The 4th of July Carnival Incident

I love the 4th of July. Our tradition is to go up to the cabin, watch fireworks on the lake on the 3rd, hang out on the pontoon, hit up the sand bar, and go into town for AMAZING fireworks in Hayward.

Though sometimes they resemble this more than actual fireworks.

However, this was not always our holiday tradition. For years and years we spent every Independence Day with all of our neighborhood friends at our town’s parade, where we broke important childhood rules like staying out of the street and never accepting candy from strangers. Our activities between the parade in the morning until fireworks at dusk typically included a cookout with the neighbors, but also varied from year to year to include anything from kickball tournaments to Mario Party 64 marathons, but some of my favorite memories come from the run-down dollar carnivals that seemed to pop up out of nowhere in time for the 4th.

The scent of stale funnel cakes hung in the air.

Unfortunately, one of these carnivals led to what I believe to be a tragically underrated 4th of July legend in our family.

I’m not sure exactly how old I was when this happened, probably around nine or ten years old. It was right after the parade and in a frenzied 11am sugar high, Alex and I begged our parents to take us to the carnival with our neighbors. My mom has never been the type to wander around decrepit theme parks, so my dad and another neighborhood dad got saddled with the task of chaperoning the kids.

This particular carnival was especially exciting because in addition to carnival staples like the sizzler, the zipper, and the burlap sack slide, there was a go-kart track surrounded by a magical tire and hay bale wall that drew kids in wide-eyed wonder like a magnet. It was nothing fancy and probably violated all kinds of safety regulations, but on that day it was the embodiment of the American Dream.

Most of the neighbors my family hung out with when I was younger all had boys that were about my brother’s age, so the group of kids at the carnival were four or five twelve or thirteen year old boys, and one little sister. I’m sure Alex was less-than-thrilled with me tagging along, but I was too short or too young to even hope to get onto that track, so I dragged my dad onto the Tilt-a-Whirl while the boys made their way to the archaic go-karts rusting in the corner of the track.

After several rounds with the Tilt-a-Whirl my dad suggested we go watch the boys race, so we made our way back to the track — just in time to see Alex approach a turn, and continue dead ahead to ram the wall. Hay bales went flying and the now crumpled cart sputtered to a stop. Dad jumped the wall and ran over to Alex to help him out of the cart and make sure he was alright, which he thankfully was. They were soon joined on the track by the owner, who was extremely apologetic and helpful.

Wait, that wasn't it at all.

The owner (who would have been sued up, down, and sideways had this incident happened today to a less reasonable family) stomped up to my brother and actually got in the face of a middle school crash victim to accuse him of breaking one of his precious cars. Even at nine, I found several flaws with this.

  1. You allowed several preteen boys to operate vehicles without any sort of aptitude test.
  2. You don’t have any sort of release of liability.
  3. Your go-karts were personally built by Henry Ford.
  4. Your track is set up on a Little League baseball diamond.
My dad said something along the lines of #5, along with a number of other words that my young ears were trained to filter out.

Ah, youth.

When we asked him, Alex said that the steering column stuck when he tried to turn, and the brakes went out as he was hurtling towards the wall. This might sound like a bit of a stretch, but the cart actually looked slightly more decent with the front bashed in. On the other hand, maybe he was just a 13 year old boy given the freedom to be behind the wheel for the first time ever, and gunned it out of pure adrenaline.
Regardless, Mom wasn’t very happy with any of us when we got home and told her what happened. I’m still unsure what I did to incur her displeasure, but I tend to just go with it.
We did actually find out a couple weeks later that he had broken some metatarsal (foot) bones in the crash, but it never seemed to bother him much, and the whole ordeal seemed to slip out of memory. I will say that it has had one lasting impression: we have not been to a 4th of July carnival since that day.

I don't feel like we've missed out on much.

Happy 4th, folks.


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