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Michael Sean Comerford Headshot

A Dirty, Smelly, Messy Gift for a Little Girl

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"Of all nature's gifts to the human race, what is sweeter to a man than his children."
Cicero

My daughter turns eight-years-old this weekend and I want to be home for the celebration so I began making plans to leave my New York carnival a couple days ago.

I've been gone most of this year on my year following traveling carnivals, calling her daily on my cell phone.

However, I got an e-mail from my ex-wife's family saying my daughter tells them she deeply misses me.

I've been making phone calls to Chicago area carnivals listed on the state's licensing site and this morning got hired over the phone.

My boss in New Jersey said he'll send my cash to my sister's house. I'm going to a carnival with bunkhouses on the Southside of Chicago but no fixed address.

No tears were shed saying goodbye this morning to a crew of about 10 people in Westchester County. I've been here two weeks and several people have left since I signed on.

One carny collapsed and was taken to the hospital a few days ago.

Behind the scenes - before and after show time - carnivals are harsh places. In his 60s, that collapsed carny was then fired.

Missing them madly

This morning, the crew wasn't very surprised by my announcement.

A Newberry, New York kid, 18 years old, said I should buy the crew a round of beer. Because we don't get this week's pay until tomorrow, a Jamaican said I should have given him and his brother my week's pay. They would make sure it was sent, he said, winking that they might also be tempted to keep it.

One of the brothers who own my New Jersey-based carnival said, "Say hello if you're ever in this part of the country again."

An woman some of the carnies call 'mom,' in front of the whole crew, took a smoke of her cigarette, looked into the sun and asked me, "Why."

"My daughter's eighth birthday is this weekend," I said.

This crew all has families they miss. It is obvious that some miss them madly.

The majority male crew - most of them fathers themselves - all nodded their heads in approval.

Going to Chicago

It's Tuesday and the second day of set-up for a carnival in a mall parking lot.

The crew was sweating in the heat and working on rides as they waved goodbye. I was sweating too as I went to the mall to file this blog and get water in an empty Gatorade bottle for the road.

It's 2 p.m., I have no idea where I'll sleep tonight. It will be tough hitchhiking to Chicago.

Walking the area this morning about 6 a.m., I saw I'm near the Taconic State Highway (not far from Franklin Roosevelt's home). From here I can hitch to I-85 to I-80, through Pennsylvania, Ohio, Michigan and Indiana.

It's a bit more than 800 miles. It completes a loop for me that started on the storied Zephyr from Chicago through the American West to San Francisco. From there I hitched through the Southwest and up to New Jersey, a bit more than 3,000 miles.

My year following traveling carnivals had to be coast-to-coast and I have to travel the way they travel.

This leg of the trip, I'm heading into harsh weather. And the murder arrest of Kai the "Hatchet Hitchhiker" can't be good for hitchhikers anywhere.

I have real concerns about Northern Indiana and the Southside of Chicago. I've hitched it before and it was always epic.

Maybe I'll be lucky this time.

I'll be a dirty, smelly mess when I get there but I am the dirty, smelly, messy gift for an eight-year-old angel.