Love it or Hate it: Carnivals

by Anya Jaremko-Greenwold

Love itCarnivals are aesthetically vibrant. I love the noises, sights and smells. The twinkling lights of a Ferris wheel spinning in the dark; a carousel’s band of candy-colored horses with children clutching their necks; the distant shrieks of people high above the crowd on some rickety, whirling ride. All blending together in the warmth of a summer’s evening.

Carnivals bring out the best of small towns. Residents fetch their prize pigs, pies and vegetables they’ve worked all year to perfect, hungry for local competition. There’s always livestock you can feed or pet. Several years back, I even saw a giraffe at the fair, enclosed inside an enormous tent with his head bobbing down every few seconds to slurp carrots from people’s hands.

There are insipid games to play (the only stakes being who will win an enormous stuffed animal) and endless carnie treats (cotton candy, deep-fried Oreos, funnel cakes, curly fries, candy apples). Strange, sickly foodstuffs you wouldn’t normally touch – but at a carnival, who’s going to notice?

The equipment and rides tend to be old-timey and charming. They seem awfully dilapidated, probably not serviced in the last decade, but the thrill of possible death is half the fun. Two summers ago, I got bad whiplash from a ride on Coney Island. Good memories.

The ephemeral nature of the thing is nice, too. A carnival isn’t a year-round event. It’s a special encounter, reserved for balmier weather when the kids are off school and the days seem like they go on forever.

— Anya Jaremko-GreenwoldHate itHere’s my idea of an amazing time on a summer’s night: Ascending a hundred feet in the air on a contraption named The Whirrlee Wheel, a machine built in the late ’60s – heaven knows how many times it’s been maintenanced (is more times good or bad?) – and wrenched together in a mall parking lot by a collection of people making minimum wage who ramble through so many towns and parking lots on the carnie circuit that Durango might as well be Heehaw, Arkansas. And if you get really lucky, enough times around on the Circle of Doom, you might deposit the contents of your stomach, especially if the kid riding next to you deposits first.

And when you get hungry, there’s an assortment of freakishly processed cured meats, or candy bars, or potatoes, all battered and fried, of course, (just the way you like it) and a variety of high fructose corn syrups in alarmingly bright colors, in frozen and liquid form, to perpetuate your thirst.

And since the rickety rides will certainly not be enough entertainment, there are the games, many which look so easy but are designed specifically to ensure you lose. But on the off chance you get the ring around the bottle or the pingpong ball in the fish bowl, you’ll be awarded a giant stuffed panda worth $2 that you paid $15 to win.

But at least it’s a good time.

— David Holub

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