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When The Carnival Comes To Town

It was the last couple of nights for a month-long stay in southern St. Pete for this county fair-like carnival just down the street.  The chance for some good old fashioned picture taking with bright lights, loud music and the circus patina made it imperative.  

It was about 9:00 on a Sunday night and kind of chilly so the crowd was sparse.  I didn't see many older people, mostly young junior high age kids skittering from ride to ride.

The barkers were doing their best to drum up what little business could be had.  The carnival ambiance: metal-on-metal chain driven rides, the calliope music coming from speakers throughout the grounds, the bright lights twinkling on and off to lure the eyes.     

When you look at the pictures you will notice something about the ride facades.  Like most modern things the construction materials are new. No longer are the rides and panels the somewhat dingy plywood, metal and canvas constructs of our past, or in a mind's eye.  Now we have formed plastic.  Everything and everywhere the bright, spray-painted shiny plasticized motifs and themes.    

It is bright and pretty and a feast for the eyes, but somehow, I miss the canvas and old, tired faded facade I recall from my youth.  The Mercer County Fair was such a place, perhaps the only place except for the movies, where the exhibit of Frida The Frog Baby made such places magical and mysterious.  I remember dropping coin after coin into a machine that spit out old postcards of early 1900's style scantily clad women, that supposedly told you who you would marry, when I was about 10.  There was also a place where you could get baby chicks if you tossed a ring onto a pole.  There was also a tent where you could get mini-packs of cigarettes.  Yep, real cigs to little boys looking to get real adult. It was gritty, dingy, dark and about as surreal you could get for a young kid, freed from supervision, from a small town of 250.   

Now we have laws about cigarette sales to minors, and gone are the dirty skirts of freak-show exhibits, and humane treatment toward animals.  All good things.  Now we have the formed plastic or fiberglass of a modern world that becomes increasingly plastic.  The mystery is gone, or is it my youth?   

I want my carnival to have mud on the tires from a fair 300 miles away.  I want it to have the hammer marks from countless set-ups, and tear-downs.  I want my carnival to have the evil of travels not on any map, but the heart of the local Seaton Church sandwich stand with all the familiar faces of my youth.  

I want to imagine things going on behind ratty canvas walls that will illuminate the joys of adulthood.  I want the scary barkers, with their leering and yellow-toothed come-on lines.  I want the adventure that all traveling carnivals invite to a young person.  

That's not this modern 21st century carnival.  Mine doesn't exist  any longer.  It gave way to the plastic, bright, pre-formed plastic arcade and uniform lights, all working, none burned out.    

Like a beacon of excitement shining throughout the area, this tower with its ascending light scheme beckons all to enjoy its thrills.  

I like this shot best of all.  The lights of a carnival are perhaps the best thing about it:  the food is usually to greasy, the rides make you queasy, but the lights?  They shine in a way that mesmerizes.  Alas, the lights tonight were also all too modern.  They all matched.  There were all working.  

Walking by this ride I noticed there were no passengers, but it zipped along like it was filled with screaming kids.  The operator on the right just watching and bundled up. 

An abandoned bunge jump area.  Too cold, too few patrons, too late at night, the operator was no where to be seen.

A wild eyed chicken racing wild eyed horses in an empty carousel.   

A lone operator watching his empty ride.

No lines tonight.  If you ride you'll be experiencing a thrill to the senses as well as a wind chill factor.  

A pre-formed fiberglass car in a small train for smaller patrons who, by now, should be home and tucked in bed awaiting the alarm for school tomorrow morning.

This ride gives you a loop this circular monster.  Nope, not enough money to get me up there.  The Ferris wheel scared the bejesus out of me when I was 14, and I'm smarter now.  

No scuffs, no dents, or smears from years of dismantling and hoisting again.  This has no rich carnival patina:  just more shiny brightness with no past.

A mattering of people, some operators, some adults watching their kids, a sad sight at closing time.  Even the mystery of a carnival has a closing time.  

A track going nowhere, but supplying fun and diversion to kids wanting to escape the routine of daily life in the city.

An oriental dragon running the tracks with empty cars.

According to MapQuest I am 35.2 miles from the winter home of the Ringling Brothers and Barnum and Bailey Circus in Sarasota.  Now there is patina, I'll bet.

I left a little saddened not for the people-less carnival, not for the lack of picture taking opportunities, and not for the few kids who were having fun, but for myself.  Whatever happened to Frida the Frog Baby?  Or the plywood panels promising sights seen by Kings and Monarchs from around the World?  What happened to the mystery of things a young kid from Seaton saw in wonder?  What happened to me?  


  1. Great post.....and the question is what hapened to us and our world?


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