Monthly Archives: July 2010

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

The Comings and Goings of Carnies

The weekend of July 4, 2010, was one for the books. Ecstatic about being in Monona, next to Madison, many in our crew took full advantage of the celebratory air. While the older Carnies recalled the many good times had in the capitol city, some of the younger guys sought out experiences for themselves. I wrote previously how some of them spent their day off bar hopping in downtown Madison before running out of money at a strip club, forcing them to call the boss for a ride back to camp. The next night some of the Carnies went to… Continue Reading

Payday and Downtime Don’t Mix

Monona, WI – On Thursdays, our camp is like a ghost town. Not only is it usually our one day off each week, but it’s payday. After settling up any debts, albeit money or cigarettes, the spending begins. First it’s off to the laundry mat and then Wal-Mart, for groceries and provisions. Following the errands, it’s back to camp, where the dedicated drunks among us ride their bicycles to the liquor store. Steaks are grilled. Eventually, almost everyone heads to the bar, where they stay until it closes or the money runs dry. This week, payday was especially sweet. Everyone… Continue Reading