I’ve always wanted to talk to a carnie, this was such a fun experience and I even got to meet the big boss! I learned where the key to the midway is and I can’t stop smiling, tonight was one of the best nights ever!
MIDDLEAGEDYO: SO TELL THE TRUTH, IS THERE MAD LOVING GOING ON BEHIND THE SCENES ON THE CARNIVAL CIRCUIT?
(Collective burst of laughter, lot’s of blushing going, on and looking at one another…)
RODNEY: (Speaking up first) “Yeah, there’s some loving going on, my girl is at home right now, having my baby in June. I met her here she was working with us, but nobody even knew we were dating for a while we kept it secret. It’s not too common but it happens.
MIDDLEAGEDYO: WHAT MADE HER THE ONE? I MEAN, WHAT MADE HER STAND OUT AGAINST THE REST?
RODNEY: She was mature and different from the rest.
(I notice “Joey” is smiling but staying oddly quiet-more about him later…)
MIDDLEAGEDYO: HOW DO YOU FEEL ABOUT PEOPLE CALLING YOU A CARNIE? I DON’T WANT TO DISRESPECT YOU. HOW DO YOU FEEL ABOUT THAT WORD? IT MAKES ME A LITTLE UNCOMFORTABLE TO REFER TO YOU THAT WAY?
(All at once I hear the following)
SHAY: Carnie Power! We’re proud of what we do!
SKY: Yeah, Carnie Power man! We grew up in this circuit, Gordon (the boss) is my uncle, my great, great, grandparents were game owners. This is a family tradition for me and Shay. It’s really cool because we are also best friends. This is a family; we are a family of awesome carnies.
RODNEY: Anybody can call me a “Carnie” I love my job, it doesn’t bother me one bit.
LARRY: Yeah, I don’t like the word too much because people associate it with bad things and in reality we are all here doing a job, enjoying our work, and making good money.
MIDDLEAGEDYO: WHAT IS GOOD MONEY?
LARRY: We all pretty much make $1000.00 a week. Not bad considering we only work 8 months out of the year. Game managers pay is a little different from the game callers, those guys make a little less but they call the people into the games and make a commission. Ride guys make the most and get salary but those guys keep it all safe.
MIDDLEAGEDYO: WHAT ARE THE BIGGEST MISCONCEPTIONS ABOUT CARNIES THAT YOU WANT PEOPLE TO KNOW ARE NOT TRUE?
RODNEY: (Pointing to his mouth and laughing) That I have all of my teeth!
SHAY: That we aren’t dirty people and we have honor. We are normal people with normal problems we aren’t high. We picked up a homeless kid recently and brought him aboard with us. He runs the water race now, he is thriving and so happy, we feel good about that and let’s say he ever got into to drugs or something, we would get him in rehab right away. We wouldn’t let that happen and we care, we wouldn’t throw him off our carnival we are a family, we would all try to get him help, we wouldn’t abandon him again. Drugs and stuff like that are not welcome in our carnival at all. We have church and a pastor that travels with us, most of us get up earlier on Sunday to have church.
SKY: Yeah, honor all the way. We are actually nice people with teeth. We are some of the most open, accepting, kind people, I’ve ever met.
JOEY: That we are all drug addicts and felons, we really aren’t. They even test us on a regular basis. We are family, we look out for each other, and I have some great times hanging out and BBQ’ing nobody goes hungry out here, one eats, we all eat.
LARRY: That’s true we have some good times just hanging out and living. I want people to know that they judge us big time and we feel it. We are good people, we are a family, and these are some of the best people I’ve ever met. We watch out for each other. Some people rip me up about being a carnie but that ain’t right.
MIDDLEAGEDYO: IS THAT WHY YOU ARE PROUD TO SAY, “CARNIE POWER?”
SHAY and SKY: Yes!
MIDDLEAGEDYO: WOULD YOU REPEAT THIS EXPERIENCE AND JOIN THE CIRCUIT AGAIN IF YOU HAD IT TO DO OVER?
RODNEY: In a heartbeat!
LARRY: (echoes) In a heartbeat!
DANIEL: You bet, I met my wife here and see that cute little girl down there learning to ride a bike? She’s mine. (He smiles)
MIDDLEAGEDYO: WHAT HAS BEING A CARNIE TAUGHT YOU?
RODNEY: Oh, I’ve learned to be open-minded to people. I also learned I hate the public. (Collective laughter) I’m just kidding, but some days I do, when I get rude people.
LARRY: To stay open to possibilities and to never judge a carnie. Cause honestly I used to judge them, I thought they were all tweekers and boozers and now I know that isn’t the truth, these people are my family.
