Monthly Archives: November 2013

The Errol Flynn Dance of a Pecan Picker

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Dance in the foreground, the Tornado in the background on teardown night at Okefenokee Fair.

“Dance, when you’re broken open. Dance, if you’ve torn the bandage off. Dance in the middle of the fighting. Dance in your blood. Dance when you’re perfectly free.”
― Rumi

Michael danced wildly, rhythmically, pathologically to techno while running the swing ride. He busted freestyle moves I’ve never seen, moves like stories.

He ran a kiddy swing but when he spoke his stories were gang stories, of Detroit’s Errol Flynns and the BK.

He was a local hire last week at the Okefenokee Fair, in Waycross, Ga.. He ran a kiddie swing ride while I was at the Mardi Gras across the midway – a house of mirrors.

Tall, rail thin, with a deep southern accent, he went by several aliases. I went with the simplest, “Dance.”

When the house of mirrors was slow, my coworker Tyrone and I stood shoulder to shoulder on our heals.

“Pathological,” I said.

“Yea, he’s good,” he said.

I had no idea what I was seeing. Tyrone had a clue.

Move like Jagger, move like Flynn

In every town I’ve gone to this year I’ve tried to capture a sense of the surrounding landscape. In Martinez, Ca., I was crazy about wandering around one of the hometowns of naturalist John Muir. I walked the town, I searched the Internet and came up with this quote from Muir’s eldest daughter, Wanda.

“If you had known him, you would have seen only one side of him, and he had many sides. No two people – even his closest friends had quite the same idea of him.”

That quote contains a conceit. Muir wasn’t unique that way.

I should have paid more attention to Dance and his moves, a lesson I learned working with Dance tearing down the kiddie train, the kiddie swing and the carousel nearly until sunrise.

I don’t remember Errol Flynn dancing in movies and there are stories about him having “unenlightened” views of race and Nazism.

Nevertheless, there was a black gang in Detroit that took his name and tagged themselves with the Errol Flynn dance (sometimes called the Earl Flynn).

Dance’s moves were similar to this YouTube Video.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JxvzqbnT4Vk

Dance told me he was originally from Detroit and that he had uncles in the Errol Flynns, widely considered to be a precursor to current Black gangs.

They were shot many times. They served years in jail. They taught him how they dance, maybe how to live.

Dance also said he was a gang member. However, short of becoming his interrogator, I never figured out if he was a gang member or just a nephew who admired their lifestyle and dance.

I’ve met numerous gang members on the carnival circuit, even in Alaska, where some workers were accused of wearing “colors” so we all had to strictly adhere to uniform shirts and hats.

In Texas, my roommate was a Gangster Disciple. My supervisor was a former gangster. Both still wore gang tattoos visible above their collars.

Tearing down the kiddie swing ride, Dance showed me the Errol Flynn dance.

Ironically, it bore some resemblance to a dance I made up in high school in the 1970s. It was mostly a shuffling hand dance I called “flying birds.”

Dance said he didn’t do it as well as his uncles.

I believe, Dance never messed up a freestyle dance.

Pecans in the Deep South

At about 10 pm Sunday night of teardown, I asked Dance what he does for work.

Long pause.

I interpreted the pause to mean he spent much of his time in illegal activities and much of the rest paying for it.

I later heard him say he was on parole and waiting for a court date.

“I sell pecans,” he said. “I get them in backyards, in the woods. I work 8 to 2, I can make $40 or $50 a day if I work.”

No doubt he did his collections on his bicycle, spray painted gold, from the wide, padded seat to the wheels.

On Thanksgiving, the New York Times carried a story about the pecan season in the Deep South. Output is down as much as 35 percent, due to too much rain some places and not enough in others.

A disease called “scab” is caused by too much moisture and hurts neighborhood pickers like Dance in search of “yard nuts.”

Truman Capote, the Times reminded, wrote a short story about the fall tradition in the Deep South in “A Christmas Memory.”

In my head, I saw an Okefenokee gangster on a gold painted bicycle wobbling down a southern dirt road with a basket of pecans.

Truth in Dance

Dance ended our teardown night before we finished the carousel, telling our supervisor at 3 am that he had to tend to his sick grandmother.

