The world’s largest indoor ropes course, “It,” is tucked away inside a Jordan’s Furniture in Long Wharf, New Haven. Its entrance is like a portal, looming large and black at the far end of the otherwise brightly-lit store. Inside, there are four levels of rope bridges, multiple ziplines and a water fountain right underneath them on the ground floor. The space is cavernous and imposing. The lights within gleam violet and green.
“It” is a result of the “shoppertainment” movement, an odd marriage between local attractions and the retail shopping experience. In the ’90s, Jordan’s owners pioneered shoppertainment by lining their stores with IMAX theaters. A few years later, they opened ropes courses in Massachusetts, and then Connecticut and Maine.
I will admit I am not fit for a ropes course. I fear heights, unsteady surfaces and all things of that nature. At Yale, I’ve learned not to trust my body. About a year ago, I broke my right foot falling down the stairs in Linsly-Chittenden Hall. A few months later, I broke my other foot on the laundry stairs. I remember the aftermath of the second breakage; sitting in my octet, surrounded by my suitemates, crying, cursing my luck, then laughing. One suitemate had pointed out the absurdity of the situation. We could not resist joking.
This year, I have four suitemates. Our schedules, so far, have been at odds with each other: seldom are all five of us in the same room. The Friday after classes started, we were all, however, equally gripped by the unlikely fusion of a furniture store and a ropes course. We made plans to visit Jordan’s that Saturday.
To experience “It” at Jordan’s fully, you must leave your indifference behind. The suite, especially at the beginning of the semester, is a place where you can choose to stay reserved, solitary and guarded. At Yale, it is disturbingly easy to feign stability and place walls around yourself. It is much harder at a ropes course, suspended 50 feet in the air. At “It,” the adrenaline, fear and excitement is palpable, and the contrast between my shaking, not-quite-healed feet and the agility of my suitemates is obvious. Nonetheless, we navigate the course at our own pace and work through our own individual challenges. We catch glimpses of each other through metal beams and shout whooping, unintelligible cheers.
“It” is a silly, liminal place. The speakers oscillate between country and ’60s pop. The rope bridges are impressive; a few feel near impossible to cross. One, in particular, is entirely devoid of platforms, composed only of a flimsy rope net. The water fountain is giant and mesmerizing. On a Saturday, the course is overrun with children. A small boy asks me about the tallest zipline — is it scary? It’s not, I assure him. The ziplines are slow; they give the impression that you are floating. His parents are here to furnish their new home, he tells me. I am suddenly confronted by the jarring domesticity of the furniture store, situated right beside the ropes course and its LED dystopian-night-club vibe. The shifting spotlights, constricting harness, Frankie Valli’s voice — it is a dreamlike experience.
Our hour on the course ends abruptly. My suitemates and I reconvene at the entrance and walk through the bedroom displays, which are specific and strange enough to pique our interest. Some are plane-themed. Some teem with highway sign decor. One bedroom is crowded with anthropomorphic animal imagery. At Jordan’s, we reimagine our living space. What if we got this for the common room? My suitemate exclaims, pointing to a Roman statuette. We talk about home. I just know you had a Paris-themed bedroom, someone teases.
We return to our suite in the evening. We play five rounds of Friend or Faux: A Game of Ridiculously Revealing Questions. “What is your greatest sexual fantasy?” a card probes. (A ropes course, then a ropes course, one of my suitemates laughs). We sit within the Davenport College basement, in our tiny common room, and divulge odd, arbitrary parts of ourselves — we recall moments of pain, embarrassment and tenderness. We sweat in the September heat. We eat, we talk and we go to bed.