Author Archives: admin

About admin

I'm a veteran, award-winning journalist who's "Eyes Like Carnivals" project is seeking the best possible publisher and then a much more lenient standard for the readers. I know a bit about the road. I've hitchhiked much of The United States, Canada, Eastern/Western Europe, Middle East and North Africa. I lived or stayed nights in shelters, under bridges, jail cells, churches and in waste dumps while on these shoe-string travels. Among other jobs, I worked fields with migrant workers, farms, kitchens, cattle round-ups and truck loading docks. One Fourth of July week, I worked a 'crooked dart game' in carnival in Cody, Wy. The "Pub Dart Champion of Birmingham England" story is a favorite. My time in that carnival spurred my longtime fascination with these traveling, kinda-retro, shows and what the world must look like from this American-bred way of life. I've been on three cross-country bicycle trips from Chicago to Washington D.C., New Orleans (in winter) and Seattle. In Seattle, I threw my bicycle and packs onto a freight train and rode back with hobos and farm workers. I've been to more than 90 countries. I swam the headwaters of the Nile, survived a hippo attack, studied Buddhism in the Himalayas and danced an Irish jig in the Amazon with an upraised jug of local White Lightning. Perhaps most importantly, I'm the former heavyweight champion of University College Cork, circa. 1980. I've attended The Poynter Institute, University of Maryland - College Park, Northwestern University's Medill Graduate School of Journalism, Marquette University and University of College Cork, Ireland. Before that I had the great fortune of a Catholic education from the Jesuits, Viatorians, School Sisters of St. Francis, Bernadine Sisters of St. Francis and Mother Elizabeth Seton's Sisters of Charity. I've worked with the Chicago Tribune, New York Daily News, Chicago Sun-Times, Daily Herald, Moscow Times, Budapest Sun, Budapest Business Journal, Elgin Courier-News, Naperville Star, Copley News Service and several Internet publications. I've been nominated for a Pulitzer Prize for "Philippines: Arc of the Islanders," telling the stories of Chicago area Filipino immigrants and their lives back home. That series took me and photographer Mark Welsh to the Philippines for three weeks. (an unintended aside, I interviewed and later accidentally danced with Imelda Marcos). Other series included sub-Saharan economies; Russia during the Reagan-Gorbachev summit; McDonald's in China; 'Race to Tame AIDS' (about Abbott scientists); and investigations that led to changes in state law and, sometimes, convictions. I'm also a proud father of a happy, creative, grade school-aged daughter.

Mumbo Jumboooooo….

“Once you have tasted flight, you will forever walk the earth with your eyes turned skyward, for there you have been, and there you will always long to return.”
― Leonardo da Vinci

That first afternoon in Chicago I helped with setting up the swing ride the YoYo and went over to work on Dumbo the Flying Elephant. Parents like to comment on Dumbo’s glassy eyes and half-witted smile, which makes Dumbo look very high. Or as they say on the midway, ‘Dumbo looks like he’s flying twisted.’ A look that isn’t unfamiliar in these neighborhoods.

On the Gage Park lot, the Dumbos didn’t fly because we were too close to the Fire Ball’s swinging arm. It was close enough for stray cell phones to come flying at the kiddy ride. The kids, almost all under 10-years-old and some in kindergarten, were living in neighborhoods where flying cell phones were less a danger than flying bullets.

In California, my routine on the Lolly Swing was, “Up I say, up I say and awaaay I say.” In New Jersey my routine on the twirling Apples ride was the magic word, “Applesauce.” In Chicago, I went with a magic words, “ Mumbo Jumbo.”

I put kids in the cars and whispered in each one’s ear. I told them when I ask, they must shout out the magic words and then see what magic happens. After the third and final “Mumbo Jumbo” call-back, I switched on the ride and they lurched forward.

“What are the magic words kids?”

“Mumbo Jumbo!”

“I can’t hear you.”

“Mumbo Jumbo!!”


“Mumbo Jumboooooo…..

The kids loved the Mumbo Jumbo routine so much they shouted it to me as they passed by all ten turns. “Mumbo Jumbo” “Mumbo Jumbo” “Mumbo Jumbo” All night long. They came back for repeated rides breathlessly saying, “I already know the magic words!”

Little Black girls wore braided hair that bounced like popcorn strings. Little Black boys ran in groups of best friends. Hispanic kids stuck close to their mothers but broke away when they saw a ride they liked. Single moms, couples, gangbangers and West Side preachers all came by my Dumbos. In the middle of their hard Chicago neighborhood, the carnival landed like a space ship and kids were flying away from it all.

