Tilt-A-Whirls And Telecoms: The Other Side Of Thrill Rides
I try to learn from my mistakes. I haven’t always succeeded. I was 11 when my parents first allowed me to go to the county fair alone. The midway or carnival had been forbidden territory to me because of the naughty side shows, gambling opportunities and the thrill rides. My mother would not have approved. I could always go to confession on the way home.
Three dollars was the budget for my first solo trip to the fair. I had just collected from my paper route customers and was carrying 10 silver dollars, five in each pocket. After paying the 50-cent admission, I had $2.50 to blow. I planned to go on some thrill rides, sneak into a particular side show to see my first almost naked woman, eat a greasy pastry called an elephant ear and then go home. I headed straight for the thrill rides. It was not prudent to eat the elephant ear and then spin upside down for eight minutes.
The Tilt-A-Whirl was my ride of choice. There was a big steel bar with four riders strapped into the capsules on either end. When we were all strapped in, the carnie, a sweaty ectomorph with more tattoos than teeth, pulled a lever. An engine groaned and my capsule shot skyward. When we reached the top of the arc, the capsule inverted and my silver dollars flew all over inside the metal cage. Some fool had forgotten to secure his money. I couldn’t let go of the bar to check my pockets because we were flipping over and headed back toward the ground. On the second rotation, more silver dollars bounced around the cage. I hoped it wasn’t my paper route money. Most of it had to go to the Tribune the next week.
When the ride was over, I was really glad I had waited on the elephant ear. The carnie opened the cage and hustled us out. I felt my empty pockets and ran back to retrieve my dollars. The carnie lifted the seat in the cage and emptied the proceeds into the pocket of his greasy jeans. He already had the next riders seated and elbowed me back as I tried to look for my money.
I had spent 50 cents on the admission and 50 cents on the Tilt-A-Whirl. All I had left was a dime that had survived the thrill ride. That meant no elephant ear and no side show. (On the positive side, there was no need for confession.) I put the dime in the slot of a very futuristic looking new Coke machine that dropped a cup down a chute. I pulled the cup out and watched in horror as the Coke poured down a drain. It was hotter than hell that day.
I learned a valuable lesson that day. Don’t go on a thrill ride with all your money. I forgot that lesson in 1995. I had been investing in my pension plan for about 15 years. I was putting money in conservative mutual funds that grew slowly. I noticed that there were more exciting ways to manage retirement funds so I took some money out and bought good quality common stocks.
During the first year, my stocks far outpaced the mutual funds in growth. I also heard a talk show investment expert say that investing in mutual funds was about as exciting as kissing your sister. I pulled a large chunk of my money out of the boring old mutual fund and bought some British telecommunication stock. I did this on a hot tip I heard from an urologist in the physician’s lounge.
The telecom stock shot straight up like that Tilt-A-Whirl. I took the rest of the mutual fund money out and bought more high tech and telecom stocks. They were all climbing like homesick angels. My retirement plan portfolio was growing at a pace that would deliver me to the promised land by the age of 55.
Well, I’m 56 now and the promised land is quite a way off in the future. I had taken another thrill ride with my money. The result was the same as when I was 11. I lost the equivalent of a couple of years’ pay when the tech market went into the toilet in March of 2000. I’m using that mutual fund again which only lost about 4 percent during the worst of the “market correction.”
I still like thrill rides, girlie shows and elephant ears but I’m leaving my money in my less than exciting mutual fund.
Dr. McCord (pictured) is a Diplomate wtih the American Board of Podiatric Surgery. He practices at the Centralia Medical Center in Centralia, Wash.