By Martin J. Kidston
Its Latin derivative is a trite misleading when it comes to the modern day carnival. No longer a festival of meat, but rather a traveling amusement show, this merry band of entertainers knows how to put on a good time.
Often known as carnies, the circus-oriented, fun-bunch have a tough rap, but when it comes to hard work and motivation, the rigor of their duties is a tough match.
Like a pre-Columbian armada owning trucks instead of sails, the carnies rumble into town under the cover of night. With their rigs and mechanized surries, they carry their cargo in tow and its no secret when they arrive.
As the rides and booths go up, terms like Jungle Fever and Berry-go-round become common play, as do such delicacies as pot stickers and funnel cakes. There are no pagan dancers, but there are dragon wagons and the psychedelic umbrellas similar to those oversized mushrooms from wonderland.
Its a netherworld among the routine, a momentary land of make-believe where nary truth nor consequence has meaning, and riddles have no answers. But for those who take employment in the fantasy world of festivities, the carnival is a way of life.
To the clink and clamor of various tools, the merry-go-round takes shape, and when the circus-like umbrella pushes high the shade within provides a cool resting ground to watch the carnival pros go about erecting their metallic camp. Up in the bars and rafters, the crew members sit, sliding pins and pegs into place. In a short matter of time the ride will be ready and the fun will begin. But before that, the big question: Why the carnival?
I was a carni back in the 50s, crew member Mary Petrowske said. My guy is the truck mechanic who fixes the vehicles and rides and I teamed up again.
Recalling the golden days of the carnival service, Petrowske knows how the industry has changed, and though there may be a hint of nostalgia in the old times, she admits a change for the better.
The days have changed, she said. Back then, youd sleep in the trucks and on the Midway wherever you could lay a blanket. Now, its hotel rooms, and youve got to have a clean record, be trustworthy and dependable.
Petrowske said the crew has a good time traveling, but the work is often laborious. The team recently took down camp in Riverton, Wyo., and worked 20 straight hours in order to make it to Havre in time for the Great Northern Fair.
Fellow crew member Sandy Spivey went from a homeless shelter to becoming the Straw Boss, as shes fondly referred to by crewmates. Braced on a bracket up under the umbrella, she told her story of how, exactly, she joined the carnival.
I started out picking cherries in Polson, she said. Then I went to Kalispell to work on the school that burned down, but the jobs were filled. I stayed at the homeless shelter and heard about the carnival.
Spivey walked to the carnival site and was hired on the spot. Now, as she works with a sense of loyalty, she admits to the joys of her job.
I love it, she confessed. Theres good people here.
Other stories arent as complicated, such as merry-go-round crewman Rick Keeles story. For him, it was simply a matter of picking up the phone.
I just called a person, he said. They called me back and told me to be at the mall at 3 oclock.