Earlier in the night he told me he was going to spend this time “with a white woman.” I heard him on the phone telling someone else he was finished with the “white woman” and was going back to his fiance.

I kidded him about breaking the “white woman’s heart.

“Maybe she’s at home waiting for you now thinking Michael’s the man of my dreams. You’re a dream breaker.”

The truth is Dance lied about tending to his sick grandmother. He lied on the phone. He was lying to the ‘white girl.’ He lied to Amusements of America, telling them the next day he worked all night. Yet there was truth sprinkled into the mix.

When I think of Dance, I think, pay attention.

People are telling stories about themselves all the time – sometimes in words, sometimes in dance.

Who works in carnivals, I’m asked. I can’t say because like Muir’s daughter I only see a side or two. The true side mixes with the false to create a point of view.

The rest I have to imagine. Dance, I imagine him dancing, robbing, stealing love, picking pecans and riding through life on golden wheels.

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My year working in traveling carnivals isn’t finished until February. I’ve worked traveling carnivals in California, New Jersey, New York, Chicago, Alaska, Minnesota, Oklahoma, Texas and Georgia. I’ve hitched between jumps, about 13,000 miles. I’ve also visited a carnival worker feeder town in Mexico. I might work another carnival but most of my time now will be trying to publish a book on my year.

“Life is a Carnival” from Northwestern University magazine

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Michael Sean Comerford (GJ84), an award-winning Chicago-based journalist, lives out of his backpack and wrote this essay from a McDonald’s near the State Fair of Texas in Dallas.

Tell us what you think. E-mail comments or questions to the editors at letters@northwestern.edu.
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Writer Michael Sean Comerford works as a carny for creative inspiration.

This week I slept in the same bed as my carnival boss, Chango, which is Spanish for “monkey,” a gang name, not a moniker his mother gave him.

His most remarkable feature is a bulbous belly with a knife-fight scar down the center that swirls like a question mark, with a belly button dot. He loves Tecate beer, Marlboro Reds and chocolate muffins. He is 35 and has been a carny for 17 years. His hair is short shaved, and he wears a more-clever-than-the-mark smile.

In our shared hotel room on our carnival route between the Minnesota and Oklahoma state fairs, he snored like a lion, and I slept the sleep of a hunter.

All year I’ve been sleeping, working and living shoulder to shoulder with this subculture of traveling carnivals from coast to coast in the United States. I’ve worked for six traveling carnivals in eight states and will work for more before ending the year, visiting a feeder town for migrant carnival workers in the Mexican state of Veracruz.

Living on carnival wages, I’ve hitchhiked 12,000 miles of the most stunning roads in North America — along the Alaska Highway, through Denali National Park and across the deserts of the American Southwest.

In traveling carnivals, the wildlife have names like Chunk of Cheese, Cotton Candy Cathy, Lurch, Porkchop, Darko, Shorty, Breeze, John Gotti, Ghost and Cockroach.

In California, in honor of St. Patrick’s Day, Mexican migrant carnies dubbed me “Póg mo thóin,” which is Gaelic for “kiss my ass.”

While hitchhiking, I’ve met drivers who included a Princeton butterfly lepidopterist, a California inventor, a magician, an author, bloggers, criminals, preachers, truckers and a man who said he found the secret of happiness in his yellow school bus in the shadow of a mountain named Pink.

I’ve taken videos of some of these people and written about them on my website, “Eyes Like Carnivals,” and the Huffington Post is running my blog.

The Internet brings immediacy to each story — it is happening as I write. I hope to write a book at the end of the year, adding the perspective of having lived the life.

That immediacy is something I didn’t have in my earlier travels when I wanted the open road as a teacher before writing seriously about lives and struggles for meaning.

A young man possessed, I hitchhiked across North America, Europe, the Middle East and North Africa. I could whip out a road story from the next bar stool but never sat down to pound out a book.

Then years went by, and the stories lost their touch of danger and thrill of the new. I embarked on this year for several reasons, not the least of which is that I want to change myself into a book writer. After spending all my professional life as a daily newspaper journalist, I decided to pull out all the stops and go on the road.

I chose traveling carnivals because they rise up in town centers and neighborhoods across the country for annual festivals, the focus of the community and the year.

