The carnival is back in town.  Once a year, maybe more, the traveling carnival makes a stop at the shopping center that houses KMart.  They set up in the parking lot, and hawk their rides, the fun house, the ball toss, and whatever is new and shiny for the passing crowds.  The search lights pierce the sky, performing a ballet with the four bright beams shining upwards.  The attractions presented in these carnivals are the same ones we see each year at the county fairs across our state, just fewer in number.  I have no doubt they set up these local affairs to fill in the weeks and months between the “big shows”.

I’ve not ridden any of these contraptions in over 20 years, and I’m not likely to in the future.  Why?  Because I used to work in a liquor / convenience store.

The people who run the rides, and hawk the ball toss and target practice games are the same folks who set them up.  The rides all fold down into trailer-able components, broken down and towed to the next parking lot to be set up again.  They’re tall, fast, brightly lit, and yes, fun to ride.  The counties are supposed to inspect them as they’re set up, and I assume (but don’t know for sure) that the state also checks them out for safety.  With the budget cuts in government, however, and with the economy being in the state it’s been in since 2008, I’m not sure I trust that these things are maintained as well as they should be.  Costs have to be kept low to make these traveling shows profitable, and constantly repairing these mechanical behemoths can’t be cheap.  Put them up, run them constantly, then tear them down and truck them to the next parking lot takes a toll on any machine.

From about 1987 till 1994, I worked at a store just about a half a mile from where this carnival sets up each year.  At that time, we were the closest liquor store to the site.  When the carnies rolled into town, the second stop most of them made was at our store.  They weren’t buying milk and bread, even though they could have.

Every day, starting around noon, the carnies would start coming in.  Some were clearly hung over, some were obviously high, and most were not people I’d care to spend any time with, nor would I trust any of them with children.  They’d buy their alcohol and head out to get ready for the evening’s run.  After the second year of “hosting” these folks, I determined I’d never again set foot on any machine they were responsible for.

We rarely hear of accidents or serious injury or death at these carnivals, but that doesn’t reassure me.  I don’t know how well accidents are kept out of view, and as a local story, the news of any that do occur might not make it onto a forum that I would see.  I don’t trust the people I saw come through the store, and I have no reason to believe those manning the equipment today are any different from the crews I saw over 20 years ago.

If you go to a carnival, or county fair, take a good look at the person manning the ride.  Do they look strung out? Do they have “that look”… the bloodshot eyes, the blank stare, the sluggish movements?  Are they hung over?  Would you trust your children’s safety to this person in any other setting?  Does the carnival look well maintained?  Is the paint in good condition, and is it so because of good maintenance, or is it due to attempts to cover up problems?

I haven’t gone into one in a long time, and I didn’t go in for this one.  I just stood at the periphery and took a couple of pictures for this blog.   If I had a guest, I would have gone in just to walk around, and maybe tossed a ring or two, or maybe even won a cheap glass piece in the dime toss, but I doubt I’d get on the rides.  Maybe someday I’ll change my mind, but for now, I’ll pass, thanks.

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