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Michael Sean Comerford Headshot

Carnival Season Ends, Clock Ticks Until Next

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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.

All those carnivals in all those states. All those day-to-night-to-day teardowns. Sleeping, eating, working and now sharing a common view of the coming days. The money clock is ticking but the carnival ride ended.

Did I give the carny game all I got and win no carnival prize.

"Me?," I told Tyrone. "Today was a trip. Tomorrow. I don't know."

He laughed again.

"Same here."

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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.