Then they disappear in the night, like Brigadoons.

I ask deeply personal questions of carnies and drivers who pick up hitchhikers. I ask about childhood, family, work, money, travel, age, violence, love, sex and “America.”

When this year began, I had “the mother of all doubt” sitting on my shoulders. After all, I turned 54 years old while undertaking the hardest physical work of my life.

Some nights, I tore down carnivals from midnight until the next afternoon. After working a full day on rides, it was a weekly 30-hour work marathon.

I’ve stood on top of a carousel center pole on a greased up crank in a violent lightning storm. I’ve been moments away from fights with younger, stronger carnies. I’ve slept with armies of bedbugs and once woke to a herd of Black Angus cows staring in my open van window.

All for a job that pays $250 to $375 a week, sometimes for 80 to 100 hours of work. So I’ve also been broke, a near constant state for many carnies.

Lying next to Chango, I wondered what dreams these traveling people dream. I’ve read people have more than 100,000 dreams in their lifetime. Each day I listen and write what I hear, what I can intuit. I am here to witness, listening for the heartbeats and watching for the telling clues, like a question mark across a carny’s guts.

Carpe Diem in Okefenokee: Last Day of Season

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My buddy Tyrone was at the office trailer window last week at this time talking to a microphone and the owner, who was behind a bullet proof window. It was the last carnival of the year in Waycross, Ga., at Okefenokee Fair.

“Be wise, be truthful, strain the wine, and scale back your long hopes, envious time will have already fled, seize the day, trusting as little as possible in the next day.”
Horace, Odes Book 1, Chapter 11

This morning’s line held so many stories ready to play out. The line held together for pay but with the last dollar paid it would bust-up and blow away.

Carpe Diem is a phrase used in a poem by Horace advising that we all live for today and drink our wine because tomorrow is not certain.

Tomorrow is not certain for many people in line and some of us were already high.

One young woman was smoking a cigarette in line as she laughed about having all season to plan but she had no idea where she was going after payday and a bonus last Monday in Waycross, Ga., at the Okefenokee Fair.

I came away with about $300. Some people would be getting more than a thousand dollars – the year’s bonus and two weeks work.

Numerous men were going home to families in other states and needed to hitch rides with carnival trucks but hadn’t secured a ride yet.

All would have some money but some will be homeless before the carnival season starts next year (April, May or June for most).

The guy who lives in the Mardi Gras house of mirrors is staying in Waycross. He hooked up with a townie and he agreed to be a handyman on her family trailer for the winter.

There are stories every year about carnies deliberately getting arrested so they are in jail, with three hots and a cot, during the winter months.

At Amusements of America, those without felonies were offered jobs in Peru. For the first time in its history, one of America’s biggest carnivals is shipping a large portion of its rides and games to Lima for four months before the season starts in March.

Nevertheless, there’s three weeks between now and departure time and many of the Peru-bound are not sure where they are going to spend their time.

I hitched a ride with a woman-beater and his victim. He drove a pick-up and she drove my van. We drove eight hours down to Fort Lauderdale and “seized the day” by talking about our pasts. I heard a lot about nightmare abuse and dreams of escape. About buying a truck with her Peru money and getting free.

I got out at Alligator Alley and she drove away on I-95, her man still yelling at her on the phone for dropping me off along the interstate.

I was hitchhiking Alligator Alley later when I got a cellphone call from Tyrone. He was on a Greyhound bus bound for Dallas. He was going to see his first grandson and said he was finally going to a V.A. hospital to get a festering wound of his leg fixed. But this Navy vet has promised that other years and hasn’t had his leg fixed in three years.

He knew his call would be a surprise.

“Coming back next year, Mike?” he laughed.

I could just imagine all 400-some pounds of him laughing and jiggling in the night as he called from that tiny Greyhound bus seat.

I was just sitting on a picnic bench at a Alligator Alley rest stop, thinking about that morning line that scattered to the winds in a chaotic blast.

A year of carnivals gone. Carpe Diem, a dead Roman poet’s advice for the beginning of the day, start of the season, not the end. An empty field now, I thought.

“Me?,” I told Tyrone. “Today was a trip. Tomorrow. I don’t know.”

