“I’m about to put a quarter in!” I called to a couple walking their daughter in a stroller at the zoo. “Does she want to rid?”
They parked their stroller and helped their little girl climb onto one of the miniature horses on the merry-go-round at the zoo. My boys were already seated on their chosen steeds.
We go to the zoo a lot. We know the zoo. We love the zoo.
“Mom! Can we ride? It’s working!” My four-year-old pointed with glee as we emerged from the gift shop to see the ride spinning. The carousel is kind of a big deal to us.
The ride itself is nothing to write home about. It reminds me of a ride that would have been outside Kmart when I was growing up in the 90s. You know the type: metal, miniature and pure bliss for a child under eight years old.
This one has been lovingly hand painted. Each of the four horses is adorned with a different pattern: zebra stripes, tiger stripes, giraffe spots, leopard spots.
The zoo carousel has become one of those quirky small town sagas I love to watch unfold. There’s real dramatic tension. Will the carousel be working? Will we walk up to find an out of order sign? Will we insert our quarter only to discover it won’t turn on?
This little ride is one of the most exciting gambles I take. (Please, no judgement on my very risk-adverse existence.) Zoo staff is regularly working to repair it, and I thank them for these efforts.
Seeing it spinning with our own eyes, it seemed as though we’d hit the jackpot. No risk — proof that it is working was right in front of us.
After stopping to see if the tiger cubs were out, we approached the carousel. I was going to put a quarter in — we might as well fill the seats. Being fearlessly friendly, I called out to the first two families I saw. Once all four kids were safely seated, I crossed to the small, green coin slot.
Once there I could see we were going to have a problem.
The previous quarter hadn’t dropped all the way down, it was left jammed in the slot. I laughed nervously as I looked back at the small, expectant crowd — my boys, two grandparents, a girl about five, another girl probably 18 months and two other parents. My quarter would push this one down, the machine would be fixed, it would all be fine. Right?
I had exactly one quarter. Carefully, I shoved it in, trying to dislodge the clog.
Nothing happened. Now my quarter was lodged. I gave the coin slot a gentle shake.
“Well — this is awkward. The coins are getting stuck in the machine. I’m so sorry. I don’t have another quarter. Maybe next time — ya just never know with this thing,” I said.
The grandfather reached into his pocket. “We just got a bunch of change for the petting zoo. Let’s see if we can get ‘er going.” He leaned over the slot, examining the problem and let out a “Hmupf.”
One quarter in. Nothing.
Another quarter in. Nothing.
“Well, maybe…” he said under his breath. Then he made a fist and gave the machine a single, firm thump. A beat of silence. A metallic whir. The carousel began to spin.
It was like a scene from a movie. But instead of a cool teenager thunking a vending machine for a free soda or a comedic dad pounding the top of the TV for better reception, it was a North Dakotan man in a sun hat and a 25¢ kid ride.
There are millions of reasons why I love life here in Hot Dish Territory. It’s often hard to explain — but this captures the essence. I love that this ride is such an exciting part of our life. I love that this is a community where I can unabashedly call out to others to join us on the merry-go-round. I love that something so simple can make our days so sweet, and that this place is full of people who are ready to step in and save the day with an extra quarter.
(I regularly share our zoo days and the other fun we’re up to on Instagram where several of you have reached out to get to know me. If you’d like to join me there, find me at @amy_allender.com.)