It was wildly popular. I remembered the workers in California admiring my energy at the Lollys, so I wanted to be known for my energy in Chicago at the Dumbos. I ran from car to car all night long treating every child like a superstar. I ran like nobody in that carnival ever saw. I created a kid frenzy for a flying elephant ride that didn’t fly.

Children spinning, laughing, screaming in flightless circles, as if going fast enough or screaming loud enough, might change something forever. The next day all the smiling, happy kids woke up right back in their shoot-em-up neighborhood looking both ways on the way to school.

In my own childish imagination, those innocent, tiny people walked to school carrying backpacks with something new inside.


I am still searching for an agent, editors or a publisher for “Eyes Like Carnivals.” I can also be read on Huffington Post. Several YouTube videos can be found under my name. I can be reached at

Road to the Interior

Run away. Run away to traveling carnivals, that is into a twister of outrageous gobs of music, colors, foods, games, rides, sweats and shouts.
— I ran until I was lost with pennies in the pockets. I ran in carnivals playing California, New Jersey, New York, Chicago, Alaska, Minnesota, Oklahoma, Texas, Georgia and Florida. I ran to the mountains of the “real” Mexico to see the home of the new face of American carnival workers.
— I ran a golden Ferris wheel and a ride of flying elephants and they called me a ride jockey. I ran pool games and the Tubs of Fun and they called me a jointee. I ran with Ward ‘King of the Sideshows’ Hall’s freak show and was an outsider among insiders.
— I hitchhiked between carnivals along the Alaska Highway to US Interstates 5, 10, 25, 30, 35, 40, and so on to 95— and parts of fabled Route 66. I covered 36 states, traveling about 15,000 miles across the United States, Canada and Mexico.
— A carnival owner steals money. A friend dies in his 20s. Walking home at dawn nearly dead when the carnival is strapped down and bolted.
–Where are my childhood-friends and family. Where is my eight-year-old daughter Grace. Where are the people I wish to understand and where am I.
–This year, I am gloriously unmoored in the hard wonder of traveling carnivals.
– -Breaking away is the road. And my road is to the interior.

“Eyes Like Carnivals” seeks literary agent

“Eyes Like Carnivals” is about running away to carnivals, the hidden lives of carnival people, adventure, America and a wild-ride-and-return story. Sex, drugs, rock-n-roll and unbelievable characters. Traveling fun, hard work and living life behind the midway and on the American road!

It’s my goal this year to publish “Eyes Like Carnivals,” my spectacular year writing while working in 10 carnivals in 10 states, from California to New York, Alaska to Florida. I hitchhiked 15,000 miles between jumps – even going down to Mexico to see the “new face of American carnivals” in a Mexican feeder town for US carnivals.

If you know an agent, let them know. Watch me do this thing this year, perhaps the hardest part of the journey will be the publishing. Email me:

From Best Hits Pile: “Traveling Carnivals” on YouTube

Set Up Me

Hi gang,

This is the way I tell stories.

I know this song, it’s well know but a bit old-fashioned. It’s called “Moose Turd Pie.”

It’s about a guy who’s working out in the wild with a railroad gang and when it comes time for supper, the singer objects to the putrid cooking. The rule on the railroad gang was that you are the cook if you complain. So the next day the singer searches the fields and collects the softest, hottest, smelly moose shit, makes a pie crust and fills it to the heaping, steaming brim.

At the end of the song, the biggest, toughest, ear-bitting-est bastard on the railroad gang is the first to eat the pie and is outraged.


This video is aging, it’s from last year, “GOOD THOUGH.” or make your own video. Whichever ending you like.

Grace A. Comerford, age 10, publishes “Power of Purple” TODAY!

Power of Purple Cover04

I worried about my daughter Grace, at the time just 8 years old, would be traumatized by my absence while working in traveling carnivals and hitchhiking across the country for a year.

That concern was well founded, carnivals and hitchhiking can be dangerous and separation is reality. We had weeks when there were nightly calls but others when calls were less frequent. I wrote one story about her calling me from her secret hiding place in a tree outside her home near Chicago.

My ex-mother-in-law wrote me on Facebook that Grace was missing me terribly. I was working in Westchester, New York with the McDaniel Brothers at the time. Grace’s birthday was just a week away. So I went on the Internet, found the names of Chicago-area carnivals and began frantically calling and begging for work.

The Briggs family and Modern Midways agreed, sight unseen, to hire me and so I quit on a Tuesday and hitchhiked from New York to Chicago to be there by the time Grace turned 8 years old. Whether I made it or not, you’ll have to read the book.

My parents also could see the problem as I spent time with Grace in Chicago, during my off-time from the carnival. My carnival played neighborhoods I was a bit afraid to bring Grace to, at least at night.

