Stories From the Heart: Junk Food, Bumper Cars, and My Special Son

Sometimes, a father and son, while simply smiling, laughing, and enjoying life together, discover a common bond, and create a touching and precious moment.

August in San Mateo means many things; warm days, cold nights, outdoor concerts, weekend camping trips, and of course, the San Mateo County Fair.  Living down the street from the fairgrounds, it had been a tradition in our family to attend the festivities every year.  Even when Shamus was a not-so-tiny newborn, I attended the fair by myself, sporting a cell phone on my waist to always be in touch with Shamus and his proud Mommy.  This year was no exception, so we hopped in the minivan and made the one-mile journey to the San Mateo County Fairgrounds.

After arriving at the fair, we followed tradition and made a beeline for the food court, letting our noses lead the way.  The food court is a lively gathering place, with brightly colored trailers sporting exotic banners advertising all kinds of delicious fare, with treats ranging from Greek gyros, Mexican tacos, barbecued pork ribs, pizza, cheeseburgers, Thai chicken, and everything imaginable deep-fried, from chicken, fish, hot dogs, bananas, zucchini, and even Twinkies and Oreo cookies.  The aroma of all this food lingered in the still August air, inviting us to indulge in the pleasures of filling our stomachs with the tempting and downright fattening delicacies.

Nowhere else is there such a variety of scrumptious treats all in one place but the County Fair, and at no other time would anyone dare to savour such sinful delights as deep-fried Twinkies or Oreo cookies.  Yes, the fair brings out the child in all of us, and takes us back to a time before calorie-counting, cholesterol-checking, and low-fat diets – and returns us all to our lackadaisical, carefree childhood.  Too bad it only comes once a year.

After stuffing our faces with notoriously greasy County Fair delicacies, we took Shamus to a children’s play area.  Here, the little guy could ride toy cars and climb inside a real working ambulance or helicopter, as well as play tiny-tot basketball or swing a hula-hoop.  He could even gaze at a moon rock from an Apollo mission.  Of course, all our special Autistic boy wanted to do was ride a toy car, in aimless circles around the small room.  Soon, April decides to go home, leaving Daddy and Shamus together at the fair – just in time to visit the roaring and electrifying fun zone.

Ah, the fun zone.  Like the food court, the fun zone is also filled with sights, sounds, and smells that bring back childhood memories, and this fun zone is no exception.  Sounds of screaming children and adults, barkers inviting carnival-goers to try games-of-chance, the smell of hot dogs, cotton candy, and popcorn, and the sight of brilliantly colored attractions that spin and twirl riders, turning them sideways, upside-down or simply dropping them from great heights are all a part of this carnival experience.  Of course, there is also the traditional Ferris wheel, House of Mirrors, and bumper cars.  Yes, this fun zone is an important part of the County Fair, and to experience it is to relive an integral part of American culture.

Fortunately for me, the father of a very special Autistic boy, this carnival had lots of rides for the little ones.  First, I emptied my wallet of several greenbacks for an all-day wristband so little Shamus could compulsively ride the attractions over-and-over without me having to constantly return to the ticket booth, with Shamus tugging one hand while I juggle my wallet in the other, hoping to keep the little guy from rambunctiously scampering all over the fun zone.  Then, one-by-one, I put Shamus on the rides.

Most of the children’s attractions revolved in endless circles, and included bright pink elephants, buzzing bumblebees with a kaleidoscope of colors, and roaring fighter jets of sparkling blue.  There was also a tiny train, child-sized Hummers, a miniature green dragon roller coaster, and carousal with vibrantly colored horses galloping up-and-down, as if marching to the beat of the lively calliope-like music.  All of these attractions were brilliantly colored and played pleasant, uplifting melodies.  As Shamus enjoyed the attractions, which I chose for him, he was always happy.  Not ecstatic, mind you, but happy just the same.  After all, he is a very happy-go-lucky child, and nothing seems to upset him too much.

Finally, I decide to let Shamus try the bumper cars.  Even as a young adult of twenty-something, I would sometimes go to the local carnival by myself and ride various attractions, and my favourite was always the bumper cars.  There’s something special about driving in endless circles, colliding with complete strangers, and not worrying about insurance companies or body shops.  To me, the bumper cars were always special, so it only felt fitting to let my special son share this experience with me.

After buying ride tickets and waiting in a long, snaking line, we finally climbed into our bumper car.  Almost immediately, I felt like a child again, and could hardly contain my delight as I waited for the ride operator to flip the magic switch that would bring the bumper cars to life.  Before long, we were moving, backwards, forward, and sideways, around-and-around, constantly hitting the side railing and other bumper cars.

As I was driving the special cars, I noticed something.  Every time we collided – every single time – Shamus giggled and laughed and a huge smile appeared on his face.  He, like his Dad, loved bumper cars.  He laughed out loud for the first time all day.  I was elated.  It put a smile on my own face, knowing that my son, my special Autistic son, loved bumper cars just as much as his father.

The experience, although probably only a few minutes long, seemed to last forever, and, to be honest, I was hoping it would.  But alas, all moments in life, no matter how special, must eventually come to an end.  When the time came to disembark the tiny cars that Shamus and I loved so much, Shamus was very cooperative.  He grabbed my hand, climbed out, and followed me to the exit.

Soon, we were again strolling throughout the carnival grounds.  While Shamus and I were aimlessly meandering around the fun zone, I felt something.  It was the child-sized hand of a little boy, my special little boy, gently tugging my T-shirt.  Then, with his small petite voice, he said something, which, unintelligible to most, was crystal clear to me: “I want more”.

“You want more what?” I asked him, knowing full well the answer in my heart.  He replied “I want more bumper car”.  My heart melted as the huge smile reappeared on my face.  “You want more bumper cars?” I asked.  “Yes”, he said, in a way that only my special Shamus can.  “Okay”, I said, as I dabbed my eye with a handkerchief to dry the tiny tear that was starting to form.  “We’ll have more bumper cars”, I said as we headed to the ticket booth to purchase more ride tickets for Daddy.

We rode the bumper cars three times that day.  Every time our car collided, Shamus continued to laugh and smile and giggle, like any five-year-old child should.  And, after every ride, Shamus always said “I want more”.  I admit I actually felt guilty not letting him ride a fourth time.  But, like happens so often in life, my wallet ran empty.  It was just as well, though.  We both had a wonderful day eating junk food and enjoying the carnival, and Shamus and I shared a most unforgettable father-son experience:  butting bumper cars at the County Fair.

By Patrick Paulitz

* Stories From the Heart is an ongoing series of user contributed heart warming stories, that shine light on the Autism and special needs experience.

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