SKY: It’s taught me to be myself and not care what people think of me. I’m much more self confident.
SHAY: It’s taught me how to find good loving. (laughs) I’m just kidding; It’s taught me to enjoy the little things in life. Some of the families we see are so poor, they muster up the money to come, and you just see these proud parents cherishing the moment. It makes me think you never know what will happen to your family, it makes you want to enjoy and savor the moment.
JOEY: Not to take things too seriously, to not stay angry about anything, to let things go because all people have bad days. I just do my best to make them smile.
DANIEL: I learned that family is everything I can do anything, go anywhere with my family. I come from a big family they are important to me.
MIDDLEAGEDYO: IS YOUR FAMILY WELCOME ON THE CIRCUIT?
(Speaking all at once)
JOEY, RODNEY, SHAY, SKY, DANIEL, LARRY: Oh yeah, yes, definitely, by all means.
MIDDLEAGEDYO: WHAT DO YOU THINK MAKES A GOOD CARNIE?
RODNEY: You have to be able to roll with the punches, be flexible, and easy go lucky.
JOEY: Roll with the punches, hard skin.
LARRY: You need to know how to “Hurry up and wait.” (They all laugh, inside joke.)
SHAY: Hardworking, reliable, friendly, getting up on time, protect your family from a newbie that thinks they can get into your stuff. You have to realize this is a family and we look out for each other.
SKY: I would say humor. If you can’t laugh you won’t make it. You have to have kindness and compassion for special needs kids because those are our favorite customers. And you have to be patient with parents and help them because they are the customer.
MIDDLEAGEDYO: SPECIAL NEEDS KIDS ARE YOU FAVORITE CUSTOMERS?
RODNEY: Absolutely, that is the best part of my day! If you are a little different or disabled we are always going to make sure that you win a little something! We love the smile we get to put on a kids face. You know some kids are special needs and can’t throw the ball too well or they may be shy and need some confidence we let them hustle us. Every kid with a disability or handicap wins, we love that.
JOEY: Yeah, we like to make them smile.
SKY: Yep, we look after those kids; we want them to have a good time here.
SHAY: Yeah and when the kids and the parents are polite we’ll do our best to throw in an extra ride when we can.
MIDDLEAGEDYO: ARE SOME PARENTS AND KIDS REALLY BRATTY?
SKY: Yeah, some of the higher income places we go seem to have the rudest parents, it’s weird. I wish those parents would teach their kids that it’s not o.k. to be rude to people. Tell your kids to behave, if they do that, we are going to be nicer to those kids too, we appreciate kindness we’ll let that kid catch a ride again without tickets. We’ll do our best to make it a fun experience.
SHAY: Yeah, tell your kids not to run. There are big mats all over the place covering our electrical wires and even we trip. If your kid is running around, they are going to trip and trip us, not to mention its dangerous, especially on the midway. My ride, the zipper is pretty intimidating on its own, but if a parent won’t control their kids or the kids are rude to me, I will kick you off, we reserve the right to refuse service.
(A newbie gets scolded by four co-workers for sitting down while eating. They say, “Hey, you can’t sit down if you’re eating!” Then I see the “big boss, Gordon” roll up to find out what I am doing talking to his workers. I was a little afraid, he looked like he could really kick some ass, but he was so kind and caring? I tell him that I really respect the history of carnivals, that I enjoy them and have always wanted to take the time to talk to the traveling helpers! He actually thanked me and told me I was more than welcome to talk to them and that he appreciated my kind words. I was already having a blast but talking to Gordon made my experience even better!)
MIDDLEAGEDYO: SO TELL ME THE TRUTH, DO YOU GUYS HAVE FUN HAZING THE NEWBIES BECAUSE I THINK I WOULD BE TOO TEMPTED TO NOT PRANK A NEWBIE!
RODNEY: (Laughing) Yeah, we do have some fun. We always tell them to find the midway key. We’ll send them to the hardware store for parts that don’t exist.
SHAY: (Also laughing) I’ve told them to find the blinking light fluid and light bulb grease. (Sky starts cracking up and I do too.)
SHAY: But then I found out that light bulb grease really exist because of our electrician, Jerry. I was like, man, Jerry you ruined it. I also like to say, find the pen stretcher or bring us a can of “ay, eye, are.” (aka AIR!)
MIDDLEAGEDYO: (I lost it, busting up laughing! Ay, eye, are…that was funny.)
SHAY and SKY: Because we like you, we will tell you where the midway key is. It’s always been the space between the Ferris wheel and the carousel since the very first carnivals.
(I’m honored, I like them too, and I never knew there was a midway key!?)
MIDDLEAGEDYO: SO HOW SAFE ARE THE FERRIS WHEELS REALLY?