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My year working in traveling carnivals isn’t finished until February. I’ve worked traveling carnivals in California, New Jersey, New York, Chicago, Alaska, Minnesota, Oklahoma, Texas and Georgia. I’ve hitched between jumps, about 13,000 miles. I’ve also visited a carnival worker feeder town in Mexico. I might work another carnival but most of my time now will be trying to publish a book on my year.

Hitched Alligator Alley: Dreamt of Fighting Swamp Creature

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Feet away from where I slept the night, I hitched along Alligator Alley until I got a ride to Marco Island.

I spent the night dreaming about fighting an alligator or a Black Bear or some very strong shadow creature.

I’m worried the creature was my subconscious and I was literally fighting my subconscious in a swamp.

I hitched 525 miles this week, from Okefenokee Swamp in Georgia, across the Everglades in Florida to the Gulf of Mexico.

Hitchhiking Alligator Alley and a Swamp Creature Dream

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Osvaldo Guzman drives along Alligator Alley as he talks about survival.

“If I survive, I will spend my whole life at the oven door seeing that no one is denied bread and, so as to give a lesson of charity, especially those who did not bring flour.”
Jose Marti

Osvaldo Guzman picked up this hitchhiker Wednesday near Alligator Alley in Florida after I had spent a few days sleep deprived, sick with the flu and all day without food or water.

In a thick Cuban accent, he said he somehow recognized me.

See, three times Osvaldo attempted to get the United States via makeshift boats from Cuba. Each boat was a hodgepodge of discarded tires and wood, overcrowded and without enough to eat or drink.

He knows that look, he said. I believe he meant, “need.”

On one trip he started out with 17 people on a floating deathtrap and set sail for 10 days without food or water. Just 10 people were alive when the US Coast Guard picked them up and escorted them back to Cuba.

Osvaldo got his legal immigration papers about seven years ago. He’s married to an American woman, has a five-year-old boy and lives in a Cuban community, where he says he mostly speaks Spanish to his pals.

At 40 years old, he’s got his own heating and air conditioning business which he supplements with an Amway dealership.

He gave me an Amway energy drink, vitamins and dropped me off at a roadside rest stop on Alligator Alley – just picnic tables, information boards and parking spaces. A gate separated the stop from the Everglades but a large opening with fan boats was at the end of the lot.

He dropped me off after several harrowing stories about crossings and exuberant stories about living the American dream, via family and Amway.

I watched him drive away from me on Alligator Alley, with vitamins and a drink in my hands and thought about …

“God damn immigrants.”

Sleeping bait

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An Albanian refugee, Nick said he had to decide if he wanted to stay and save his business or leave Albania and save his family.

After Osvaldo left me at the rest stop, I was rousted by two cops. The first, a state trooper, kindly brought me more than 15 miles down the road to the Miccosukee Indian Reservation along Alligator Alley.

There I was asking truck drivers and others at the gas station for rides when a second cop, a heavily tattooed, short but buff reservation cop came up from behind me, tapped me on the shoulder and threatened to throw me in jail.

Little did he know, a prison post would be an interesting Eyes Like Carnivals read.

He forced me to leave the gas station and walk to I-75, Alligator Alley, to hitchhike at 10 pm at night, in the rain.

Instead, I threw down my sleeping bag and slept in the mangrove beside the road, with an open pond on one side and thick everglades on the other. In an area known for alligators, Black Bears, snakes and even a few panthers, I knew the risks but was beyond weary.

I was sleeping bait.

I dreamt I woke fighting a black animal, a Black Bear or an alligator. But a real animal, an incredibly strong shadow. I grabbed it and I was losing because my legs were caught in the red sleeping bag.

I woke alive. Collected my sleeping bag and pack, went back to the road at 5:30 am and was miserable again.

Thinking, as I so often do, of being homeless, having little prospect of selling this project, of once having young promise.

Now standing wayward.

Five hours of that, then a white van and a wondrous story pulled up in front of me in the form of another refugee from a tough landscape.

Nick came from Albania eight years ago, after political opponents burned his business and threatened to kill him and his entire family.

