I set out on a roasting hot day in August last year to meet some carneys at our local fair. I hadn’t challenged myself with a personal documentary project in a while and this seemed like the perfect story. I’ve always wondered what it’s like to work as – or be – a carney; I’m 36 and finally got the guts to introduce myself and learn more about them and their jobs.
I should mention that it’s extremely easy to bail on this sort of project if you’re having a crappy day, it’s too hot, or if your favorite TV show is on, so I held myself accountable by posting something about it on FB. Turns out lots of my friends are interested in carneys. So, without further adieu, I’d like to introduce you to two hard-working people: Genee (gee-knee) and Fred.
Genee was the first person I approached because she was so friendly. With my camera tucked behind me, I struck up a conversation. Genee explained that she’d been with this particular carnival company for just a couple of months. The season – yes, there’s a season – had just a month or two to go so they were nearing the tail-end of it. It’s not an easy job; Genee and the others often work 16 hour days between setting up the rides and booths to the time they finally retire to their campers or tents.
I was fascinated to learn that only men are allowed to operate the rides, but both men and women run the game booths. The great thing about the game booths, though, is the fact that they earn a base pay, as well as commission.
Genee decided to join the crazy, traveling carney life when she found herself between jobs and not tied down to anyone or anything at home. She thought it’d be an adventure (and it is!). If I remember correctly, the “season” for the business is March – September/October. Genee intends to be a carney again this year.
When I asked Genee who the biggest personality is in the company, she didn’t hesitate when she said “Fred.” Everyone, meet Fred…and his tail.
Fred grew up amidst and as a carney. His dad owns the game booth Fred works in (as well as several others). Fred has been a carney for 18 years; he took a four-year hiatus to join the Army and returned to his love…his game booth. Speaking of love, Fred (at the time I shot this, at least) is dating the Duck Pond Booth girl.
When someone wins big at Fred’s booth, everyone hears about it. He rings a cowbell and runs around like a crazy person. The sight made me happy 🙂
It’s also worth mentioning that Fred’s youngest sibling – a brother – is also the youngest working carney (age 14) on their circuit.