By Steve Bowman
Editor, The Brentwood Spirit
bowmansj@sbcglobal.net

Every year at Maddenfest there’s a ride called the Vortex. It’s wheel-shaped with a seven-foot fence around the perimeter and riders stand with their backs against the fence, facing the center. There are no safety harnesses, just two handles to grip.

I love the sign for the Vortex ride at Maddenfest. Not just a twister but an angry twister with lightning and muscular arms. It makes you wonder how much worse twisters would be if they had arms. (Photo by Steve Bowman)

Once riders are in place the wheel begins to spin, faster and faster, until centrifugal force pins them against the fence. Then the spinning wheel slowly tilts to about a 45-degree angle.

As I was watching the Vortex last week, it reminded me of a decade ago when my sons attended Mark Twain Elementary. The school had a playground ride where kids could stand on a small platform that rotated around a pole. I was a PTO officer and at one of our meetings a concern was voiced that the ride was causing students to vomit. I don’t think we ended up doing anything about it, though from then on PTO president Jim Fitzgerald referred to the ride as the Spin’n’Hurl.

I’ve never seen anyone get sick on the Vortex but I like to watch riders’ reactions. Some stand with their eyes clenched shut, white-knuckling the handles. Some look scared. Everybody else smiles and laughs.

This year, however, I saw something that deeply disturbed me. I saw a rider, a girl who looked to be about 16, which probably means she was 11, standing on the whirling ride while . . . talking on her cellphone. She wasn’t talking as if to say, “Omigod, Miranda, you won’t believe what I’m doing right now!” She was having a quiet conversation and she even looked a little bored.

So that’s what it’s come to, America? We can’t even enjoy a carnival ride because we need to take this call, view this text message? We can’t bear the dark, scary void of going 15 minutes without reassurance that somebody out there needs to tell us something? Has the device that’s supposed to make boredom obsolete actually made it inevitable?

And scarier still, are iPhones getting larger because they’re feeding off of our fear?

But much like “The Walking Dead” has taught us, there are still pockets of hope out there. My cousin’s husband John, a bartender, doesn’t even own a cellphone.

“My boss told me I need to get one so he can contact me,” John said. “I told him, ‘Look, I’m either at work, at home or on the golf course. You can talk to me face-to-face at work or call me at home. If I’m on the golf course, no offense, but I don’t want to talk to you.’”

Vortex riders on Sept. 20 at Brentwood Park. No, the cell phone addict is not in this photo. (Photo by Steve Bowman)