“People would see you and say you are a hobo, but I knew you no hobo,” he said. “I left home when I was 15, I learned how to read faces. I know 99 percent of the time, I see a face, I know him.”

Songs so often go through my head and when Nick went on and on about me looking like a hobo, I thought of all the writing I’d done on hoboes when I was a journalist and a song sung by Woody Guthrie, “Hobo’s Lullaby.”

“I know the police cause you trouble
They cause trouble everywhere
But when you die and go to Heaven
You’ll find no policemen there.”

An extravert, Nick told me “Albanians are fighters” and it “is good to fight, it makes you feel young. Young people are fighting all the time. You fight you feel young. Don’t cry. Crying is for losers. Sometimes I feel like crying but I think crying is for losers. You must fight.”

He’s fighting for legal residency. He’s now owns a successful home painting business with employees in Naples. But a judge rejected his immigration status THIS WEEK. It means his son is losing a college scholarship. He has to appeal to federal court, a long shot which is going to be King Kong expensive and another year in court.

But he says he’s a happy man, “with money or no money.”

“This is your lucky day my man,” he said.

Nick drove me an hour along Alligator Alley to Marco Island, across the island and to the front door of my parent’s home, where I intend to spend Thanksgiving with my daughter.

My ‘lucky day’ ride brought me from dark thoughts to a new point of view, a new landscape.

Driver is a happy man

I was finishing a two day hitchhike from Waycross, Ga., on the border of Okefenokee Swamp, working for Amusements of America.

I road the first segment with a carny woman who is trying to leave her carny boyfriend, who beats her. She’s so jaded about life she said she doesn’t know if she can be kind to people anymore, “they just sh*t on you.”

She left me off in Fort Lauderdale, far from Alligator Alley. I was on foot and lost.

I spent the Monday night outside in an office park grove. I was rousted by three separate cops on Tuesday. I slept in the Everglades and was picked up by two remarkable immigrants, one from Cuba and the other Albania.

When Nick left me on Wednesday, I had essentially hitched from the doorstep of my Georgia carnival to the doorstep of my parent’s home on a Florida island.

Nick and I had shared our live stories and though he’s younger than me, he had advice for the hitchhiker who talks “smack” to himself while waiting for rides.

“Happiness is not about being taller or shorter, or skinnier or ugly. Happiness is in the spirit. It is from within. From God or somewhere. I don’t know … I am a happy man. You should be happy.”

I’d gotten rides from two happy men from another landscape. I know these rides will carry me. No loosing to the swamp creature. No crying. Fighting.

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I’ve completed a season of working in traveling carnivals, living on carnival wages and hitchhiking almost 13,000 miles between spots. I’ve worked carnivals in California, New Jersey, New York, Chicago, Alaska, Minnesota, Oklahoma, Texas and Georgia. I’ve followed Mexican carnies to their hometown in Mexico. My year ends in February and I may work a couple more carnivals. Mostly, I’m now attempting to find an agent or publisher for a book on my year and my new perspectives.

Why is anyone a carny?

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“The life of man is a long march through the night, surrounded by invisible foes, tortured by weariness and pain, towards a goal that few can hope to reach, and where none may tarry long.”
Bertand Russell

I do share a brotherhood of weariness this morning after an all night “sick slough.”

I suffered the flu during this tear-down (slough) at the Okefenokee Fair and now keep falling asleep at the McDonald’s as I try to describe the feelings of a person sleep deprived and ailing.

I can say, yet another carny last night said, “You are a true carny” as I jumped on top of the carousel with more stamina than most. He obviously was complimenting me, while all I thought was, “True carny? Truly, who cares.”

It’s not a moniker of pride when talking to cops or a pretty girl. Landlords and employers aren’t going to light up when they hear me described as a true carny.

Nobody is a carny for the glory.

Add to that the poor housing, poor pay and poor working conditions, at times like these one wonders why anyone is a carny.

Still, I’m not the only one who will walk the empty fairgrounds this morning and see an empty field where a carnival stood for five days and feel some pride. Pride that I built it, worked it, tore it down and now it is blowing away with every truck leaving the lot.

I feel the futile cycle that I’m in, of poverty and set-ups and tear-downs.

I feel anticipation too, because it’s the end of the season and time to go home but to what.

