Life is a carnival
July 3, 2008 · Updated 12:39 PM
"Kim Oldroyd doesn't fit the old stereotypical image of the carnival worker. She doesn't wear a black heavy metal T-shirt, she isn't covered with loud tattoos, she has all her teeth, and she doesn't have an overabundance of body piercings. She's a clean-cut, young woman who likes to play games with children.But she doesn't mind being called a carny, a sometimes disparaging slang term used to describe carnival workers. We're just people, Oldroyd said. We're kind of like a family.Nowadays the people who run traveling carnivals - or at least the Davis Amusement Carnival at Oak Harbor's City Beach Park this week - are an eclectic assortment of people from all over the western half of the country. Davis Amusement, which is based in Oregon, makes its way to Oak Harbor twice a year, contracting with the Chamber of Commerce to provide entertainment for Holland Happening and the Fourth of July.Some of the carnies who visit Oak Harbor are college kids making money for the summer. Some were just out of work when the carnival came to town, offering jobs. Others are lifers - nomadic people who make a living from carnivals.And some fit the stereotype to a tee.Derby Cox has been with the carnival for 11 years. He runs the Sizzler, one of the many rides at the carnival that rely on centrifugal force to thrill riders. He said the Sizzler can spin riders up to 50 miles per hour, but it's not as fast as the Orbiter - the carnival's fastest ride.He said the only bad part of the job is when the ride breaks down or a kid spews, especially since he has to clean it up. We haven't had an accident in a while, he adds with a grin.Cox said he enjoys the life of a carny because it's just plain fun, even though he said he's outgrown carnival food and hasn't been on a ride in four years. He sleeps most nights in a tent, which he enjoys when the weather is warm.I just like it, he said. You get to travel. It's like being on a permanent vacation.Oldroyd, meanwhile, said she's from a small city in Oregon and the carnival opened across the street from her home in March of last year. She got a job at the dart-and-balloon booth, where kids can win framed pictures of professional wrestlers, swimsuit-clad models, or - most popular of all - various Pokemon images. Oldroyd said she liked the job and has become a genuine carny over the last year.Carnival workers, she said, get to see an odd side of America. They usually visit smaller cities during festivals or special events. Oldroyd said there seems to be celebrations for just about everything, from Boomer Fest to Strawberry Fest to Logger Days and various ethnic celebrations.You meet a lot of interesting people, Oldroyd said, emphasizing the word interesting.Carny positions seem to be coveted among North Whidbey teen-agers, many of whom gathered at the carnival Thursday afternoon in hopes of getting a job. Some local adults also find temporary work at the carnival.Oak Harbor resident Rich Arnold, for example, is running the carousel this year. He said he also worked at the carnival last year and came down Tuesday morning and got the job.He's blunt about what it's like to be a temporary carny. It's not fun and it doesn't pay well, he said, but added that it's interesting to see the community having fun outdoors.But by next Wednesday morning, the carnival workers will pack up the cotton candy and foot-long hot dogs, the bumper cars, the giant slide, the ring toss and all the stuffed animals.By the afternoon they will be moving on to the next festival."