RODNEY: They are really safe we have so many inspections. And they are set up by real engineers that go to classes every year to stay updated and that is all regulated by yearly inspections. They are also inspected at set-up weekly and again monthly. We have to remain certified.
MIDDLEAGEDYO: SO SHAY AND SKY, I ALREADY ASKED THE GUYS BUT I FORGOT TO ASK YOU, IS THERE LOVIN’ GOING ON AROUND HERE OR WHAT?
(Sky and Shay laugh so hard looking at each other, I wait.)
SKY: You need to ask her about Joey you met Joey earlier.
SHAY: Yeah, that’s my man. My aunt and uncle have a carnival and he was working there at the mirror joint and I was in gold-fish, and sparks just flew.
MIDDLEAGEDYO: LIKE, LIGHTBULB SPARKS? DID YOU USE SOME BLINKING LIGHT FLUID TO GET THOSE SPARKS FLYING?
(We all burst out laughing……)
SKY: (still laughing) She doesn’t even need help, she flirts with everybody.
SHAY: I do not. I am just friendly, I love to meet people. I was running games, you have to have charisma Sky! Well, flirting charisma.
SKY: O.k. she can call it charisma, but basically I see her as a major flirt.
SHAY: (laughing) O.K. You can say that.
MIDDLEAGEDYO: DO YOU THINK THAT CARNIES ARE ARTISTIC IN A WAY? I NOTICED THAT EVERYBODY HAS EXPRESSIVE HAIR, TATTOOS, BRACELETS, PERSONALITIES, ETC.
(Shay is busy loading some girls into the zipper. A ride starts blasting rap music leading Sky and I to start discussing Eminems new song about his mother, (we like it) and Rick Ross’s new album (we like that too) lol)
SKY: I think you are right because we all pitch creative ideas, are creative and in our own way, totally random, but in a really good way. I never thought of us as artistic before? I like to draw though. Once I was having the worst day a lady yelled at me, said some ugly stuff, called me a bitch you know the usual. Her kid was too short to get on the ride and I mean, come on, I can’t do that the height chart is there for a reason, I want your kid to be safe you know? Anyway, it just ruined my whole day and then all of a sudden everybody just hugged me and cow licked my face it was like, what the heck? But it worked, it was totally random and gross but made me feel so much better and I started laughing. These people are the best.
MIDDLEAGEDYO: WHAT IS THE WORST PART ABOUT BEING A CARNIE?
RODNEY: The constant grind. It’s a rough eight months sometimes.
JOEY: When people aren’t fun. You’ve got to have fun all the time. We are here to make people have a good time, why shouldn’t we? I want to work with fun people.
SHAY: The last night Sunday. Because after everybody goes home and we close we have to immediately start breaking down. Sometimes we are up 24 hours. We have to let the drivers sleep and we take turns to make sure we do it all right, but still it’s really tiring. We have to be ready to go the next day. Then three days on the road and were back at it.
SKY: Yeah, we take turns partner up for breaking down and sleep time but that is the hard thing. But we love the traveling and seeing new cities all of the time.
MIDDLEAGEDYO: WHAT ARE YOUR FAVORITE QUOTES?
RODNEY: Here goes one!
JOEY: We got a winner! Kid’s faces always light up when I say that one!
LARRY: I think I’m being hustled! That always makes the kids smile and what happens on the midway stays on the midway!(everyone chuckles)
GORDON: (THE BOSS): My employees are the best outdoor amusement operating specialist engineers around. (He laughs out loud and waves good-bye to us)
SKY: Do what you love and love what you do. Life’s a game, play it!
SHAY: Unless somebody like you cares a whole awful lot, nothing’s going to get better it’s not.”-From Lorax
People are like slinkys, really good for nothing, but still bring a smile to your face when you push them down the stairs.
MIDDLEAGEDYO to SKY: “Wait, What!? Joey is with Shay? That little snake he just sat there quietly and didn’t mention a thing when I asked about the love bug? Where is he? Let’s go find him!
(We run and find Joey,)
JOEY: (laughing) “I never said I didn’t find love, I just didn’t say anything.”
RODNEY, SHAY, SKY, LARRY, and I start teasing him about finding love at work.
LARRY: You have to watch this Sasquatch, he has a wild side.
JOEY: Yeah, I do, and I am hairy. I’m a little wild, I even have a tattoo. (lifts arm to show us) See how hairy I am? That’s why they call me, Sasquatch. (laughter)
(I take pictures.)
I say my goodbyes and walk away feeling really great about all of the nice people I just met. They made me feel so welcomed and I am glad I got the chance to meet them all! I can’t wait to see them again next year!