The Japanese poet Basho lived a life with few material comforts in the 1600s, traveling town to town. Around the age of 50 (around my age that is) he wrote about home.

“And yet we all in the end live, do we not, in a phantom dwelling? But enough of that-I’m off to bed.”

Most Mystical Carnival Opening Never Ends

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“Fog everywhere.”
Second paragraph of Bleak House, Charles Dickens

A carnival is rising and slowly coming to focus as tired men working all night walk around like ghosts with feet of clay.

A carny reaches from one arm to another as the Century Wheel is still a half moon during set-up Monday morning in Waycross, Ga., at the Okefenokee Fair.

The mist curls the rigging, so thick it is more like miasma. Clanks and yells came out of the fog from unknown directions. Pot belly pig squeal. Donkey bray. Rooster call. All from the muddy air on the edge of the great Okefenokee Swamp.

I thought of those men on the Century Wheel, the wheel named after a segment of time but its origins so much older. The dew made the grassy field muddy and workmen feet were slippery on the wheel.

Carny lore is rich with stories of the old timers setting up wheels and then walking the top, singing as it spun.

The first time I heard the story the carny said he was drunk when he did it because, “I balances better when I’m drunk.”

A recent study once again showed the elements of the human body are also found in water and clay. The Bible and the Qur’an both have creation stories about clay and the mist.

When the sun burned off the fog, the fairgrounds lit up as if from behind a curtain, an alive, magical town. Carnies setting up the last of the rides. Practicing magic and circus acts. Stocking games and food wagons.

I’ve worked carnivals in nine states now in a full carnival season and this is the most mystical opening.

Sunday it will blow away, leaving temporary footprints and tire tracks in the muddy, grassy field. Leaving memories in the minds of those who were here and those too will blow away. Not gone, somewhere else, maybe recorded and nestled in a Higgs-Boson.

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I’ve now worked in traveling carnivals in California, New Jersey, New York, Chicago, Alaska, Minnesota, Oklahoma, Texas and Georgia. I’ve hitchhiked more than 12,000 miles between jumps. Visited Mexican carnies in their hometown. My year working in traveling carnivals won’t end until February so I’m seeking a new jump.

Life Lines Cut Path to Rides

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Yellow electrical lead lines cut a path through the early morning grass and fog to a power generator and carnival rides, as carnies work to put up the rides at the Okefenokee Fair, Waycross, Ga.

“When I die you will find swamp oak written on my heart.”
Henry David Thoreau

Monday morning fog engulfed the Okefenokee Fair grounds on set-up day as lead lines led the way to unfinished rides. I worked all night and all day till 11 pm. I slept in a sleeping bag under the tin roof of the outdoor livestock arena.

I’ve learned a few things about the area already. Waycross, Ga., where I am now writing from in a McDonald’s, is the closest town to the biggest blackwater swamp in America. Its name in Native American means, “land of the trembling earth” because of the 438,000 swamp prominently features peat.

It does my Irish heart good to be so near so much bog, but the ‘swampers’ who live there are mostly of old English stock, retaining Elizabethan syntax and phrases.

I’ve yet to tour it but it is home to many carnivorous plants and alligators. I have a picture in my head of the wading birds, including herons, egrets, ibises, cranes, and bitterns.

I have toured the local library – like an ugly friend, ordinary on the outside, beautiful on the inside – and was struck to find out Henry David Thoreau is considered by some to be the “patron saint” of swamps.

Thoreau wrote a lot about the fog and miasma I’ve witnessed this week, surrounding a carnival so bright and spinning, filled with laughing, happy creatures.

Pop culture references to Okefenokee include the cartoon strip “Pogo” who lives in the swamp. It’s also the residence of “Scooby-Dum” the slow-witted cousin of Scooby Doo.

On set-up day, I set-up kiddie cars with a 17-year-old kid with a full beard. He looked like he spent his allowance on beard oils every week. His family lives on a farm on the swamp’s border and raises everything from chickens to hogs.

His step-daddy chided him about being a ‘hog farmer.’ it was cold so he wasn’t wearing overalls like L’il Abner but that kid was so strong, he lifted ride cars like a Chicago grifter spins quarters across his fingers.

