As an author, copywriter and searcher of “things to do,” it seems odd that I write a negative blog post about something that is very popular in our city and very certainly meets all of the “things to do” criteria. I of course am referring to the Arkansas/Oklahoma State Fair and all that it entails. See, as someone that spent 10 years on the midway, I have a special connection to the fair unlike most. And when I say connection, I of course mean hatred. For 10 years I worked in the wonderful world of radio and every year for 10 years I found myself smack dab in the middle of carney hell (carnage if you will). Not just a radio remote for an hour or two manning a pop up tent booth passing out magnets and ink pens. I talking full out, full on FAIR THROTTLE on the midway; on rides, eatin, meetin, greetin. Some days I would whirl til I hurl (that was a great promotion that sold lots of food and ride tickets, but soon became why I was haunted by carnies in real life, and to this day in my dreams.) Trailer Parkansaw’s “The Carnies Are Comin’,” a song I wrote over 12 years ago, was more than a song, it was a anthem of disgust. Sure, some of the lyrics might have been stretched, but not many. Spending countless number of hours on the midway is certainly not good for your health (whether it’s the food, or flashing lights, or the bearded lady kicking you in the chin…yes…CHIN, THE ONE ON YOUR FACE), it’s never good at the end of the night. The carnies were ruthless, toothless, and always looking for a hand out, with their hand out, in most cases covered in grease and lost dreams. Who was I to deny them a t-shirt? A movie pass? A sticker?
The first 6 years on the midway, I was working at KISR, and my first few years being the night jock, (young, dumb and full of funnel cake and media room Ancient Age and Sam’s Cola), I hit the ground running. I duct taped my Nokia phone to rides and broadcast live on everything but the toilet. I was the king of the world. Well, the ‘Fair’ world which turns out wasn’t fair at all. For 9 days straight I would entertain the masses, sniff pits, get puked and spit on, kicked, harassed, offered pot, punched, and even kissed…and that was just from the carnies!
“Can I get a t-shirt”
“Hey I was promised a t-shirt. Could I get one”
“Did you bring any CD’s or t-shirts”
“What free stuff do you have today.”
I was a merchandise whore giving away my loot for a ’tilt’ on a rusty ‘whirl.’ Nine days, 5 hours a day. These were the days of my life. I did this for 10 years in a row, each year hating it more than the last. Perhaps the fair was why I got out of radio, or maybe the pay, or maybe I was tired of the free pizza (who am I kidding – who gets tired of that!?) But for 10 years I was used and abused and I swore that the day I got out, I would never return, and so far I haven’t.
Now, all this being said, I know that the fair has its place here. The livestock and the artwork, and the entertainment, all a huge part of the action that I unfortunately never got to experience. Well, there was an incident with a sheep once, but that’s a whole other story. If taking the family to the fair is a tradition that you have every year, please, don’t let this blog deter you from forging ahead and having fun. But, if you see a disc jockey on the midway, be nice to him or her. Who knows, it could be their 10th year in the game and they might just snap if you ask them for a t-shirt.
– Rham Cunningham, ex-DJ, author, co-creator of “Things to do in Fort Smith”