Thursday, August 23

Working at the Fair, year 2

After a few days of catching up on sleep, I think I'm finally ready to record the experience for the ages. First of all, I wrote about last year last year so I don't need to rewrite those parts.

In general, people are still dumb and ugly. Or I should say not all people, but the fair-going type. People still walk into the path of on-coming vehicles after seeing said vehicles. Children still look just like their parents. I still got sunburned.

On the bright side, this year I wasn't alone. My friend, Dave, and I were co-garbagemen. It works much better with two people than with just a single person. Being engineers, we developed a system. I was the primary driver and we'd pull up to the middle of a few barrels. We'd jump off and I'd reach for and start opening a new bag. Dave and I would walk around and check the cans. If one was found to be getting full, he'd pull the tape off and depending on how open the new bag was, one of us would grab it and pull it out and stick in the new bag. I'd carry the full bag back to the trailer and he'd tape the new one down. In full gear, we could change a can in about 20 seconds, I'd say. We could change the midway in 38 minutes including the two trips to the compactor.

For the most part, all of the food vendors were back. There were more changes in location than in the line up. I recognized most of them from last year and I think they recognized me. It was quite unnecessarily awkward that for the most part, people ignored Dave and spoke to me. I felt bad about it. Perhaps they thought he was my assistant instead of colleague?

Last year it only rained a little bit at night. This year, the fair which ran from a Wednesday to a Sunday, only had two decent days on Thursday and Friday. The other days it rained, and quite hard at times. Friday, especially in the p.m., and all day Saturday are typically the best times for the fair.

For us it was a wash. The rain kept people away, which reduced the amount of garbage, but as it turned out, by the clean-up day on Monday, Sunday alone had put a few gallons of water in each bag. (A gallon of water weighs 8.4 lbs.) We had to hide our enthusiasm since all of the other fair workers and the fair wanted lots of people to come, each admission is $7.

In addition to the rain and a second person, the fair had acquired more cans. In fact, we had more than 1.5 times as many cans this year to allocate than last year, 150 from 90. It would sound funny to say, but garbage cans seem to be the status symbol amongst carnies. They always ask for more. People wave us down and ask for them. I've developed a short list of possible things to say to requests: 'we'll look into it', 'we'll investigate', 'I'll see what we can do', 'I'll pass it on to so-and-so', etc. I suppose that's just normal office or organization hierarchy talk.

In general, there was a garbage can between each thing: a food vendor or building. One of the barbeque stands, which was on a corner kept on demanding a third can. We had already put one on the exact corner, and on the main road at the end of their slot, and they wanted one for their private seating area. The interiors of buildings, exhibits, and stands aren't in our jurisdiction, even when they're outdoors. Behind them was the music stage area and we were transporting a few empty cans to that. We turned their corner and the lady was thanking us for bringing another can and we kept on going. Awkward!

During the fair, we were the manifestation of the fair higher-ups to the vendors, as we were hired by the fair board to perform a service that is one of the most important fair services to the food vendors. They pay money to have each of those slots and a fair with trash everywhere is very different and probably a lot less hungry than a clean fair. When a food vendor or the petting zoo guy is unnecessarily disrespectful, one's first instinct is to be saucy back, but as representatives of the fair, the customer is always right. Besides there are much more subtle ways of retribution.

A few people asked us for directions and food recommendations and prices. I'm surprised more people don't ask for food recommendations. But then again, does anyone go to a fair expecting to eat good food at low prices? We see what people throw away and it's surprising. The nice barbeque stand (the other one), always smelled good and one of the things on their menu was "giant turkey leg". We saw a few giant turkey legs in the trash with only a bite or two taken. There were tons of corndogs with only a few nibbles on the ends and funnel cakes mostly intact. I don't get why people wait in line and fork over lots of money for something fried just to take a few bites and throw it away. Dave's hypothesis is that people are drawn to the flashiest stand without considering much else.

I had one possible idea which would be to go around and compile a fair guide which would list items, prices, and reviews and then sell them to the fair goers. The vendors would really scream. However, the market works better and more efficiently with more information.

