Saturday, September 1, 2012

Brinks Concession

The Slow Journey to Brandon

Laura Lee, drove me to Innisfail on June 6th.  We were early to meet the Brinks at 11:00, but I didn’t want to take any chances on flat tires, car trouble, or airplanes landing in the middle of the highway causing horrific traffic jams.  We settled into the diner at the Bluebird Motel where Colin and Verity were to come collect me. 

I was the first of their three employees that they picked up, but then we stopped to pick up the two other girls – Carrie and Tracey – two sturdy, wholesome farm girls.  Maybe that could have been a clue that maybe I wasn’t exactly what Brinks Concession was looking for, but all I thought was huh… what are these two sturdy wholesome farm girls doing here in MY adventure?

Colin drove the truck hauling the two food “joints” and their motorhome, and Verity drove the truck hauling the combination storage and employee quarters trailer.  Tracey and I rode with Verity. 

Brandon, Manitoba was the first stop, so we had a long haul ahead of us; especially since 50mph was top speed and most of the time we travelled at about 30mph.  Not only did we have time to see the countryside as it went by, I could draw it frame by frame.  It was very slow going, but I was so excited to be going somewhere that it didn’t matter.  I’d never been EAST of anywhere before. 

We listened to music and talked, and listened to Verity.  I admired her.  She enthralled and kind of intimidated me.  She wasn’t like any other women in my world.  She wore no makeup, and baggy pants, and she was completely self-assured.  She told us all about how she and Colin had once managed a hotel in Saskatchewan and how they came to be in the travelling food industry.

We stopped to fuel up just on the other side of the Alberta-Saskatchewan border.  I got a bunch of quarters and promptly went to phone my mom.  A little farther on, we stopped for the evening.  I offered to take the top bunk.  The bunk was so close to the ceiling, I had to sleep with my nose practically touching the ceiling.  And there was no ladder.  It did give me a little bit of the privacy, though, that my mind was already clamoring for.

We drove (slowly) all day the next day, and then the next day we arrived in Brandon.   We’d arrived a day earlier than we needed to, which was good, because when we reached the fairgrounds we learned that the show was starting a day earlier than Colin and Verity had thought.  So, we commenced with “Set Up”.

The Crepe Shop

We had two locations.  One outside, in the Independents’ Row (an “Independent” is a company that is not obligated to any midway, but rather, pays a set fee to the fair board of each town or city that it travels to), and one inside the exhibits building.  The Independents are always set apart from the main midway – away from all the action.  There were only about ten Independents at Brandon so we had a real boring little Independents’ Row.  Our outside location was for one of the Roll-Off Joints (a concession stand that is on wheels and moved around by being pulled behind a  truck).  We rolled it off the flatbed and manipulated it into the exact spot where it belonged on the pavement (the location where every ride, game and concession will be located on the midway is mapped out ahead of time down to inches).  When we finished that, we moved on to setting up the Stick Joint inside the exhibits building.  A Stick Joint is a concession or game stand that comes apart and goes together much like a jigsaw puzzle.  They are easier to move around than other types because they are very compact when taken apart.  We carried in all the pieces, rolled in the fridge and the grill and set the whole thing together piece by piece. 

Dean, Tracey, me and Ross
The next day was clean-up day.  We spent the better part of the day cleaning up the outside joint.  Brandon was the first show of the season, so we had eight months worth of cleaning to do.  We struck up conversation with most of the employees of the other Independents near us.  We were all very different from the “Real” carnies.  There were four young guys from Edmonton, and a girl from Brandon.  The eight of us hung out together a lot, when we had time to “hang out”.  There was another girl who hung around us a little bit as well, who was so cool and wacky that I immediately pedestalized her.  When she was going to get something to eat she would say she was going to exhume some food-u-lation.

Me in the Crepe Shop in Brandon
The day after clean-up day was opening day.  We were each given our red golf shirts with the “Brink’s Concession” patch on the front.  We all crowded into the outside joint and proceeded to learn how to make crepes.  We sold meat crepes, seafood crepes and dessert crepes.

The rest of the week was spent working fourteen or more hours a day, and socializing when we could.  We’d open at 11:00AM and close around 1:00AM.  If we were lucky we got three one-half hour breaks a day.  Because we weren’t allowed to sit down at all while we were working, my feet and back shrieked with pain that first week until I got used to it.  Our outside joint was in fairly close range of the “Schlittenfahr”, (German for sleigh-ride, pronounced “shlittenfar”, known among the carnies as the “shit and fart”), one of the music rides.  A music ride is a ride doesn’t have a lot of redeeming qualities as a ride – it just hurls you around in a circle really fast – it attracts adolescent riders by blasting popular music instead.  It was the Schlittenfahr that taught me the true essence of working for a carnival: hearing the same songs played over and over again.  The music rides have tapes of about twenty of the most popular songs of the year that they just play over and over.  The people who go to the fair move around too much to notice, and the music is not played for the benefit of the people working at the fair.  Some of the notable selections from 1987 included Kim Wilde’s version of “Keep me Hangin’ On”, George Michael’s “I Want Your Sex”, Bon Jovi’s “Wanted, Dead or Alive”, Paul Lekakis’ “BoomBoom” and Peter Gabriel’s “Big Time”.