These people are so interesting and I’m listening for the colloquialisms but my mind is also other places, specifically … Peru.

Amusements of America, one of the top two biggest carnival companies in the country, is sending games and rides people to Lima, Peru for the winter to earn money.

If I go with them, I’ll miss Christmas with my daughter. But I’m thinking of going, as a pursuit of another angle to the carnival business.

The games boss talked to me last night about it. I don’t speak Spanish and I don’t see how I’d get Peruvians to play games without using language to bamboozle them into loosing more money than they can afford for prizes nobody needs.

Two carnies came up to my KiddyLand ride on Monday and one young man said, “You got to watch out, it’s dangerous in Limer.”

His carny girlfriend then slapped him over the head, like Moe hit the stooges. Bang!

“It’s Lima, you f***ing idiot,” she said. “It’s like the capital – or something – of Peru. A lemur is a monkey, you big monkey!”

Big A, as it is called in the industry, is having trouble finding American carny help, as one old time carny said, because almost everybody has a felony record.

This is the time of year many carnies are asking themselves similar questions. Last night, I listened to a carny tell me he is going to retire and go back to being a cook, “I think,” he said.

I need to sell my year in traveling carnivals to an agent or publisher, I could use these winter months to track down leads and write that book.

In the meantime, my passport is in my pocket. I’m surrounded by walking felony records and one ‘big monkey.’ And I ain’t afraid of no lemurs.

Still, out of that swampy fog that comes at morning these November days I hear a distant voice, my own, “Where next.”

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The carnival season ended in recent weeks, this is one of the final carnivals of my year in carnivals. I’ve hitchhiked more than 12,000 miles between jumps in California, New York, New Jersey, Chicago, Alaska, Minnesota, Oklahoma, Texas and Georgia.
Any suggestions on whether I should go to Lima, Peru would be appreciated.

Starting line for Okefenokee Fair

When I woke at 6:30 am in the dirt by the livestock arena, I walked out to the fairgrounds of the Okefenokee Fair.

There was nearly a dozen men already waiting. One large black man with a purple Afro-comb in his hair was in the middle of a conversation.

“There are millionaires on the chain gangs,” he said. “I know, I’ve been on them. One guy died and we found his debit card and he had $50,000 on the card … Don’t let anyone hold your money on the chain gang.”

Stories flooded forth from others about how people on the chain gangs had money stolen from them.

I didn’t know how many rich people work on chain gangs, I mused, but kept my wiseacre mouth shut.

People have been telling stories of accidents here in other years. I’ve been talking to Jerry, who has promised to show me how to hop a freight train down to Florida after this week’s show.

Guys are playing cards on the main stage, others are walking fast toward trucks as they pull onto the lot of the Okefenokee Fair grounds.

It’s 2 pm Monday and the fair starts tomorrow at 5 pm. Amusements of America, known in the industry as “The big A,” tore down last night in Charlotte and is rolling south to the border of Florida, to Waycross, Ga.

I’m standing around with 20-some unemployed locals. One says there could be closer to a hundred men around here by end of day looking for work, but I doubt it.

With all this help around, it means I might have made a mad dash via bus and hitchhiking to make it here last night in time to be passed over in favor of locals.

I slept at the fair grounds, under the tin roof at the livestock show area. It smelled like livestock shit but there are no walls there so fresh Okefenokee swamp air blew through.

I rode a Greyhound bus from Mexico, via Juarez, to Jacksonville, Florida. Then I hitched the last 80-some miles in the back of a Ford pick-up truck (video to come).

I’ve been on buses for more than 5,000 miles since the end of my last job at the State Fair of Texas.

After this post, I’ll stock up with food at the local Walmart for tonight. I suspect we’ll be working until early morning and then all day, to be ready for opening.

I don’t want to miss the mad dash for hiring later today so I’m cutting this post short, here at the Wifi-equipped Chic-fil-A.

I want to see the mad dash for work. I want to see the season end in the Okefenokee swamp.

Will I work? These Georgia boys looked angry this morning at seeing an outsider and they look ready to fight for a hole (carny job). I’m going to fight too.

Every carnival is different, right now I feel anxious about food, work and the unknown in this swamp town.