What’s Your Favorite Boardwalk Ride?

For a Tilt-a-Whirl girl like me, the secret of summer is a giant metal shell

Every summer, it seems, area amusement parks and piers strive to outdo one another in terms of new, more terrifying rides: roller coasters that plunge 150 feet straight down, giant rubber bands that fling you to Earth and then back up to the sky again, monstrosities with names like the Howler and Bizarro and the Screamin’ Swing that it says right up front are dangerous for those with heart conditions and pregnant women and that you wouldn’t get me near with a 100-foot pole. I don’t like heights or speed or careening, or kids running the rides who look younger than my son. I go through life afraid—of drunk drivers, random guys on shooting sprees, servers who don’t wash their hands after using the restroom. Why would I pay $50 to have more things to be scared of for a day?

My kids, for better or worse, don’t take after me in this. They take after their father, who enjoys paying good money to be strapped into restraints, hung upside down, and maneuvered in vomit-inducing ways. On our trips to the Boardwalk, I sit cowering on a bench, watching my entire nuclear family court death atop the giant Ferris wheel. A good time is not had by all.

There is one ride I’ll go on, though—that, in fact, I have to go on every summer, or summer isn’t summer: the Tilt-a-Whirl. Just the thought of picking my way across its angled, diamond-pocked deck toward just the right giant metal shell—the one I’ve scoped out to make sure it’s the fastest-spinning—makes my heart start to race. My husband Doug has no interest in a ride that doesn’t threaten mutilation and mayhem, but my son and daughter indulge me, rolling their eyes at one another as we climb aboard. [SIGNUP]

The Tilt-a-Whirl isn’t crafted from high-tech plastics and microfibers; it’s made of good old-fashioned metal. The only restraint is the metal bar that bites into our laps when we yank it tight. And when our car, creaking a bit, ratchets upward on its path, reaches its peak, and then descends, whipping in circles again and again in a wild frenzy, I abandon the charade I usually cling to so tightly—that if I’m careful enough, I can control our lives—and just laugh and laugh.

This summer, my kids won’t be coming to the Shore. For the first time, they’ll both be off to college by Labor Day weekend, when Doug and I make our annual trek with my extended family. I guess I’ll ride the Tilt-a-Whirl alone. I hope I can summon up my usual gleeful abandon now that I’m, well, abandoned. To get there, I’ll walk past the little-kid section of the pier, with the ding-a-ling boats and fire engines and mini helicopters, and remember how scared my kids were, once, to be strapped into them all alone, and hope that I, too, will be fine once the ride begins.