My First Days as a Carnie

Waukesha, WI – Being a Carnie is pretty much what you’d expect it to be: lots of drinking, stories and hard work. My stint began Sunday, in Rosholt, on the final day of the carnival there. Tear down began a 5 p.m. For the next six hours, roughly 20 people broke down just as many rides, loaded them on or fastened them to the trucks. After, almost everyone got drunk, listened to music, cooked food and showered until eventually falling to sleep.

The next morning we tore down camp and hit the road for a four-hour drive to Waukesha, where we’ll begin setting up the rides here tomorrow. Like today, yesterday was the rare off day. After getting the bunkers to our home for the week, half the crew returned to Rosholt to retrieve the rides. Many of us, having not showered after tear down, waited for the generator to arrive so we’d have hot water. But word came it would be late afternoon before that happened. So some of the guys got their $20 daily draw against their week’s pay and, after buying smokes, we hit the bar.

Absolutely no alcohol is allowed at the site we’re at this week, which creates a set of problems all of its own, namely that after smokes, the daily draw doesn’t pay for many beers at the bar.

Over all, everyone here has been great, despite what people say about Carnies. The ones who last, the old bulls, take a lot of pride in their work. These ones have seen hundreds come and go. In fact, they’ve seen just about everything.


My new neighborhood.

My bunk (top), housed in “the ghetto” trailer, called such because of its battered exterior, broken drawers and windows propped open with utensils, is cozy enough. In transit, some of the windows are duct-taped shut. Those who’ve put in some time get bunks in the plush trailer (above left), which is air conditioned. Some even have refrigerators.

I thought I left Madison with too much stuff, but it turns out I didn’t bring enough. It’s everyman for himself. Except for Thursdays when one of the bosses takes us to Wal-Mart and the laundry mat, we’re responsible for our own food, beverages, everything. This, in many ways, creates a little family, with everyone having to look out for each other since each Carnie by himself doesn’t have much. Seeing that I had no food, Carl, an older hand, kicked me down a bunch of canned fruits, pasta and sauce and Ramen noodles. Another gave me a blanket, because for some stupid reason I didn’t think to bring my sleeping bag or a pillow.

Others have schooled me on the Carnie Code, so to speak, i.e. if you pick a fight at a bar, you’re on your own. But if someone picks a fight with you, they’ll have your back.

That said, I’m looking forward to the next five weeks.


  1. Krystal Sanchez says:

    I can’t wait to see how the weekend goes….this is such a great story. Make sure you keep me updated:) Ps. love the pics.

  2. Mary Robbins says:

    Wow Nate! I saw Brian the other night and he told me you hooked up with the circus! Keep writing, I’m loving the reading. Call me when you get back so we can get that beer.

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