Thursday, June 11, 2009

I just came to watch

With our income fitting into a very small purse these days, you might think I would not have insisted on going down to the carnival in Shawnee last weekend. These events are notorious for sucking money out of people's pockets, and what's the point of going with a near-empty wallet?

But I've been going to Old Shawnee Days for so many years, back to when my children were young, that sitting home was out of the question. So Friday evening my husband and I drove down and walked among the booths of taco makers and sugared-nut sellers. We wandered over to the main stage to hear a raucous band of thin men singing songs we did not remember and could not understand, then took refuge in the nearby perennial garden where a master gardener handed us a packet of free hollyhock seeds and urged me to call her with any questions.

Then it was time to enter the carnival section, where we found the usual collection of games of skill and chance. The Ali Baba swung its screaming riders up and down, and the Ferris wheel--my favorite--loomed above us. We approached the ticket stand and got up close to read the small-print prices posted in the window. Tickets $1 each. Ferris wheel, 4 tickets. In fact, all the rides were $4 a head, so it was clear we'd be staying on the ground. I stationed myself below the great wheel, beside the Fish Til You Win game, and had as good a time as a fistful of tickets could have gotten me.

I watched a young man close people into their seats on the Scrambler. In a short time it was full and he set it in motion. Hair flew back, people slid into each other. Some laughed helplessly, and others rode as matter-of-factly as if they were on a city bus. Beside me, children stretched their fishing rods over a pile of wire-handled takeout boxes, hoping to get one with a coupon inside for a really big animal, not just the little blue hedgehogs everybody got. Babies squirmed and mothers argued; teenagers hung in packs, watching other packs; fathers walked by slowly with baskets of curly fries, followed by their sno-cone-eating descendants. We needed some food.

Happily, the funnel cake makers were there, and we split a hot one dusted in powdered sugar as we watched tattooed men and their girlfriends walk by, along with every other sort of person you might imagine. It was everything a local carnival should be that night, and we left with sticky fingers and a renewed conviction to return every year, no matter what.

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