High schoolers are the most annoying people. The funny thing is that when you're a freshman, the seniors look like big kids, but now as a college junior, even the college freshmen look like little kids. Most people at least move slowly out of a vehicles path, but high schoolers quite readily offer their feet to be run over. They also stand in big groups in the middle of the roads well past the time that most other people have left. They're the only ones at whom I would honk.

The other thing about high schoolers is that I drove past a few guys I recognized from my high school class. They were more of the kind of people that just show up when the bell rings and just go home when it rings again. Anyway, at least twice I saw guys from my class pushing strollers. That's unfortunate. Dave observed that wherever a person is when he starts having kids is, for the most part, wherever he'll be in life.

Out of the non-public at the fair, there are the fair board people who actually run it, the food people, the ride operators, the commercial exhibitors, the arts & craps people, and the farmers. I've never dealt with the commercial exhibitors nor the a&c people since they're in their own buildings more than picking up what they pitch. As far as the other people go, the food vendors seem to be normal. Surprisingly as I found, the wikipedia lists carnies as anyone who operates a booth, ride, game, or food stand at a carnival. The ride operators are undoubtedly carnies, their vehicles said they're from Wisconsin, but I wasn't really expecting the food people to be carnies, too. Though they participate in the mobile lifestyle, they actually have to be presentable since people are buying food from them.

Talking about carnies, I discovered some proof that carnies do exist (in case there were any doubt):

A piece of cardboard fell out on in the back of the gator and I found it. Who knows what they're planning! Could be a carnival ... or an insurrection. We got a kick out of the strange item names, 'fun makers' and 'critter puffs', and the misspellings like 'sords' and 'for wheels'.

As you can imagine, to preserve our sanity, we, two college guys, came up with some running jokes, most of which is repeatable here, though you might not get it.

The biggest one had to be the voice and character of the bee in this video:

It's pretty applicable to anything. Start with the "Oh no!" and work from there. (There are a lot of "Oh no!" situations in garbage.) In that voice say what's bad, then something positive about it, and then declare your conclusion, "which is your choice". There were a few hours there, where we may have ended up getting stuck talking like that.

On the first day we noticed one of the vendors was a "God Mobile" vehicle (the picture is from their website):

We took "God Mobile" like the cell phone company "T-Mobile", the difference being that God Mobile offers stuff like unlimited roaming in Europe and North America, you never get disconnected, and stuff along those lines. You can make up your own jokes about it.

They offer a "two question test" as to whether a person is going to heaven. Being the omniscient garbage people we are (we eventually know everything) we got our hands on a copy of the test. I'm not going to type it here because it's online. Needless to say, no one short of a Ned Flanders is getting in.

The other big joke, for which Dave wants credit, is as follows: we were driving through what we called "Carnytown", the ride area, and upon passing the Fun Slide, I asked him what happens when someone gets to the bottom and asks the operator for a refund since he didn't have fun. Dave corrected me. He said the operator would say that it's actually a "Fun Slide" (pronounced FOON slide) from Eastern Hungaria, which the Eastern Hungarians used to escape to the West after the Soviets arrived. They also stayed in Fun (pronounced FOON) Houses which operated kind of like the Underground Railroad.

Like I said, those probably aren't as funny as when we randomly came up with them, but they got us through the fair. That and people watching.

The fair wasn't as much of a shock this year since I was fresh out of France last year. Dave, and I to an extent, were happy to see the Dane County sign as we rolled back to town. As I told Dave, I didn't think the people at the fair are an accurate representation of that area; they weren't an accurate sample. Also a typical county fair is pretty much the exact opposite of downtown Madison in every way possible. In the end, the world needs all types of people (even those who don't know how to correctly use an apostrophe).


Brad V said...


Great stuff - you should post some of the pics on the Race Against the States Sconnie page...

The cardboard piece is priceless. 180 proof distilled Americana.

John said...

Hey Mike!

awsome post on the fair, i thought it was really, well ... awsome! that piece of card board with the carnie stuff on it was hilarious! although i didnt go to the fair, i thought i saw you once while riding the gator. (i was walking from the locker room to the field)

anyway great job,