At Brandon, we were working alongside the Conklin Shows midway.  The rest of the summer we’d be travelling along side of the Thomas Shows midway.  Colin and Verity told us horror stories about the Conklin carnies – how cold and hardened they were and how horrible their living conditions were.  Looking at most of them, it was easy to believe the stories.  We stayed away from them.  Maybe they believed the stories they told us, but I think it’s more likely that it was a scare tactic to prevent us from jumping ship to join a Conklin operation and leave them short staffed. 

Makeshift vanity
Colin never did bother to hook up the power and water in our trailer, so every morning the three of us would get up and make our pilgrimage – past the carnies who were up early to work on their rides – to the public washrooms to clean up.  There was a power box outside of our trailer, so after washing we’d hook up the blow-dryer and do ourselves up outside.  It was embarrassing, but I “needed” to do it.

The three of us would have to take turns working the inside joint, working the outside joint, and doing other various maintenance jobs (Colin and Verity didn’t work the joints).  The inside joint was really boring.  A person could actually MISS the Schlittenfahr’s music, but I first met John while I was working the inside joint, and we became fast friends, talking mostly while he visited me on his lengthy breaks while I worked. 

Downfall of the Little-City Princess

I was not enjoying certain things about my job, and I did a lot of my complaining to John - mostly about the long hours with hardly any breaks.  Also, Colin had decided he didn’t like me for some reason, and that made things very uncomfortable.  John told me that the company he worked for gave three-hour-long lunch breaks and one-hour-long supper breaks.  He tried to get me to quit and go work for him at Groscurth’s Original Superdog Factory, a corn-dog stand that travelled with Conklin Shows.  I kept telling him no because I didn’t want to bail on my commitment to Brinks, and also I didn’t know if what I’d be getting into would be better or worse than what I already had.

After work on the second last day of the show, I was supposed to meet my friends over at the trailer where some of the guys were staying.  I ended up working later than them to do inventory count and was walking over by myself.  I walked past a phone booth and on the phone, a girl was in hysterics, so I stopped to see what was wrong.  She told me her story; she had come that day from Calgary to visit a guy.  He and his friends had taken her to the fair and then stranded her there.  She had nowhere to go and no one to go to, except one guy who was just getting off work.  I was tired (it had been a 16 hour day), and just wanted to go relax.  I offered her $5.00 for a cab, but she didn’t need the money, she just couldn’t get herself a cab.  In for a penny; in for a pound.  I just wanted to be rid of her, but I felt obligated to help. I called a cab, and proceeded to calm her down.  I walked to the entrance of the fairgrounds with her to wait for the cab.  The cab drove right past us down to the other entrance so I started running after it, and somewhere along the way, I twisted my ankle.  I caught up with the cab which was waiting at the wrong entrance, and sent him back to the girl.  Then I went to visit my friends. 

While walking back I saw one of the more disturbing sights of my summer.  I had to walk past the back section of the fairgrounds where the garbage bins are.  There were a few small groups of homeless people digging through the garbage bins and eating things they found. 

The next day was “Tear Down” day; the last day of the show.  I woke up and my ankle was about two times its normal size.  I asked Colin and Verity if I could do the maintenance jobs that day so that I didn’t have to be on my feet all day, but it was my turn to work the inside joint that day, and they weren’t going to change the schedule to suit me.

While I was lighting the grill that morning, the whole inside of it ignited and burned my hand and took all the hair off my right arm.  A guy took me to First Aid and I had my hand looked after and also had a tensure bandage put on my ankle.  I asked once again if I could do the maintenance jobs that day, because now, besides my ankle, I couldn’t bear to put my hand close enough to the grill to make a crepe properly.  Once again I was turned down.  So, I worked the crepe shop, and on my breaks I complained some more to John.  He tried once again to convince me to go to work for him instead, but I still wasn’t ready to make a move.

The show closed down around 1:00AM on Monday morning.  We cleaned the roll-off joint, secured everything, and rolled it back up onto the flatbed.  We took the stick joint apart and put all of the pieces into the storage part of the trailer.  We finished around 5:00AM: eighteen hours after we had started that day’s work.  My ankle was quite painful.  Once during tear-down, I sat down for a minute to adjust the bandage on my ankle.  Another time when Colin and Verity had left for a while and left the trailer unattended, Carrie and Tracey told me to sit with it to watch it until the Brinks returned, but they were really just giving me a chance to rest my ankle.  When Colin and Verity returned, I went back to hauling stuff out to the trailer.  After we were finished the five of us sat around for a little while and had a beer.  Colin and Verity kept making cracks about people who faked injuries to get out of working. 

After we were done, I went to see John for a while, and shared my list of new complaints.  He tried again to talk me into going to work for him.  I was seriously considering it by this time, but again I said no.  We arranged to have breakfast together the next morning before both of us had to leave.  He travelled with Conklin, and for the rest of the summer I’d be travelling with Thomas, so it was unlikely we’d ever see each other again.

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