Tag Archives: Carnies

My Last Days with the Carnival

Bangor, WI, wasn’t only the last spot I worked before jumping off the carnival, it also has the distinction of being one of the creepiest cities I’ve ever visited. Technically, it’s a village, with an alleged 1,400 residents, all of whom seem never to leave their homes. Day and night its streets were virtually unpeopled. There was no bustle. No commotion. No cacophony of sound suggesting the presence of sentient beings. Its three-block business district lay largely vacant, with the exception of an antique shop, four taverns and a bowling alley. On occasion you’d spy a pedestrian. One lady I… Continue Reading

Meet the Carnies

Thank you to everyone who has followed my adventures this summer. The Carnie Chronicles have generated substantial interest. It was a pleasure and honor to work alongside these great and fascinating people, all of whom I consider friends. I’ve been gone only two days and already I miss them dearly. I hope they find these words I’ve written about them a faithful and accurate snapshot of their summer 2010. Who’d have thunk that I’d love being a carnie? Life is a carnival, indeed. « Previous Next » /* 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12Continue Reading

Rumors, Time and Drunken Dramas

Time with the carnival doesn’t pass like time in regular life, but more like it does in rehab or other institutional settings. Everything is accelerated, the good times, the dramas, the chill moments and other shenanigans. Missing an hour can feel like missing an entire day. A simple walk to the store can be fraught with possibility. In the course of 24 hours you can fall in love and have your heartbroken. Alliances, friendships, romances are ever-shifting as time itself ebbs and flows to an irregular rhythm. Though our days are governed by a routine – packing up the bunks… Continue Reading

It Was One Helluva Weekend

What makes a spot bad or good? Proximity to things – bars, stores, laundry mats. County fairs tend to be self-contained, with the local 4-H chapters selling burgers and ice cream, as well as food vendors other than those provided by the family I work for. Some spots, like in Wales, are so far out that the nearest gas station is close to a mile away with nothing but the rides and bunks on-site. The best spots are in the hearts of cities and towns, like Spooner in far northern Wisconsin, which last week celebrated 100 years of existence. The… Continue Reading

Sex Seekers, Sex Bans and Near Death Experiences

Carnies bridge jumping in Spooner, WI. Yesterday we decamped Black River Falls, tearing down our bunkhouses in the rain. Having come off a five-day spot, and without a full day off since July 3, everyone’s in a fairly foul mood. Making matters worse is Sam, our suspected pill-popper who now openly crushes and snorts her opiates. The girl has a black cloud over her, which she brought with her today when she rode with us for the three-hour haul to Spooner. After Sam decided to hop in our truck to hang with Black Nate, Jeremy jumped ship to ride with… Continue Reading

The Festering Tensions of Carnival Life

Last weekend in Waunakee, Flo, the Romanian orphan, was placed with me on the Fun Slide. He worked the top of the slide, helping the kids onto the gunnysacks and ensuring the long line kept moving. I worked the bottom, taking tickets and dealing with parents. I’ve written previously of how Flo talks incessantly, often about nothing, so before the carnival opened I stressed to him that under no circumstances was he allowed to leave the top of the slide. Throughout the day, whenever he needed something, he’d begin miming messages to me, making ridiculous gestures until I finally motioned… Continue Reading

Grappling with Rain, Wristbands and Racism

There’s something spooky about a deserted carnival midway just before a storm hits, the canopies whipping in the wind, their colors all the more salient against the darkened sky, and the Carnies huddled beneath the awnings of the game carts waiting for the rain. We hadn’t even begun selling wristbands Thursday when the tornado sirens began wailing in the distance and in the far off sky we noticed the inky black storm clouds rolling our way. An accurate forecast was elusive. Even though everyone was listening to the same emergency broadcast, we all heard different things. It’s going to pass… Continue Reading

Indignities, Indolence and Injuries: All in a Day’s Work

My first night with the carnival was mid-June. It was a Sunday, which meant tear down. I hadn’t given much thought about the work a Carnie did, aside from running the ride, so I was shocked to learn that every Sunday, after the carnival closes, the Carnies take apart and load up the rides. That night, for the first time, I helped tear down the Merry-Go-Round, and hated every minute of it. I was again on the Merry-Go-Round two days later, this time helping set it up. It was so hot inside the truck, and coming as it did at… Continue Reading

Sex Offenders, Jailbait and Consolidating the Nates

I like that there are Carnie Children. Traveling with us is Peaches, a bright 15-year-old who runs the balloon game with her grandmother, Claire. On weekends, Jasmine, 8, comes with her mother, Danielle. Sometimes, there’s a little boy named Nathan, whose father occasionally works another game. Jeff, who is in school to become a cop, brings his 17-year-old son, Jeff, with him on weekends he works. When asked whether it’s a good idea to bring children around the Carnies, Jeff replies, “It’s like an intervention before it gets to that point.” Jeff also says that if he becomes a cop,… Continue Reading

Safety, Heat, Names and Fat Kids

Since joining the carnival in mid-June, I’ve been consistently surprised by just how safe the rides are. Unsurprisingly, most accidents are caused by rider mishaps or a failure to follow directions, like the kid in Waukasha who ignored the rule about going down the Fun Slide head first. Going over the last hump, he caught a little air, then smashed his face upon landing. Lots of tears were shed over that one. If only he had listened. Unlike fixed amusement parks like Six Flags, carnival rides, at least those owned by the Wenzlows, are inspected twice weekly – once during… Continue Reading
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