Hop on the Zipper amusement park ride at the Florida State Fair

The classic Zipper awaits unsuspecting souls looking for a little fun at the fair. EDMUND D. FOUNTAIN   |   Times
The classic Zipper awaits unsuspecting souls looking for a little fun at the fair.EDMUND D. FOUNTAIN | Times
Published February 7 2013

As a teen at the venerable North Florida Fair in Tallahassee some 35 years ago, I remember how each ride on the midway served a purpose.

The Himalaya made for fun as the DJ blared Steve Miller's Jungle Love and repeatedly asked the kids, "Do you want to go faster?"

The double Ferris wheel made for puppy-love romance as a guy and girl held hands and looked out at tree-lined horizon and moonlit skies.

But the Zipper?

The Zipper!

Ladies and gentlemen, the Zipper made boys into men.

All these years later, I still stare at it in awe, even if midway owners don't place it in the "spectacular" class.

You will see it amid higher rides and brighter displays on the Florida State Fair midway for the next 10 days. You will think it doesn't look all that scary. You will be wrong.

This is part of the aura.

It lures the unsuspecting. People who have flown higher or gone faster on some newer, fancier contraption initially scoff at the Zipper.

But real midway veterans know. They know the Zipper takes the simple spin to an exponentially higher formula. They know it scrambles the brain like a chef whipping up a fluffy three-egg omelet.

They know it makes boys scream like girls and girls scream like Harry from One Direction just kissed them on the forehead. No, on the lips.

They know the two riders stuffed into the small, curvy compartment lose all sense of direction.

The caged car can spin clockwise or counterclockwise. A cable rotates each car and the boom each car is connected to also rotates.

The result? Up is down, right is left, east is west and you walk away just happy to be back on earth.

Assuming you can walk.

I swear they keep hay bales near the Zipper so people will have something to break their fall as they stumble through the post-ride dizziness.

According to the Amusement Ride Extravaganza website, the first Zipper, made in 1968, featured such a high rate of speed they slowed it down to reduce insurance premiums and whiplash claims.

The site describes it as, "untamed, mechanical chaos."

"The Zipper is kind of a cult ride," Wade Shows owner Frank Zaitshik told Times staff writer Shelley Rossetter.

"Some places, if I go and I don't have the Zipper, people tell me this isn't a real fair."

Most of all, the Zipper is a midway marvel that you won't find at Disney World or Universal Studios. It's not a "themed attraction" patterned after a movie with flying broomsticks or superhero costumes.

It's just a ride designed to induce fear, spur bewilderment and generate sick, twisted joy.

What else could you want?

Admittedly, it has been a few years since I braved the Zipper. Mostly, I just tell stories about riding it back in the day like old soldiers tell stories about combat.

The thrill now comes from watching today's teens jump aboard with reckless abandon and no concern about rearranging vertebrae. And watching them stumble off — some laughing, some crying.

Maybe they move on to another ride. Maybe the guy goes broke trying to win his girl a doll, and the girl wins on her first toss. Maybe they cap off the night with a corn dog or a funnel cake.

Or maybe they take another spin on the Zipper, because with mortgages and deadlines and credit reports in their future, they begin to realize it doesn't get much better.

The midway makes memories.

That's all I'm saying.