Master guesser Chuck Roberts of Crystal River, Fla., worked the crowd at the Mountain State Fair last weekend.
By Nathaniel Axtell
Thursday, September 13, 2012
They work long hours, often in dusty and hot conditions, spend months far from home and face rejection at every turn. But for the game workers along the Mountain State Fair's midway, the rewards of their jobs more than outweigh the challenges.
"There's nothing like making a little kid smile and happy," said Brandy Blankenship, 22, of Bakersville, one of several hundred "carnies" working the midway last Sunday. With her headset and amplified voice, Blankenship beckoned players young and old to try their hand at shooting a pingpong ball into goldfish bowls.
"You don't know how many times I've seen little kids walk away crying because their parents won't let them play and win a fish," she said. "It's like, it's just a fish, lady!"
Actually, it's just a hermit crab, because Blankenship said she can't give away the goldfish in her bowls under Buncombe County law. Those who win 10 points by sinking a pingpong ball get to take home a live crab instead, making her booth pretty popular with the younger kids.
With a little boy at home and another baby due in January, Blankenship said working the fair is a great way to earn some fast money. But the job offers other benefits.
"It's a great learning opportunity," she said. "It teaches you how to deal with people, how to count (money) properly and it teaches you business skills. Honestly, I think it's a great job for kids that are going to school or have dropped out. It's a lot better than flipping burgers."
Carnies have an unsavory reputation, Blankenship acknowledged. But she considers herself a "show person," not a carnie, and she believes that stereotypes of carnival and fair workers are, well, unfair.