Comments & Curiosities: News stirring my carousel phobia

Daily Pilot

When it's time to go, it's time to go. That applies to people, light bulbs and carousels, and for the carousel at Fashion Island, last January was time to go.

The merry-go-round had served well, kids and non-kids loved it, it went round and round, which is a good thing, but Fashion Island was getting fluffed and folded in an Italian village makeover and a whirling, twirling carousel was not the best fit. The carousel was dismantled, packed up in lots and lots of bubble wrap and shipped back to its maker, Barrango Manufacturing.

That might have been the end of the story, but carousels can be stubborn things and sometimes they can't be stopped, so to speak. Just this week, a decision in the not-distant city of Irvine means the former Fashion Island carousel will soon become the Great Park carousel.

The city will pony up $213,525 for the carousel from Great Park development funds, plus another couple of hundred grand to buff it up, swap out the Venice scenes that were on the Fashion Island version for Great Park scenes, although I'm not sure what that means, and install it. When it's all done, the little spinner will become part of the "Kids Rock" play area.

Did the Fashion Island carousel have a long history — built long ago and far away by Old World craftsman and first used in some European capital? Not exactly. Barrango Manufacturing built the carousel for Fashion Island in 2003, which is not long ago, and the company is in San Francisco, which is not far away.

But it is true that carousels have been around for a long time — since medieval times at least — and people do love them. Except for me, which I probably shouldn't tell you, but it's too late now. To be honest, they kind of creep me out.

The way some kids react to clowns — that's how I felt about carousels. The charging horses, the figures with frozen smiles, the organ music and the booming bass drum, very high creep factor. Is that just me? I don't think so.

See if any of these ring a bell: in "The Lost Boys," vampires love to hang out on the roof of the carousel on the Santa Cruz Boardwalk. Organ music is bad enough, but throw in vampires on the roof and I am gone, in the car, doors locked, down the road.

How about "Something Wicked This Way Comes"? Which part of the traveling carnival was creepier — the dwarf clowns, or the carousel that made people older or younger depending on which way it was turning? Or wait, did "Hannibal" scare you at all, with Clarice desperately looking for Hannibal Lecter in an amusement park while he calmly rides the carousel and watches her every move? Eeesh.

I think part of the problem was my first exposure to merry-go-rounds on the Right Coast. A good part of my misspent youth was misspent in Coney Island, Palisades Park and most of all, Playland in Rye, which was an easy bus ride from the Bronx.

Speaking of films, the cheesy fortune-telling machine that turns Tom Hank's life upside down in "Big" was on the boardwalk at Playland. Coney Island had the carousel with the highest creep factor on record — the B&B Carousel, which dated from the 1920s, and to make matters worse, was indoors, inside a boardwalk arcade. I think I got talked into riding it twice, which was two times too many.

Palisades Park had a couple of carousels, maybe three, which I avoided at all costs. But because I spent so much time at Playland, my friends dragged me onto the carousels there whenever they could because they wanted to see what color I would turn this time — usually it was gray, or white, and once in a while, sort of a bluish green.

There were two carousels at Playland. One was creepy and the other was creepier. The first was a humongous thing called the Grand Carousel that was built in 1915 and had a boatload of animals, chariots and three exceptionally weird mechanical figures at the center of it – a woman waving a conductor's baton and a man on each side of her ringing a chime — all with frozen smiles of course.

The other ride was a diabolical contraption called the Derby Racer that had race horses bolted to the floor, with no poles, and each horse on its own track.

In each set of horses, one of them will "win" by the end of the ride. The problem is, when the thing is fully cranked up, you're moving at about three times the speed of a normal carousel, with the horses on the outside track, meaning the fastest, going about 25 mph. In a great stroke of understatement, the ride operator tells you at the start that when the thing really gets going, "Try to lean in."

You totally understand what that means when you get up to speed and you think you're going to be spat off this thing like a pea shot from a centrifuge, at which point the "try to lean in" tip makes a lot of sense. Both those rides are still there, by the way.

So, yes, it's true, the Fashion Island carousel is no more and the Great Park carousel is soon to be. If you're bummed about that, I understand completely. But as far as I'm concerned, the Great Park is a little too close. Greenland would be better.

"Clarice? Is that you?"

Eeesh. I gotta go.

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