Art the Carney

My expectations of the Livonia Spree were not high. Reminded of the rather steamy-blacktopped NASCAR event of weeks before by the permanent flip flops tanned to my feet, I didn’t imagine that the small-town carnival we were now working at would be as entertaining. With a six hour road trip ahead of me to this land just outside of Detroit, I sluggishly got behind the wheel and began my trek.

Not having spent much time in Michigan, I noticed that the smog that trailed me from Chicago seemed to part at the border, revealing an epic blue ceiling smudged with Vanilla Sky clouds. My mood lifted ten-fold, and I began to throughly enjoy the me-time of the road. Having packed CD’s rather than my iPod, I took in and belted out entire albums at a time, the soundtrack to this journey including: Ani DiFranco’s Little Plastic Castle, Cobalt & The Hired Guns Everybody Wins! (small plug: listen to “Like You Like Me Like Me” and “Slow Down” on iTunes to be instantly hooked on this super-duper Chicago band) and Chris Isaak’s Forever Blue. The Chris Isaak album, autographed and sketched all-over years before, got twice played.

Before long, I arrived at the Spree and found the little stage where I’d be spending my next three days. In a fresh-air breeze breathed by few, since most attendees were still stuck in the office on this beautiful day, my coworkers and I opted to walk the fest for a bit, seeing what there was to be seen.

Wandering no more than a few minutes, I found myself at the home of Kevin Bacon. Kevin Bacon shares his trailer with other pigs, including Brad Barbecuepitt and Mia Ham, and each pig has a pet dachshund, whom they race in tiny hot dog costumes.  Hot Dog Pig Races were a first for me and, let me say, they are adorable.

I moved on to mingling with Kevin’s neighbors: a zebra, capuchin monkey, porcupine and some lemurs. After chatting with them, I had the privilege of feeding a camel, the sensation of a camel eating from my hand one I won’t soon forget. Whiskery and full of lips, this was one of the gentlest creatures I’ve ever encountered. I went back to feed him twice.

Deciding it was time to feed ourselves, our next find tops my list of “Why-Didn’t-I-Think-Of-That” creations: “The Walking Taco”.  Given a choice of a bag of Fritos or Dorittos, the Taco Master crushes the chips in the sack, then fills it with the meat, cheese, sour cream, lettuce and salsa that would normally fill a messy shell. Completed with a plastic fork, these will definitely be on the table of my next party.

We made our way back to our set-up, located at the entrance of the carnival and, munching away at my bag of goodies, I knew that this weekend spent under cotton candy clouds was going to be just fine.

It was the next day that Art arrived. Art is a “carney”, a partial owner of an elephant ear stand and a “Shoot-To-Win” game, both which travel with the “Greatest Carnival in the World”. A bit unkempt, I have to admit that Art appeared as though he might be trouble for us as we tried to work.

In mere minutes, however, Art became one of the more fascinating people I’ve met in awhile.  Insisting that he’s “been around long enough to know everything“, he insisted that I ask him any question I have left about the world, which he’d happily answer.

The following is a list of the “Carnival” knowledge I gained from Art:

  • Funnel Cakes vs. Elephant Ears

Funnel Cakes and Elephant Ears are not the same thing.  Funnel Cakes are made with batters that are more liquid, such as pancake batter, whereas Elephant Ears are made with dough, such as a pizza dough.  This is how they get their shape and, I must agree with Art, the elephant ears are tastier. But these funnel cakes were kind enough to pose for a photo…

  • Carnivals Are (And Aren’t) the Moneymakers One Might Think — Art (with a partner), as mentioned, owns two of the activities that travel with the larger carnival.  Under the misconception that the Carnival was an entity owned entirely by the same organization, I was interested to learn that each of the individual stations are often owned by a variety of people, rather than the carnival, itself. Art explained that his “Shoot to Win” game can be a real liability: not only does the BB gun cost $2200 for purchase, but the large stuffed animals average about $65. In markets with experienced shooters, they need to limit patrons to one prize per fair, having experienced cities in the past where they lost money at their booth due to too many prize-winners.
  • How to Win at “The Red Star Shoot-Out”

The object of the game, given an automatic quick-shooting BB gun, is to shoot the red star from the center of a paper target.  Most make the mistake of shooting the star directly, as shown in the picture.  The secret is to shoot in short spurts, and to shoot a circle around the star, punching a hole in the center of the paper.  I gave it a try, attempting to use my new-found knowledge.  I still failed, but was proud to come home with a target with only a tiny piece of red star left.

So, next time you head out to a festival, take your new-found carnival knowledge along with you. Along with one more tidbit (perhaps the best carnival lesson learned of all)…

Make friends with the Elephant Ear guy.  Elephant Ears are amazing.  But FREE Elephant Ears make one happy girl…

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