2002 Summer Guide: Heaving Can Wait 

Amusement parks have their virtues. But beware of the spin cycle, and attempts at reclaiming your childhood.

Among all human physical activities, vomiting holds a curious place. Like using the bathroom or engaging in sex, it’s best done behind a closed door. If only we had a choice. Vomiting is all about being kept unawares. It locks arms with embarrassment just as death locks arms with fear. But it still grabs hold once in a while, reminding us just how lucky we are when feeling normal, balanced and in control.


“That makes me want to vomit!” It’s not as common a refrain as it used to be. That’s because we don’t really vomit when we see politicians on the television or reflect on all the world’s violence and injustices. If only we did. Then perhaps politicians, dictators and Middle East warlords would quit it. And for all you unfortunate people who vomit on a regular basis due to a true illness or chemotherapy, my heart goes out to you. This is not a column intended to make fun of your plight. It’s about the end of youth, and the sobering effects of adulthood.


Lagoon is a hoot. Amusement parks generally are. They’re silly, inconsequential places. In short, very American. But there comes a time when a person gives up childish things to embark on a graver path. For a man in his mid-30s like myself, it seemed like nothing to exhibit a bit of devil-may-care attitude and ask a friend of mine to join me for a trip to Lagoon last summer. She accepted. So did a friend of hers. With due introductions, we piled into my pickup. Then we made our way to a vegetarian restaurant where I plowed into a blueberry smoothie and a large spinach salad.


The drive to Farmington was grand, especially with a bit of early Stones on the stereo. Entering the gates of Lagoon was more like a backdoor to adolescent memories of childhood. The scent of cotton candy and popcorn, the sticky intensity of the sun, and those moments you deliberately jostle the line to get close to the girl of your current crush. It was all there. Too bad the rides jostled my stomach.


There is a terrible, graphic physiology to vomiting. The first stage is nausea. Jarring motions stimulate the vestibular apparatus of the inner ear. Signals then travel to the eighth cranial nerve of the midbrain, an area called the “chemoreceptor trigger zone.”


I wasn’t there yet. “The Cliffhanger,” a ride that twirls in mid-motion over spraying water, made me wet for things to come. “The Mousetrap” was an exercise in small suspense. It was a blast. Only the repetitive circular motion of “Turn of the Century” started the downward spiral. The vestibular apparatus was definitely on speaking terms with my “chemoreceptor trigger zone.” In fact, they were yelling at each other. Retching, wherein the stomach’s antrum contracts while the fundus and cardia relax, was on its way.


It’s not as if the good folks who run Lagoon don’t warn people. Heck, they even post signs near each ride warning expectant mothers and people with back problems to reconsider. My body was having second thoughts. Me, listen? I wanted a good time. I wanted that steady flow of childhood memories Lagoon enchanted me with since I’d entered the gate.


So it was onto another ride with circular motion, and another. I could feel my glottis closing, while my larynx reached upward toward the upper esophageal sphincter. (And you thought we only had sphincters at one end of the pipe!) My friends challenged me to “The Rocket.” I knew I was ill, but when they gently derided me as an old man, my passions rose. “The Rocket” called. I could not say no.


Of all the rides at Lagoon, this was the most imposing. A tall, almost temple-like structure, it strove toward the sky like some sort of military weapon. There must be something in the Fourth Geneva Convention that prohibited rides like this from being built. In one hit of the switch it bolted skyward, a cargo of screaming, harnessed thrill-seekers in tow. It sounded like they were at the mercy of an axe murderer. But there was no denying the fact that they were having fun. What was wrong with me?


Even as I strapped in, my stomach was heaving in obvious attempts to elevate intragastric pressure. I believed, and still believe, in the power of the mind. I can control this. But the bolt that shot us all upward was also the point of no return. The crowd below was damned lucky I didn’t let loose with a shower of spew right then and there. I covered my face in agony.


Thankfully, my bile and my intragrastric pressure minded its manners. Released from my seat on “The Rocket,” I gingerly walked toward the exit rail. There my pylorus closed, the esophagus opened, and a torrent of nauseous agony gushed from my mouth in a river of pain, embarrassment and, I must admit, a sick sort of relief. There it was, still-born on the ground in all its vivid blue-and-green glory: $9.75 worth of blueberries and spinach. A New York City performance artist might think it was a work of art.


“Now that’s what I call a ringing endorsement!” said a man behind me, already strapped into his seat on “The Rocket.”


A sense of humor at this juncture was, of course, vital. My friends were eminently understanding, but shocked also. Vomit is something we expect from drunkards and the ill, not foolhardy people in their 30s. “Ha, ha! Yes! A ringing endorsement!” I laughed.


Taking my own dare, I glared at my own retching for a moment. Then I glared toward another ride across the way, “The Samurai.” This infernal device turned people every which way. Continuing on was futile. Even thoughts of childhood made me sick. Fun had beckoned, the stomach turned, and adulthood was now terminal.

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