Gunmen Sunday, gun play on the midway

‘I would have shot those bastards, one, two, three.’
Carny gamer

Sunday is usually Slough Sunday or Hispanic Sunday but this one will be remembered as Gunmen Sunday.

Carnies were looking forward to a tough slough day breaking down the carnival because one of the new guys, Studs, on Friday decked the carousel’s foreman and that meant we may be shorthanded on my ride. Then a punishing wind and rain storm blew in at closing time.

It also was Hispanic Sunday, in a majority Hispanic town along the industrial strip on the Sacramento River in metro San Francisco. Carnies call it that because Hispanics come out in droves on Sundays. There’s lots of speculation about work hours and traditions but there’s no arguing with the numbers.

On Sunday, for instance, for hours on the my ride, (a swing ride with a clown at its axis) when I wouldn’t see a single child from another ethnic group.

Five Mexican food carts lined up on the side street next to our small, grassy lot. Lines formed in front of the two-wheeled wood carts, which featured corn-on-the cob with mayonnaise, cheese or chili powder; mango/watermelon slices; a variety of deep fried chips; and a selection of shaved ice snow cones from a cooler and a worn, stained juice bottle.

Most of their items are $1 to $2. Almost everything in our concession stand is $4, including our Sno Kones.

Parents sat in lawn chairs in the parking lot, sometimes in the back of their pick-ups, letting their kids run around the carnival the rest of the day.

With $25 wristbands, those kids without leashes rode every ride again and again until dizzily reporting high on sugary foods, back to the pick-up truck.

Yet, overshadowing the day – more than Studs decking the boss, the wicked slough, or the Hispanic crowds – was gun play.

A well-timed armed robbery occurred as the day’s receipts were being collected at the head trailer of the carnival unit boss and part-owner.

When the light went out on the Super Shot – a tower ride featuring a fast drop – carnival shouts go out from one corner to the next, “Down!”

Gamers turn in their cash and ride jockeys turn in tickets. Gamers keep 20 percent of their purse and turn in 80 percent. Daily, that amounts to a few thousand dollars in a small jump like ours.

When the Super Shot dimmed, the shouts went up, the gunmen made their way into the boss’ trailer, held a gun in his face and demanded money.

I heard about it moments later as supervisor Robert E., a beer bellied man in his 50s, ran about the midway.

“Two guys with 9’s just robbed (the boss). It just happened five minutes ago. We called the cops. Go slough your ride.”

Lots of running around ensued. Office women locked their trailer. People coming out of their bunkhouses for the all-night carnival breakdown were greeted with, “did you hear some gangsters with 9’s (nine caliber pistols) just held us up?”

I’m not sure how anybody knows the guns were 9 millimeter caliber revolvers.

When I returned to my ride the wind was whipping up. At one point that night, my hard hat flew 20 feet off my head and by The Rabbit like a yellow cannonball. He was bending over a bucket of tools.

“Wow, your hat went that far?” he said, standing up bemused by his near miss, rain blowing his coat and beating his face.

Heads up cops

After being sent to my ride at the front of the lot, I spotted police. Soon I realized they were taking an accident report from the owner of a parked car.

“Because it happened on private property maam, there is little we can do,” I heard the Contra Costa Sheriffs Department officer say.

Told to stay out of this thing, I decided to re-enter the fray.

“You guys do know there was an armed robbery just five minutes ago, right?”

“No, where,” a cop said, looking over my shoulder at the army of carnival workers climbing over rides.

I led him down the midway to the main office trailer and knocked on the door.

“Who is it?” came a woman’s frightened voice.

“It’s me, I’m with the cops. Where’s (Robert E and the carnival boss)?”

The door opened a peep and someone in the office called Robert E. When he ran over to us, he looked at me and shouted.

“Get back to your ride!”

Happy endings

I’m writing just one-day later, we haven’t been told the details but one feature stands out.

Almost every carny I spoke to had an alternative ending to the story they would have liked to have written.

If they did that to me …

“I would have pulled out my Glock and shot those bastards, one, two, three.”

“I would have gotten (carnies) and gone after them.”

I did as I care to do, recklessly witnessed and wrote.


Disclaimer: All names are aliases or carny names. Blogs are based on personal observations and related stories but truth in a carnival is like an stray bouncing blue balloon on the midway, it may have escaped the dart but it will deflate.

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