The Carnival sets up in Jonesboro

By Daniel Silliman


His hand on the long yellow lever, the Ferris wheel operator leans a little, pushes down and looks up at the wheel as it turns.

The wheel is empty, just the wheel without the seats, the frame of the famous carnival attraction. When the operator calls out a number, there are two men to carry the seats up to him and attach the seats to the wheel.

The operator is silent, except for the shouted numbers. He's staring off into the sky through wrap-around sunglasses, the kind people wear when they've had eye surgery, and he just leans on the lever, watching the empty slots for seats turn past him. Then, he stops and the wheel stops and he calls out, "Six."

Daniel Mendoza and Jesse Robertson grab seat "six" and hustle it up to the wheel. They don't know enough of the same language to talk to each other, but communicate with points and gestures. Mendoza holds the seat up to the wheel frame, straining, while Robertson tightens a nut on a threaded bolt.

Both of them have been working for the carnival for a number of years. When "Gold Metal Shows" opens up on Wednesday night, on the edge of a Jonesboro parking lot on the corner of Tara Boulevard and Ga. Highway 138, it'll be another long weekend with the carnival, another in a countless number of shows on a long, long list of towns.

"It's always the same," Robertson says, "but sometimes, you get your picture in the paper."

Robertson, shirtless to show off his tattoos in the fall afternoon sunshine, says he thinks it's been three years now that he's been travelling around with the yellow Ferris wheel. Mendoza, understanding the question, but not enough of the English words to answer, holds up four fingers.

Tim Taylor is in the food wagon where the bright red canopy says, "FRIED DOUGH," and "COLD DRINKS." He says he's been with the carnival for 13 years. He didn't really mean to be in it for 13 years, he just got to talking to a guy who ran the food stand and then he had a job and then, eventually, he had his own trailer.

"Of course, I was younger then," Taylor says.

He's worried now, because he's been hearing about the economic crisis on the radio and he doesn't know if people will eat funnel cakes when times are hard. He's worried too that he won't sell "Elephant ears" in Jonesboro, because people don't know what they are down here.

He's got other things to serve, though, corn dogs and French fries, coffee and jumbo sodas. He says Southerners always love funnel cakes, with the thin batter fried on both sides.

"That's the good stuff," Taylor says. "You got to come have one."