The Real Life of a Carny

By RodneyHatfieldJr for Into The Mind

As a robust and invincible young adult. It was routine to go out and indulge in many adult and sometimes immoral activities while under the influence of your preferred beverage and/or substance. It was the philosophy of 'let life take you where the winds blow'. You might wake up at home, a friend's house, or even a new friend's house. I once woke up in a wheel barrel in the front yard. It was more comfortable than the time I woke up on the lap of a statue. These represent those instances where the stories of a lifetime come from. As a responsible adult, I channel how the wind blows. Now, most exploratory roamings are traditionally done on the Internet in the familiar comfort of my house. Recently I was on one of those blowing in the wind times that I discovered a fascinating posted topic on Reddit

One of the favorite mythologies in horror is the Carny(or Carnie/showie) or someone who works at a carnival. When someone says Carny, what comes to mind? Do you think of hardworking people are young and old, from all walks of life? Or how they live on the road throughout the summer and fall, setting up and tearing down rides, or hosting games to bilk people out of their money? Does the fact they utilize their own language come to mind? Or do you go straight to the idea of a band of thieves and murderers? 

Well, that’s what most people think about Carnys. It turns out their real lives include more dimensions than anyone gives them credit for. The Carnys of Reddit have pulled back the curtain and given us a glimpse by answered some questions about what life really like when they’re on the road. 

Carnys Can Form Close Groups


20-year-old Carny describes it like this: “My dad owns a traveling carnival. It was started by my grandfather in 1956. He bought a truck-mounted merry-go-round and charged people 10 cents to ride it. From there, it grew into what it is today. I've worked there since I was pretty young and am a senior in college now (hoping to get a different job after college, but it was a summer job between years.). It's actually a really fun environment. There are always tons of drama between all kinds of people. 

Most of the employees are actually nice people, but for many of them, it is almost a job of last resort. Some of them love their job; some dislike it and do it to get by. It becomes very cliquey. Everyone has their small group of people they work with on a ride and become close to. I would set up and tear down the merry-go-round every week with the same crew; we were each other's backbone.”

Carnivals Are Super Corporate


User Xyrenn205 had a different impression: “I've worked nine years at one of the largest single-unit carnivals in the country. It's the exact opposite of what most folks... describe. We have a full drug testing center onsite. You have to be clean-shaven, no tattoos (If you do, [you have to.] cover them.), and wear clean uniforms. If you get busted for [illicit substances] you’re gone. It's definitely not the mall parking lot show that most think of when you hear "carnival. "We only do a handful of large events each season, generally for a month at a time. It does tend to be full of gossip since everyone works and lives with each other in close quarters... Ride and customer safety is the number one priority. We take pride in what we do.”

They Feel Judged By 'Townies


User Senbo has given us some inside information on being a Carny outside the usual carnival work: “Most of the stereotypes stem from "back in the day" carnivals - when fugitives and all-around seedy people could only find work on a carnival. Even today this is still pretty prevalent on the smaller shows. So this is a fair one to assume. But the carnival I work for has spent a long time building their image up to try to distance themselves from the stigma. No rigged games, daily ride inspections, and regular and random drug testing and background checks go a long way toward cleaning up the Carny image.”

Late Nights Are Common


Wobblywalker skips all the stereotypes and talks about actual things associated with Carnys: “Carnivals/fairs are a lot of hard work. I never worked the rides, but my parents had several concession stands when I was growing up and we'd spend every summer moving from fair to fair, working your butt off, tearing down, driving for hours, setting up, and doing it all over again. I remember a lot of late nights when my mom would come home to our trailer late after the fairgrounds had closed. She cleaned and closed up the pie stand, only to stay up into the wee hours counting money and balancing all of the cash registers' records, snatch a couple hours sleep, and get up early enough to set everything up and restock before the fair opened the next morning.”

Carny's Get To Meet Cool Bands


User randycarl67 talks about some of the benefits of carnival life: “I did grounds crew and stage setup for county fairs for a summer after high school. Very long hours - up to 20 a day for five to seven days straight. Go to work at 6 am; go to bed at 2 am the next day. Lots of hard work, but I got to meet some great people - especially the bands we set up for.”

Carny's Have Each Other's Backs


Reddit user lbj18 talks about how tight Carnys can be: “I worked on a circuit that had four units. It was great pay if you worked game - hell if it was a good fair you could make $10,000 in a month. But you still got paid great for what you did. And if you get lucky, you will get tax-free pay. Brotherhood exists; we look out for each other whether we are competing or not. If we did not have each other's backs, we would not be able to tolerate it at all. And my lead had no issue abandoning a thief. We were all honest workers and did not slack off. If you are a former Carny and get kicked off for any reason besides theft, we pull money in and get them a bus ticket home.”

The Games Aren’t Really Rigged


User pacotes lets us in on a secret: "I used to work as a Carny. Nothing was explicitly" rigged" in the way you would think, but nothing really worked properly. That's attributable to incompetence instead of malice. Also, even if you were to "win" every other time, the house is still making a huge profit on the prizes. The rides were decidedly unsafe as well, and their operators were usually untrained, and regularly would indulge in illicit substances. After working on setup with some of the most incompetent human beings, I ever had the displeasure of working with, I can safely say I'll never be going to such a funfair again.”

The Carny Experience Can Be Educational


User Dawnydiesel gave us an optimistic look at life: “From age 12 to 21 years I traveled every summer to state fairs and car shows. In the first two years, I babysat for the couple I worked for. In the third year, I worked in a T-shirt booth. After that, I managed my own T-shirt booth. The male half of the couple I worked for did airbrush T-shirts and original screen-print designs for the specific fairs/shows.

It was hands down the coolest and most educational part of my childhood: the different people I met, the things I saw, the things I did, bartering goods, the massive amount of drinking, learning to keep myself safe, etc. I watched rides being put together. To this day, my children are not allowed to ride carnival rides. I'm sure there are different regulations now, but 20 years ago they were pretty lax. (I'm 41 now.) I've seen teenagers from different towns run away with the carnival for that freedom.”

Some Get To Take Field Trips On Their Days Off


Reddit user Skirvotle describes downtime: “We open at 11 am and close at 12 am during the opening. During setup and tear-down, it's about 14 to 15 hours a day with the guys who run the bigger rides such as coasters or the Ferris wheel sometimes working all night if we have a short jump to the next spot. Our show is much more understanding: we get two days off a week, eight weeks in the winter. And they even provide field trips on our days off so we don't get too rowdy.”

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