.  This was some sort of charity fundraiser, and a ticket allowed you unlimited access to all of the attractions at the Riverview Amusement Park, located along the Chicago River.  A group of hardy parents would load the kids in the back and way back seats of the car, and take a picnic down to Riverview.  The first thing that you saw as you entered was the enormous billboard cut out of Aladdin looming over his castle, which was some sort of fun house with misshapen mirrors and hidden passageways.  By today’s standards, Aladdin would be considered offensively politically incorrect.  He was drawn to look suspiciously middle eastern, with a jaundiced skin tone, long black hair and a big single gold earring.  And then the piece de resistance were his almond shaped and heavily lidded eyes, which mechanically moved back and forth to create a shiftless and menacing impression.

My recollection was that the parents would set up a central meeting place at picnic table caked with decades of greasy grime.  A gingham plastic tablecloth was snapped into place and the parents settled into an evening of drinking and smoking.  We had to sit there fidgeting until we had eaten some forgettable dinner and were given permission to  take off.  I distinctly remember one mother who wore brilliantly bright red lipstick at all times.  The lipstick was everywhere, on her teeth, the butt of her cigarette, the end of her sandwich and most unpleasantly smeared on the glistening white of a half eaten hard boiled egg.  I think my aversion to lipstick dates to that time. 

Once freed, we raced off to stand in line for such rides as the Bobs, the Flying Turns, the Wild Mouse, the Rotor, the Pair-O-Chutes and some sort of splash ride.  I avoided the splash ride because it looked like you would be splashing down in to a pool of rancid and dank water, filled with the debris of a summer’s worth of garbage.  The Bobs and Flying Turns were rollercoasters that my mother referred to as puke machines.  You got into a little train of cars that would inch up the first big hill, and your anxiety intensified as you heard the chains ratcheting you up higher and higher.  And then with a whoosh you went careening down in a tumble of confused gravity.  In contrast the Wild Mouse was a neck snapper, which produced its thrills with rapid-fire sharp turns that would fling you around your car and give you one of those hot things in your neck.

 In looking back on it, I cannot imagine that parents ever let their kids run wild at Riverview.  The Ramble was definitely in the days before amusement parks embraced wholesome family values, staffed by dozens of fresh scrubbed and cheerful teenagers looking for their break into show business.  Riverview was a classic and relentlessly seedy carnival, staffed by a cadre of heavily tattooed, gap toothed, stringy haired, malodorous, pants shiny with grease, cracked lips, cigarettes dangling, fingers yellowed with nicotine, leering and dissolute down-on-their luck parolees.  I also bet that amongst the throngs of kids at Riverview there lurked an ecstatic population of pedophiles and other perverts, who couldn’t believe their good luck.  I am surprised that nobody was groped, accosted or snatched.  The Tunnel of Love (which I was never asked to go on) could possibly have been the most dangerous place on earth, followed by Aladdin’s castle, which featured poorly lit mazes with dead ends.  And if that wasn’t scary enough, there was the safety issue.  Was there any sort of safety inspection policy for the rollercoasters, all made from turn-of-the-century wooden planks?   As you walked by the contraptions, you could feel them shudder and hear little squeaks and winces.   

Aside from the rides, there were also sorts of carnival games like Skee ball, throwing balls at milk bottles, one of those hammer things where you could show off your strength by trying to ring the bell.  You would see sailors carrying around big stuffed animals that they had won trying to impress their dates.  I remember spending almost $5, my bonus allowance for being on the school honor roll, trying to win a red and white teddy bear.   Somehow, I couldn’t seem to get the last milk bottle to tip over, and I finally asked the carny if I could just buy the damned thing, and then immediately had buyer’s remorse. 

And then in the true spirit of a classic carnival, there was the freak show, which featured a group of unfortunate souls with weird skin diseases, like elastic man, or leopard lady.  This was in an adult only tent, but one year I was able to slip in through a crack in the flap.  There was some sort of announcer who would describe the “freak” in hushed tones, “Lady Leona was raised by leopards in Africa, and is now here at Riverview!!”  A curtain would then open to reveal the poor woman with horribly mottled skin, who would awkwardly stand in some sort of ecru bathing suit while everyone gaped. 

 I was standing in the corner next to the side stage, where a magician was doing an act.  This must have been a really bad magician if the only gig he could get was performing as an afterthought at a freak show.  He was wearing some sort of tattered tuxedo and had a top hat.  He said, “As a finale, I will need a volunteer from the audience.”  When nobody was forthcoming, he turned to me and said, “I would like this young lady to be my assistant,” and suddenly there I was sharing the stage with Lady Leona at the Riverview freak show.  “Now I would like you to close your eyes, and concentrate very hard on what you really, really want, and I will pull it out of my hat,” said the magician.  Being the obedient girl that I was and an absolute sap, I closed my eyes so tightly and thought to myself, “I really want a Brownie camera, I really want a Brownie camera, oh please a Brownie camera.”   

“Yes, I am getting your signals, now open your eyes and see what I have for you in my hat,” said the magician.  I think that I still harbored some foolish hope that I would end up with a Brownie camera.  The magician reached into his hat and with a dramatic flourish removed a pair of red lace crotchless underwear, waved them in front of the audience and then handed them to me.

The missing words in the following poem are all anagrams (like post, stop, spot) and the number of dashes indicates the number of letters.  One missing word will rhyme with either the preceding or following line.  Your job is to solve the missing words using the context of the poem.  Scroll down for answers. 

As you ascend up the hill, your face turns ashen and —–,

Your knuckles turn white as you grip the hand rails,

 Around you, you hear muttered —– of “Please don’t let me die.”

And you begin to wonder, who talked me into this and why oh why.

Your heart —– into your throat in that moment of stillness at the top of the hill,

You know there is no turning back, so you might as well enjoy the thrill

As you tip over the edge, you feel like puking as your stomach churns

But you hear shrieks and —– of laughter as you make breakneck turns,

You stagger off the coaster, nauseous, trembling and weak with fear,

But with good luck and an amnesiac memory —–, you’ll be back next year. 







Answers:  pales, pleas, leaps, peals, lapse

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