When I landed a job at the Minnesota State Fair, my parents brought Grace up via Amtrak to see me as I worked the pool tables on the Mighty Midway, in the land of Minnesota Fats. It is the biggest state fair in America, by daily attendance, and this year USAToday readers voted it the Best State Fair in the USA.

Grace was in kid heaven.

Minnesota State Fair me and Grace

When I returned from the year in carnivals, we spent time together at Christmas and she eventually moved down to Florida with her mom to be near her other grandparents. I moved near them and now work odd jobs until I get back on my feet, or sell “Eyes Like Carnivals.” (getting into carnivals is easy, getting out is tougher)

Then Grace told me she wanted to write a book. I was sure my year of being away would be the topic. After all, seemingly every time she wanted something she would say, “but you were away for a year and now this is our time.”

We went to the library and I began helping her write about a Purple Ninja who lives in the woods, half normal girl, half the greatest super hero who ever lived. She doesn’t use violence so much as she problem solves, anticipates, forms friendships and uses her “jumpiness” to get out of the way of lightning bolts from villains.

The book wasn’t about me. The trauma there was but not enough for a book. Instead, “Power of Purple” is the first in a series of books by a powerful new storyteller, Grace A. Comerford.

It’s an amazing, awesome book for middle grade readers and available now at
Michael Sean Comerford spent 2013-14 working in 10 traveling carnivals in 10 states, hitchhiking through 36 states between jobs and crossing into Mexico to see the “new face of the American carny.” It became a quest story, Americana on a full-throttled wild ride.

He was slinging iron and pushing plush across California, New York, New Jersey, Chicago, Alaska, Minnesota, Oklahoma, Texas, Georgia and Florida, where he worked a freak show. He wasn’t allowed on stage because they couldn’t see the inner freak in him.

In the meantime, he blogged along the way on this site and Huffington Post (at Michael Sean Comerford). He wrote essays for Northwestern Magazine (Northwestern University alumni mag) and Marquette Magazine (Marquette University alumni mag). He wrote a piece for Wand’rly on hitchhiking.

Eyes Like Carnivals is now being shopped by agent Tim Hays in New York City, please contact him with any offers at

State Fair of Texas Rains Money on “Mike’s Rainbow”

Dante throws Despicable Me

The State Fair of Texas in Dallas runs for 24 days and is the largest state fair in the United States. A newbie showman in games, I somehow surpassed my whole crew and maybe all crews for sales that year by making up my own routines and sticking to my shtick.

The Texas State Fair is in full swing right now and it brings back thoughts of my amazing year in carnivals. I ran games and rides at 10 traveling carnivals, in 10 states, hitchhiked 36 states between jobs and crossed Canada and Mexico along the way.

When I reached the biggest of the big time in Dallas, I was working with the West Crew, headed by Adam “Batman” West and a veteran group of showmen (carnival workers who run games don’t like to be called carnies).

I began on the “short-range,” a basketball game with a cantaloupe-sized basketball and a lower hoop. The hoop had two inner rims but the ball went through and there were winners. As is true of all the games, you could win but it was far harder than you think. I juggled the basketballs. I told every male walking by, “You are a basketball man, show us what you got.” I did well but I changed my game and my routine and the money started flowing in.

Set Up Me

I threatened to quit and Batman sent me to the “tubs.” They are plastic tubs the size of fruit baskets. People throw softballs into the tilted tubs, if the balls stay in, the customer wins. On practice tries a ‘cop’ ball is left in to deaden the bounce. On the money throws, the ‘cop’ ball is palmed and the ball almost never stays in the basket.

I told every customer that I was going to hypnotize them into winning by using “Mike’s Rainbow,” an arc throw. When it worked. I told them they were hypnotized and they should play.

I never changed the routine for the hundreds of thousands of people who passed by my booth. I out-earned everyone, every day after that. At the end of the three weeks, after about half of them spent treading water at the ‘short ball,’ I earned more than $3,000. All by sticking to the routine that worked.

I used the money to take a bus down to Mexico to see the “new face of the American carny.” In bigger carnivals, Mexicans are the majority of the crew.

At the end of my amazing year in carnivals, I worked in California, New Jersey, New York, Chicago, Alaska, Minnesota, Oklahoma, Texas, Georgia and Florida, where I worked in a freak show. I racked up more than 15,000 miles hitchhiking, which might have made me the #1 hitchhiker in North America for 2013-14.

I kept a blog at and on Huffington Post. I wrote a couple magazine pieces and now I am attempting to find a publisher for the book, which I finished earlier this year.

You can help me find a publisher for my unpublished book “Eyes Like Carnivals” by hitting “LIKE” on my book page

Blurry Climber


Two guys on our crew at the Oklahoma State Fair on set-up took a nap behind the games counter. These guys knew how to work hard and hustle, but you know you’re tired when you have to nap on the floor mats behind the games counter. Without scheduled breaks, we ate when he could and we napped IF we could during long, hot days. Some people might say this is a picture of napping, I say it shows how hard showmen work.

