When I was a kid I wanted to be a carny. Is it offensive to call fair-workers ‘carnies’? I don’t know, but that’s what I called them in my head, so that’s what I thought I would be when I grew up. I loved the fair (what kind of child doesn’t love it?), and I was too busy thinking about candy to be deterred by the lack of a dental plan. My favorite ride was a whirling UFO-like contraption called the Gravitron. I had concocted this idealized version of my life as an adult; I would travel with the fair all over the world, and the Gravitron would be my apartment. I would live inside it with my handsome-prince/husband, and every night after the fairgrounds closed, we’d push a button that would transform our super-fun ride into our super-fun home (it was a logic-less Dexter’s Lab situation). I honestly thought that’s how all carnies lived. I had been living under that assumption so long that I never bothered to ask anyone if it was correct. It was a fact that corn-dogs were amazing, and it was a fact that carnies lived in the rides. So, one day, I would too.
Clearly, my ambition knew no limits as an eight-year-old. Even more relentless than my ambition, was my curiosity. I needed to know everything about them, but at every turn my plans were foiled. My mother, being relatively responsible, did not let me walk right up to strangers and ask if they were happy with their life-choices. Even if by some miracle she had, the people who worked at the fair were so illusive. I wanted so badly to know their secrets (I still do), but they were like creatures from another dimension. All of a sudden they would turn a corner and *poof* disappear behind some mysterious tarp. I had so many important questions! When did they get to ride the Ferris Wheel? Did they ever get sick of candy-apples, or (as I had previously theorized) was that completely impossible? What did they do when there was no fair? Would they take me with them?
It wasn’t until I was about 12 years old (you read that right, TWELVE-YEARS-OLD) that the carnival began to lose some of that beautiful mystery. Two things happened in the same year: I read The House on Mango Street, and I saw their real homes. I saw them with my own eyes. It began innocuously enough, I was on something I have always described as the Chair Chain Ride (obviously, no sane person would name a children’s ride something that horrifying). As the seat went flying into the air, as I reached the highest point, I could see something blurred in the distance, something that seemed out of place. Not just one-something, a whole field of somethings. They all looked alike, big white shapes, all in a circular formation. As I hit that high-point on the last swing, I realized what they were. They were trailers. What were trailers doing next to the fair? Was there some kind of attraction going on that I didn’t know about? Did the fair have a trailer-expo this year? Is a “trailer-expo” an actual thing? Wait, wait, wait. Oh. My. God. The world slowed down around me. The music stopped. My brain was putting the pieces together. What were the trailers… But if they don’t live in the rides… But that means… And just like that, the magic was gone. I felt like such a fool.
I wobbled out of my seat. My face felt hot. I ended up puking candy-apple into a trash can.
No one lives inside the Gravitron, you idiot.
All the pictures above were taken at the LA County Fair…Including the very last one.