Thursday, June 14, 2012

A Couple Carney Stories

While we’re on the topic of touring with the carnival, I did glean a couple interesting stories from Rich about his life on the road. He didn't share many. Apparently the life is different enough that the general attitude is the rest of us can’t possibly understand what it’s like, and why bother to try to explain? I just figure they’re not hired for their communication skills, unless it’s to persuade somebody to buy whatever they’re selling.

First, a disclaimer. Any inaccuracies in the following are from  my imperfect memory. They are as close as I can come to what I was told, but that was a while ago.

Lumberjack Days

Stillwater has an old and proud history as a stopping point on the St. Croix River for collections of logs as they floated on their way to the sawmill. Each summer they host a festival to commemorate those bygone days called Lumberjack Days. Well, until now, anyway, It seems they hit a severe financial snag and had to cancel this year. But a couple years ago it was in full swing.

Part of the big event was fencing off the riverfront and requiring admission for a concert featuring a big name band. It might have been Chicago, or if not, somebody equally good at drawing in a crowd. Rock is just not my thing, sorry. Rich and crew were inside the fence, enjoying the music and dishing out cheese curds to an enthusiastic and hungry crowd. They were parked on the periphery, near the fence keeping the crowd of non-payers out. A sizable crowd they were, however, as rock bands' amplified music is no respecter of chain link fences.

As one of the employees was returning to the wagon from a break, someone called from the other side of the fence about how much the cheese curds were and could they order some? Suddenly a great opportunity was born, and for the rest of the evening into the wee hours one of the staff was kept busy running the fence, collecting money and orders, and delivering cheese curds. It turned out to be one of their best days of the summer.

Black Friday

When my granddaughter heard this story, she was offended at the perceived racism in it. But it is what it is.

After his first gig in Dallas at the Texas State Fair, Rich came home and tried to describe what it was like. The biggest impression was left by what the locals, carneys and cops, refer to as “Black Friday.” It isn’t on a Friday every year, but the name sticks. Every fair there is one day, sometimes more, when the local gangs show up in force. In that part of Dallas, the gangs are black. Hence the name.

With multiple rival gangs in attendance, there is always the possibility for conflict, and the potential for bystanders to become involved, however innocently. Once gangs start showing up, police presence increases. Word goes out to the carneys. It includes warnings to keep your noses in your own business, stay close to your spot, and avoid trouble if at all possible. Word is also spread to all who might need to know it about the special closing that evening.

If all goes well, it happens at regular time. If it’s a day of problems, it may occur early. The cops line up at the far end of the fairground. They’re each next to the other next to the other, in close formation spread all across the grounds. I think I remember that a large number if not all of them are mounted, but, like I said, it’s been a while since I heard about it. A signal goes out and all the exhibits and rides are shut down, booths are closed up, windows boarded and locked, employees huddling inside regardless of the weather until the grounds are cleared. For that’s what the cops do. The long line proceeds through the park, driving every visitor in front of it and outside the grounds. Nobody is missed. If necessary, a few or more are arrested. If no problems are caused, the gangs go home peacefully just like the rest of the crowd. Once the grounds are cleared, employees finish their tasks and enjoy the rest of their evening, ready for the next day.

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