Friday, July 16, 2010

Tales From the Road

A continuation of the feature introduced last month, in which I opened up the proverbial journal vault of things I wrote while traveling with an authentic 10-in-1 sideshow on the carnival circuit. To briefly recap, I found the opportunity via Sideshow World, packed my bags and drove out to Bedford, PA. There I met a couple who owned a menagerie, i.e. farm animals, and had spent fifteen years exhibiting them all across the country. Some names have been changed out of respect for privacy.

July 22, 2005 - Hard working Carnies

It was massively humid late in the morning. So hot that everyone was sweating just doing light chores. The only mild inconvenience experienced thus far is having to walk down to the bathroom, but a little exercise is never bad. Took claim on the sleeping quarters—which is essentially a box of sorts built over the cab of an International tractor [used for hauling the bunkhouse around]—and proceeded to move in the luggage. Items that would be needed or used on a daily basis unpacked, and the rest staying put. A trip was made into town for food and few other things such as water, ice and a cooler, as well as a folding chair scored from the dollar store.

The crew right now consists of myself, the Manager [who is an old school Carny that used to travel back in the day], this guy who will be doing magic and mentalist tricks, and this guy that has worked for the Boss for a year. [Noted here that my ex at the time was also present, omitted from the text for personal reasons.]

We were put to work, bringing the components for the stage into the tent—which we would be sharing with the menagerie—and setting it up. Having animals to play with is a good way to eat up time. The goats are great, even if their eyes are a bit creepy, and the horses are pretty sweet—one of them is quite affectionate.

It has not all been fun and games though, but I knew there would be plenty of work. After all, you do not perform without spilling some sweat. Assembled the aforementioned stage, working in the late afternoon so as not the expend energy under the hot sun. Next we were taught how to put up the banner line. Driving those stakes into the ground does not happen by magic, just in case people are unaware of the fact it takes man power. Believe me, watching the men swing that sledge with grimaces on their faces tells you how hard that is. Would have taken my turn, but the general feeling said it was something to be done by the men. How useless did I feel? No matter, the job was done and then the painted signs had to be hung, so I made up for my lack of participation on the stake-driving by carrying as many signs as possible.

Since there was not much else for me to do, I was told that I could take a shower—the first since arriving. Once all squeaky clean, headed into town for dinner, relieved to be done for the day. The remainder of the evening was spent cutting up jackpots, learning the lingo and what it really means to travel with a carnival. Eventually, around two in the a.m., climbed into bed—which was slightly more comfortable than the first—and promptly passed out.

July 23, 2005 - Receiving the proverbial torch

The morning I woke up to was a beautiful one, as the humidity that had us panting yesterday has been replaced by a very pleasant breeze, which made spending time outside much better.

Now seems like a good time to introduce the crew a bit more. Brock hails from Chicago and does a mentalist act, bending forks out of shape with the power of his mind. He can also forecast one’s past, present or future with Tarot cards and does blindfold work. Our Manager and Boss are very friendly and keep us laughing while making sure all work gets done. Reg is the resident handyman and scapegoat, often on the receiving end of many jokes. In fact, we all bust each others balls, but it is all in good fun. This guy came along while we were setting up the banner line and was welcomed into the crew as an all-purpose worker. The Boss calls him Elvis due to the black hair and heavy Southern accent. It’s one strange Family alright.

Hit town for lunch then sat and played cards since there was not much else to do. Our banners had not arrived yet, and everything else has already been taken care of. Talk of a BBQ had us eager for some good food, and I decided to make an alcohol run. The local liquor store had the green label Jack Daniels, which is not seen in Jersey, and so insisted upon purchasing it. Now the same size bottle retails for about $24 in the Dirty, but I paid $18—damn good if you ask me. A bottle of Smirnoff vodka was only ten bucks. In any event, pleased with the acquisition, a stop was made for the appropriate mixer and a bag of ice.

It was getting late by the time I returned to the spot, and despite the fun we had exchanging stories and jokes, the crew was desiring BBQ. Had to play chauffeur to Boss Jr.’s girlfriend Garnet in order for the food to appear, but I did not mind. Needless to say, the hungry Carnies were happy for our return, and the meat started cooking. Everything was set up in the tent buffet style, with everyone grabbing a paper plate and plastic utensils to help themselves. For a variety of reasons, the Bosses and their ladies do not eat pork or beef, so the sausage and burgers were turkey. The sausage was great, but I did not care much for the burger. Thankfully Jack and Coke along with a screwdriver aided in washing that down, as did the watermelon and cantaloupe.

With stomach full and definitely slightly buzzed, it was time to get in bed. However, had a surprise visit from Reg, smoking a bowl and chatting about the crew. [Must say here that I am relieved someone smokes pot around here.] It is difficult to have a detailed opinion of people that you just met, though certain personality traits often surface quickly, particularly when one speaks highly of themselves. If I am going to trust anyone, it most certainly would be the Carnies who have been doing this long enough to make those snap judgments. Such as the Deadheads that seem like trouble.

The couple had come up to say hello, and the girl wound up being invited on as the Bally Bitch. Her duty will entail standing on the bally stage [in a skimpy costume] and wave the tip in. The boyfriend works down at the bingo tent, and they have a darling mixed breed puppy that always accompanies them. Did not get a good feeling from them initially, and it has stuck with me the more they open their mouths, fixated on scoring weed and talking about it way too much. It seems they are more in need of a ride than anything, and hey, if they can make some money, might as well. The guy had commented he wanted to bring his younger brother along, but did not say a word about that to Mab [the Boss’s wife]. Well, Carnies certainly are not stupid, and I am sure they are keeping an eye on everyone. However, something is to be said by Reg and sharing a bowl. It was also good to know that my assumptions of certain individuals have been picked up by someone else who just happens to have that ability to read people.

Aside from all that, Reg explained that it was important for us to learn all we can about what it takes to put on a show. Not only so that we have a greater appreciation for this, but also that we understand the business should there be a desire to frame our own show. Just as there are those who are ensuring the sideshow acts are kept alive by teaching a new generation, so too are these people ensuring that the classic 10-in-1 sideshow will have a future. It is a great honor, and I certainly have learned that a lot of hard work goes into this, but worth some sweat and sore muscles for the reward that is yielded.

Reg bid good night, and with stomach full, buzzed and high, sleep was welcomed.

No comments:

Post a Comment