OK 2 napping men

Carnival Crazy Money when the Plush is Flush

Minnesota State Fair pool hall
At night, in my corner of the Minnesota State Fair that year, lighting, pool and plush mixed with Springsteen, high spirits and beer.

Minnesota State Fair pool hall best

In my year working rides and games at 10 carnivals in 10 states, I worked the pool tables at the Minnesota State Fair. Customers were given three balls. You had to sink them in order, without missing after the break.

I told everyone the break was the money-maker shot because if you get a ball or two in then you’re likely to win. That was true.

However, if they lost, I told them, “That’s because you’re on The Mighty Midway in St. Paul, at the biggest state fair in the country. The music is blaring. People are shouting. You’re a better pool player than that. People who play two or more times are way more likely to win a prize and these are the best prizes on the Mighty.”

I believed every word. I made sure the tables were level every day. I smoothed the felt. I chalked and kept the best cue sticks by my table.

I also believed words I didn’t speak, which were that the game is harder than it looks. You weren’t allowed to use combinations and often your ball would end up directly behind another.

Most people didn’t win but enough won so winners walked The Mighty Midway with a huge Scooby Doo or a black Rottweiler or a bright yellow “Despicable Me” minion. That was advertising for our four-table tent at the very end of the midway, the least profitable side of the carnival side of the Minnesota State Fair.

Scooby pool

Many people had been coming to the pool tent for years and remembered how they fared.

“Don’t end it this way, not this year,” I’d tell the losers. “This isn’t the memory you want for this year.”

The Mighty Midway is an “independent” midway, run by the state fair. Individual carnivals bid to put their rides and games along the fabled Mighty Midway. The closer to the front and the main action, the more profitable your game or ride was likely to be.

It was also a cashless midway, with rides and games being paid for by tickets. We stashed the tickets in iron boxes about the size of bread boxes. Each night we stacked them in little red wagons and rolled them to a central tent where fair officials emptied them and later counted them.

In the land of the fictional Minnesota Fats, enough people won prizes that we had to “flash” every morning. That meant replacing the winnings of the last day with new plush, brought in from storage in semi-trailer trucks.

I worked with Oz. In my book about the year “Eyes Like Carnivals,” I describe Oz as being in his 40s, bald and sometimes coughing like a lung was going to fall out of his mouth. He and I were the only regular crew members to work the tent. Workers from a drug and alcohol treatment center also worked with us. They worked on an hourly wage, which went to their facility. Oz and I worked for a percentage of the take. No guaranteed wages and we slept in trailers behind the midway.

If I stayed the whole fair and went with the crew headed by Adam “Batman” West to the Oklahoma State Fair then I’d get 20 percent of the winnings. If I left earlier, I’d get 15 percent. If you helped set up and take down, you got 25 percent. The owner of Allstate 38, Adam “Batman” West counted out my final take so I don’t know if I received the full 25 percent like the regular traveling crew. I was glad to get more than a grand, minus bunkhouse, uniform, hat and jacket expenses.

Minnesota OZ
Oz talking to a local hire as he holds on to the steel ticket box.

Oz complained about everyone around him, including me. He didn’t like it when I became the biggest earner at the tent but Oz was the boss. He directed shift changes, he timed our breaks and he supervised both the set-up and tear-down of the pool tent.

Several of the showmen in Batman’s crew liked to brag about their scars. The crew chief, Chango had a bullet wound and a separate knife wound that swerved around like a question mark along his bulbous belly.

Oz was the winner though because his scars were the freshest and most visible. A traveling scar track weaved its way from behind his right ear, across his jugular and run up to his Adam’s apple. His throat, he said, was slit just a month and a half before. It looked like an attempted beheading.

Once, he joked, “I’d forget my head if it wasn’t glued on.” He looked at me, anticipating my joke, and said “Some people tried to help me with that not long ago.”

If you weren’t looking closely or hadn’t heard the back story, you’d have thought little of Oz, his healing and his traveling scars.


Michael Sean Comerford worked in 10 carnivals in 10 states, hitchhiked 36 states between jobs and ventured down to Mexico to see the “new face” of the American carnival worker.

He worked three straight state fairs in Minnesota, Oklahoma and Texas. Minnesota is the largest by daily attendance, 12 days and 1.78 million people this year. Oklahoma comes next week. Texas is the largest by total number of attendees, by contrast 24 days long and can draw more than 2.6 million people.

He also worked carnivals in California, New Jersey, New York, Chicago, Alaska, Georgia and Florida.