When I was a teenager I used to work at the fairgrounds each summer. Over 10 days I could earn more than I could in months of babysitting or doing odd jobs. The days were long and the atmosphere a little bizarre, but it was cool to land a job at the ‘Ex’ and my eyes were certainly opened to a whole other way of living.
I think I was only 14 the first summer my sister and I worked at the fair. Out of sheer luck and ignorance we managed to land jobs with a concession stand selling corn dogs, “crab leg-on-a-peg”, cotton candy and sno-cones. My hands were covered in burns from the hot oil and my manager couldn’t spell ‘buns’ on his order form, but I had enough fun that I came back for 4 more summers – two of which were spent working in an ‘old fashioned photo-studio’ where my job was to put old-fashioned clothes on people so they could get black and white photos taken, Western style. This often involved taking women into small dressing rooms, telling them to take off all their clothes but their panties, and lacing up their skirts and corsets. Not quite the conventional summer job.
The carnies – folk who travel with the fair from town to town setting up and operating rides and the booths – were like modern-day gypsies to me. A little exotic, a little odd. When big men with giant bellies and bushy beards picked me up for bear hugs, or small little guys with skinny legs and yellowish skin bought me teddy bears and monkeys holding ‘I love you’ hearts, I took this all as part of the gig. Fun to dabble in – but it was without hesitation that I’d turn down offers to go on the road with them.
All this and more was running through my head today when we took Miya to her first little fair. We took her up on the Ferris wheel and for a couple of rides on the merry-go-round. Fun to see the wonder in her eyes, and to see something with its own history and meaning for me, be fresh and new for her.