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Ominocity’s guide to carnies: Interview

Local ex-carnie reveals truth about carnival life in shocking tell-all

With the Saskatoon Exhibition in full swing all week, local residents and midway attendees are once again surrounded by stomach-curdling rides, over-sugared snacks, spaceship noises, the haunting sounds of bands past their prime (although I would like to think Foreigner still have another solid gold hit up their sleeves) and a complete lack of parking.

Additionally, the carnie population in town typically skyrockets during this time.

However, despite being associated, and/or synonymous, with the lurid sleaze of the midway, carnival culture is typically a misrepresented stereotype perpetuated by so-called normal people.

Yeah, yeah, fine, it’s a half-truth.

Thankfully, local ex-carnie Jane McWhirter was able to chat with Ominocity and shed some light on the sugary highs and the death defying lows of living la vida carnie.

Ominocity: What was the best part about being a carnie? Free candy apples? Free rides?

Jane McWhirter: The experience as a whole was pretty amazing. Being able to go on five rides in less than seven minutes ruled. We would enter through the exit line and go on as many rides as we could during breaks. The free food was alright but fair food gets old very fast, so I lived on fruit, granola bars and Subway. Also being able to say that I was a carnie is an achievement in my books.

Walking around a dark fair ground is creepy, especially when you can hear the rustling and mumbling of intoxicated carnies.

OM: What was the worst part of being a carnie?

JM: The worst part might have been sleeping on a tiny couch in a mouse infested, leaky trailer from the 70’s. Also working 12-22 hours every day at the fair can get tiresome. After being at the fair for a few weeks it begins to lose some of its magic; it can really be a dark and twisted place when you are forced to be there day in and day out. Being in a bad mood and sleep deprived on your 23rd day straight can put you in a really messed up state of mind.

OM: Do you have any creepy stories involving small hands or deep-fried rats?

JM: I had to walk through my 60-year-old boss’s room to use the washroom, so at night time I would choose to walk to one of the public washrooms. Walking around a dark fair ground is creepy, especially when you can hear the rustling and mumbling of intoxicated carnies. There were occasional run-ins which would result in some very creepy, clumsy and desperate attempts to get me to go share a beer or two with a stereotypical carnie in his trailer.

But I believe this was less creepy than having to witness my boss shirtless in bed.

OM: Given the chance would you do it again?

JM: If I could have my old position I would do it again in a heartbeat. I had my own booth with a fan and had to apply fake tattoos. My wage was awesome, and I got paid with a bag full of $100 bills. I miss certain aspects of traveling with the fair very much. One in specific was attending a few late night carnie parties, which involved bingo, beer and vats of chili.

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The Saskatoon Ex closes this Sunday, August 12 – expect hordes of carnies to leave the city en masse at this time.

-All photos by Joanna Graves, who, incidentally, got on six rides for free due to carnie negligence.