With its origins reaching as far back as 1893, traveling carnivals are still alive and kicking to this day. Although the modern versions no longer have such attractions as the Living Mermaid and the 600-pound woman – because nowadays that’s really not that uncommon – adults and children alike can still enjoy the various activities that can be found at these mobile shows. And no matter where you are in the world, the “Carny”, as the workers of these fabulous funfairs are called, are a unique breed of individuals who live for their work just as much as they work to live. Despite the excitement of constantly migrating across the continent, these carnival employees have become a thing of legend for their loyalties to their job. Where else can you find a bunch of people so weathered, so blasé, yet so resolute in what they do? Here’s a look at the pros and cons of carny culture.
Pride In What They Do
It’s not exactly the 6-figure, suit-wearing, top Forbes ranking job position that many people dream of, but no one else can do what carnies do. Where else can you find men and women of all ages coming together to build and tear down a city in just five days? Or how about individuals who are willing to put their lives at risk everyday, as well as having an existence so nomadic, it’s a conundrum to most? The job may not entail performing life-saving heart surgery, but it’s still a life worth living. As one of these workers said, “There’s no glory in being a carny, but staring out at the empty fairgrounds where a carnival once stood, there’s definitely pride to be felt.”
Jobs Like No Other
When it comes to outlandish kinds of jobs, a carnival employs even the most obscure of people. A bearded lady, an 8-foot tall man, extreme contortionists, a 2-headed woman, fire-breathers, characters that are all thought to be typical in these kinds of environments. Contrary to what most “socially aware” individuals will consider politically correct, these entertainers take real pride in their eccentricities. They want to be noticed for their bizarre differences rather than blending in with all the boring, regular folk. You definitely won’t find the overly pierced, two-horned, thoroughly tattooed guy working at the nearest Starbucks, unless of course it’s Halloween and he’s there as the main attraction. At the carnival, the plain Jane, brown haired, completely normal-looking person is the odd one out. It’s the freaks who rule, and are proud of it.
Fun Working Environment
The Ferris Wheel, the Caterpillar, the Alpine Slide and the Twister are just a few rides that you can try out at traveling amusement parks. I don’t know about you, but if I could choose between a tedious every day existence sitting in a tiny cubicle, and going to work somewhere new every week, I’m pretty sure I’d choose the park. Who wouldn’t take the lights, the sounds and the excitement of an unplanned life over the monotony of a nine to five? I’m pretty sure no one else can claim that they eat lunch with the Wolf Man and the smallest adult on earth on a daily basis.
What’s more fun than attempting to win a goldfish during a good old-fashioned game of Fish Bowl toss? Or getting to shoot as many ducks as possible without the actual blood shed? Carnivals probably have the simplest kinds of games, but they produce the maximum amount of entertainment. It doesn’t take too many brain cells to figure out how to play them, but there is surely some skill involved, especially for the ones that are rigged to an almost impossible chance of success. Funny thing is, even though you know you have a less than 5% possibility of winning, you can’t resist the challenge. At least you know that even if you don’t come out victorious, you’ll have a great time trying.
These traveling shows are probably what made China’s economy as successful as it is today. In the early days of manufacturing, stuffed animals, cheap toys and even cheaper useless gadgets were flying out of Asia faster than you could say Mardi Gras. And just in case your game booth playing skills didn’t pan out during your trip to the town fair, you could always go to the nearest dollar store and buy your girlfriend the prize you didn’t manage to win for her at the last carnival.
Being a vagabond definitely has its disadvantages. Aside from the fact that these carnies don’t have a 401k to rely on, having to move from one city to the next, one week at a time, also means no permanent address. Even if not having a house to go home to doesn’t bother them, what about having to take a crap in a constantly changing toilet bowl? Trailer park living is probably even better than being so transient. Good thing most of these workers are dudes. If I had to share a room with 5 other people, I would hope that it would be in a place that was more like The Playboy Mansion rather than a makeshift tent with no running water and smelly dudes everywhere.
No Medical Insurance
It’s horrible that that these guys don’t get paid more than minimum wage, if they even receive that. But the fact they risk their lives day in and day out, and don’t get benefits like medical insurance for their troubles is even worse. What happens if one of them happens to fall from the Cliffhanger ride? I guess they’ll just have to stick to Moonshine, the cure-all that they’ve always depended on from time immemorial. Even if drinking it can kill them, at least they won’t actually remember how they died.
Everyone Assumes They’re Ex-Convicts
Admittedly, many of the carny workers are assumed to be ex-convicts precisely because of the way they look. With their mullets, missing teeth and badly made tattoos, they surely look the part. For some reason that I can’t exactly pinpoint, there’s something seedy about traveling carnivals. But it would be mean to say that it’s just because of the loyal employees looking like jailbirds. Maybe it’s due to its history and origins of fooling people into believing things that weren’t real. Or maybe it’s because of the cheap games and colorful theatrics that don’t exactly say “money”. Whatever it is, even if it’s not because these laborers are actual felons, it’s easy from them to just go along and play the part. On the plus side, at least they’re allowed to drink on the job. Well, not technically, but no one will even bother to look twice if they smell like liquor, or even weed for that matter.
Traveling with the same people can mean a couple of things, making good friends, sharing everything and having zero privacy. Not only do you have to live in the smallest space imaginable, you also can’t take a piss without everyone knowing. Just make sure that the next time you go wash off the grit and grime of a hard night’s work, you put a sock on the door to notify others that the shower is currently in use. That’s if it’s not just a hose attached to the nearest waterspout.
If a traveling carnival is coming to your hometown anytime soon, make a trip of it and bring the whole family along for some games and excitement. Regardless of whether you win some games or decide not to ride anything because you’re too afraid of the possibility of dying, at least visit the food booths, eat some candy and watch other people having fun. Or you can always just introduce yourself to the nearest carny you find. That should be all the entertainment you’ll need for the evening. Although with their secret carny language, you may not even be able to understand what they have to say.