Carnival workers live a nomadic life

Published 12:01 am Tuesday, February 12, 2008

NATCHEZ — Without the cotton candy, lights and screaming children, the rides seem oddly out of place — even somewhat eerie.

It would be a ghost town except for the few workers hurrying about their business. It’s daytime at the Bluff City Shows fair and day looks nothing like night around here.

Workers check safety belts on rides, tighten bolts, air up tires and wash trucks. During the day, they handle the never-ending maintenance that comes with a traveling carnival. By night, they operate the rides and booths.

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The fair is a traveling city of sorts. Perched on the hill by the Natchez Mall, a fleet of trailers, trucks and mobile homes fill the parking lot. The workers live here, eat here and sleep here. The fair is their life and most of them would have it no other way.

“This is better than most jobs I’ve had,” fair worker Angel said. “I like to travel and live on the road. I’m out here because it’s the only way I can travel and get paid.”

The traveling city and its 20 carnival rides will make their way through about 60 towns and cities throughout the Midwest and South this year. Bluff City Shows owners Delmar and Evelyn Giles have been traveling across the country with the show for the past 40 years and show no signs of quitting the business any time soon.

“My family was in it, that’s how I got started,” Evelyn said. “We really enjoy it and don’t plan on quitting. I’ve been doing this my whole life.”

The couple runs the day-to-day operations of the fair and manages the nomadic crew that works the rides.

Angel, who goes by just her first name, is from Baton Rouge, but spends 10 months of the year traveling with the show. Her official job is to run the Yo-Yo ride, but she often pitches in and helps out wherever she’s needed. On Monday evening, she was inspecting seat belts on the rides.

Angel said most of the crew members return year after year to work the Bluff City Shows fairs. The five or six workers will live and work among each other for most of the year. They are a close-knit group, a society all to their own, and frequently refer to themselves as a family.

“We’re a very close bunch,” she said. “We’re as much a family as any.”

It’s a unique job that has its obvious ups and not-so-obvious downs. The workers get to travel across the country, get free turns on the rides and have access to an unlimited amount of cotton candy. It all sounds great, but living and working on the road can take its toll.

“Since we live here and work here, it sort of feels like we work 24 hours a day,” Angel said. “That can get old in a hurry. This job is not for everyone.”

Angel’s friend Perry “Cajun” Tibodeaux, who works the gaming booths at the fair, echoed that sentiment.

“It’s like a city around here,” he said. “With every city, you have some good people and some bad people. This job ain’t just for anybody.”

For the most part though, Tibodeaux said he loves his work.

“I’ve been doing this for 30 years,” he said. “I keep telling everyone that if I quit having fun at this, it will be time to quit.”

It’s an odd existence — living and working at a carnival most of the year. But when the sun sets, the lights come on and the rides start moving, it’s easy to see why they do it.

After all, who wouldn’t want access to all that cotton candy.