I was appalled the first time I attempted to ride the Tilt-a-Whirl at a local county fair and was turned away by the ticket taker, who told me, as he pointed to a sign that read, "No Single Riders."
My face fell. Not only did I have to go alone if I wanted to go at all, but, even so, I couldn't ride all the rides I wanted?
Of course, some rides are meant for solo riders - the swings, the super slide, the bumper cars - and others, though built for group enjoyment - the Scrambler, the Flying Bobs - are actually better when you ride them alone, so centrifugal force doesn't send you slamming into your friend (or vice versa).
But to be turned away altogether?
Sometimes the ferris wheel operator will let me on by myself, though I don't think they're supposed to. Other times, the attendant at the Grand Wheel might force a young couple to share their engagement carriage with me, I smiling at them and giving them a little wave as I take a selfie up in the air.
At Santa Monica Pier last week, I bought a $5 ticket to ride the Pacific Park solar-powered ferris wheel by myself. I'd been there a week before with a friend, but he hadn't wanted to ride it with me, so rather than pushing the issue and begging, I merely returned the next week to ride it alone.
"We don't allow single riders," the ticket seller advised, "So they'll either pair you up with another group, or an employee will ride with you."
A short wait later, the ticket taker echoed the "No Single Riders" sentiment, pointing to a fellow employee and saying, "She'll ride with you."
A panic-stricken girl in a Pacific Park polo shirt looked at me as I waved. "She's afraid of heights," the ticket taker said.
Up in the air, we had a nice chat about working at the park, the summer season, sunsets at Santa Monica, and the illicit activities that security has to bust up, from drug use to public sex.
"Now that I'm up here," she said, "I realize that you can see everything! What do they think they're getting away with?"
And yet, I wondered, what were the amusement park officials afraid that a single rider would do? Terrorize the other riders? Overdose on drugs? Jump?
Upon our safe return to the steady pier, I thanked my companion profusely, truly grateful that at least I was able to ride the thing, rather than be turned away.
This week, when I also returned to Long Beach by myself to ride the ferris wheel at The Pike - which I'd also spotted with the same friend, who most surely didn't want to ride that one, either - the sting of being refused wasn't altogether surprising, but somehow more disappointing.
There was no one in line, and two people were just coming off the wheel. I approached the operator. "Do you allow single riders?" I asked, anticipating my ultimate dismissal.
"No, no single riders," she said. "Sorry..."
"Oh, that's OK," I said, walking away, feeling sorry for myself, missing my friend who'd been here for a week, reminding myself that even while he was here, he didn't want to ride the wheel.
I don't know who is ever going to want to go all the way down to Long Beach to ride that thing with me. And so I know I will probably never get to ride it.
How many more times in my life will I need to say, "I'm going to have to find somebody to do that with me"?
How many more experiences will I miss out on, because I don't want to embark on them alone, or because I can't find a suitable companion?
I dread the dystopic day that restaurants and bars exhibit that same prejudice against solo drinkers and diners, refusing to seat a Table for One diner at a Table for Two table. I imagine neon sign letters sizzling as they spell out COUPLES ONLY zzt zzt zzt. Every plate is meant for sharing, and no boxes are offered for taking leftovers home. Tickets are only sold in pairs, and every residential rental and hotel room rate penalizes for single occupancy. Insurance and cell phone service are only offered as group plans. Credit cards and banks require joint accounts. All bikes and kayaks are tandem, and pedestrians receive citations for walking alone.
Every freeway lane is a fast lane, designated for high occupancy vehicles, while individual drivers inch along their own single designated lane, where rush hour never ends, and speeds never surpass 10 mph.
Ambulances retrieve the injured in groups as part of a newly-instituted rideshare program.
I am buried in a mass grave, with only my initials carved amongst all the others on a single marker.
A Tale of Two Tickets
LA County Fair 2012
Kern County Fair 2012