Tucson CitizenTucson Citizen

Ryn: Carnied away

Carnivals offer thrills, chills and excitement; toss in freaks, geeks & creeps for a better grasp of the lifestyle

Pima County Fair patrons ride high on Speed.

Pima County Fair patrons ride high on Speed.

The top three fantasy jobs on my list used to be prison warden, cult leader or running away with the carnival.

Don’t guffaw. My brother as a kid used to say he wanted to be a railroad track.

While not many railroad builders will consider using a human being as track material, folks may get a chance to run away with the carnival, now in town as part of the Pima County Fair.

But don’t expect to run away with it by answering the carnival worker ad posted at CareerBuilder.com.

The ad’s phone number, which leads you to E.S.S. Staffing, was answered by a woman named Amy.

“No, you’re not running away,” she said of the jobs available. “This is a conscious decision.”

As if running away is something you decide only when you’re unconscious.

Amy did say she’d pass along my number to the folks at RCS Carnival to alert them I’d like more information on how to run away with them, but I’m really not expecting a callback.

Carnival people can be quite elusive.

Just ask Tucsonan Wes Weisheit, 46. He spent four summers in the late 1970s on the fringes of a traveling carnival.

He sold corn dogs.

“They could be kind of creepy,” he said of the carnies – not the corn dogs. “They were usually missing a lot of teeth, had a lot of tattoos.”

This was 30 years ago, when tattoos were less prevalent.

This was also when homosexuality was deeper in the closet. Unless, like Weisheit, you ran across a big dude who worked the carnival’s night security in Zanesville, Ohio.

The man was helping Weisheit pack up the hot dog stand and then followed him into the back of the truck, which is where Weisheit slept and lived while on the road.

The guy pulled no punches, told Weisheit he liked him.

“The guy was 6 feet 4 inches tall and built like Rambo,” Weisheit said. So Weisheit warded him off with the only weapon he had handy – a corn dog stick.

“I grabbed one of the sticks. He dropped his eyes and left. I pulled out of town and laid there shaking for hours,” he said.

“There was all kinds of creepy sex. The girls in small towns would want to come to the carnival or county fair. They were bored with all the guys in town.”

The guys in town would swarm to the fairgrounds to search for their girls. You can just imagine the melee that would ensue.

Weisheit also recalled warding off advances from a “skinny, weird-looking” girl who tried to pay for a corn dog with a raggedy handful of change.

“I told her just to take the hot dog, it was OK. So she said, ‘Really? I don’t even have to pull up my dress or anything?’ Then she pulls up her dress and says, ‘Wheeeeee!’ ”

The threat of unwanted sex, fights, theft, predators, drugs, drink, freaks and sometimes sleeping on lawns in Tennessee were all part of carnival culture.

“There was some crazy stuff out there,” Weisheit said. “You don’t see it as much now as you used to.”

He was surprised to note only two hitchhikers on a recent trip through northern California. When Weisheit was traveling the carnival circuit, he used to hitchhike back to Tucson from as far as Illinois or Lake Geneva, Wis.

Standing up for yourself is probably the biggest lesson Weisheit learned from his corn dog gig.

It’s also helped shape him into the Renaissance man he is today. He’s done everything from building parts that send people to Mars to driving a rickshaw bicycle taxi through the streets of Tucson.

“It’s kind of embarrassing that I make more on the rickshaw than I have on the parts to go to Mars,” he said.

But the real good money’s still in the carnival. As long as you come equipped with a tough skin, quick wits and an infallible corn dog stick.

Ryn Gargulinski is a poet, artist and Tucson Citizen reporter whose favorite fair was in Tucumcari, N.M., when she snapped the perfect pic of a smiling pig. Listen to a preview of her column at 8:10 a.m. Thursdays on KLPX 96.1 FM. Listen to her webcast at 4 p.m. Fridays at www.party934.com. E-mail: ryndustries@hotmail.com



What: Pima County Fair

When: April 16 to 26

Hours: Main gate opens noon on weekdays, 10 a.m. weekends; carnival opens 3 p.m. weekdays, 11 a.m. weekends

More info: www.pimacounty fair.com

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