Originally published in the Living section cover of the York Daily Record/Sunday News on Sunday, Sept. 18, 2011
By LAUREN BOYER
Daily Record/Sunday News
York, PA – The sign on the ferris wheel at the York Fair says it all:
“No single riders.”
Its black block letters stare down from the chain-link fence, sending a subtle message to lonely hearts arriving at America’s oldest fair without a hand to hold.
To hopeless romantics, it’s the ultimate fair dare: Find love — or something like it. It blossoms here.
And nobody accepts the challenge better than the teen couples, traipsing through the midway beneath the fluorescent moonlight, shamelessly playing tonsil hockey with their hands crisscrossed into each others’ jean pockets.
Some don’t look older than 12 or 13 as they form unions inexplicable to their adult counterparts who sometimes forget that they, too, were teenagers once.
They, too, relished the lack of parental supervision and sipped milkshakes with two straws as the sun set over the romantic rooftops of York city.
They, too, swayed to the music — albeit of a different era.
“Grab somebody sexy tell ‘em, ‘Hey! Give me everything tonight . . .'”
The lyrical poetry of Pitbull’s “Give me Everything” echoed from the giant swings ride Tuesday, casting a love spell onto the clusters of adolescents gathered below during the fair’s “Student Day” promotion.
“They’re out here trying to pick up tail,” observed Christian Garrett, dunking an ear of sweet corn in a vat of molten butter. But they don’t knock boots inside the spiked iron gates.
It happens after dark, he said, someplace quieter.
In his day, the 32-year-old Bricker’s employee knew a thing or two about playing the game.
Raised in West York, he remembers his first time making out with a girl in Greenmount Cemetery across Carlisle Avenue from the fair. He was 12.
In the years to follow, that magic moment — fumbling around in the tombstone-spotted grass — repeated itself with a roster of girls, all of whose names and faces he has since forgotten.
“There’s so many,” he blushed, tight-lipped about the ongoings of those nights long ago. “I don’t kiss and tell.”
Nearby, Roberto Rosado yearned for someone special — “a fine young thang,” he said, to take on the ferris wheel with a slushie.
“There’s girls all over the place,” he said. “Girls from every school are here.”
The odds looked good for the 16-year-old William Penn Senior High School sophomore as he rehearsed his pick-up line:
“How you doin’? What’s your name?”
Andy Akin and Austin Seaks, Dover Area High School sophomores, didn’t need lines to woo women among the stands for foot-long corndogs and fried dough.
“I could get some biddies, if that’s what you want,” Akin said.
“Just go up and ask a girl if she wants to ride the rides,” Seaks added. “It’s easy. That’s all you say.”
But beware — these one-week stands, passionate fair affairs, often fizzle after “a month, maybe two,” said Emily Martin, a York Suburban High School sophomore from the arm of Jesus Gonzalez, 16, her beau of one month and one week.
“It’s based off of looks,” she said. “You don’t really know them, but you hop into a relationship.”
For Nikki and Doug Weekly, that couldn’t be further from the truth. The West Manchester Township couple met at the York Fair in 1984 through a friend. They were in ninth grade at West York Area High School and began dating seriously two months later.
“Then we dated for the rest of our lives,” Nikki Weekly said. “I didn’t expect this to be a lifelong relationship, but it is. At 14, I didn’t really think of being married.”
After leaving the fair, with his would-be bride, Doug Weekly remembers detouring through Shelly Park on Highland Avenue — another popular place to sneak a smooch.
“We just hung out at the park a little,” he laughed. “I don’t think anything drastic went on.”
He marvels at kids today.
“They are more the show-of-affection kind. We were a little more reserved,” the West Manchester Township man said. “They kind of hang on each other. We weren’t like that. We were scared of the dads back then.”
Carol Blessing, a 1957 West York Area High School graduate, also remembers this age of innocence, which has, perhaps, picked-up and left like the carnies who travel from town to town.
“The girls came down,” she said. “The boys followed them around. That kind of stuff . . . We’d walk around holding hands, probably kissing in the parking lot.”
Fifty-one years ago, she married her husband, Leon, a 1954 Red Lion Area High School graduate. They haven’t missed a fair together.
“There’s a nice moon up there,” she said Tuesday, pointing to the sky and nudging closer to her soulmate, who sat silently on the wooden bench behind the Grandstand. “He still kisses me in the parking lot.”