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.

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