Tuesday, October 25, 2011

outback steakhouse


Friends, family and fellow bloggernauts, fear not because I am still alive. It has been an eventful two weeks since I have last checked in and boy do I have some stories to tell you. If you’ve been following along since the very beginning, then you know I have since joined the carnival for a seven-week stint with a company called Sideshow Amusements. I worked for a week with them at the Perth Royal Show and now have taken to living in a caravan for free and trekking through small town Western Australia to put on spectacular spectacles for eager young country bumpkins. Let me paint a quick picture of my first two weeks with this insane group of sideshow freaks.

Exactly 14 days ago today, I lugged all my baggage via train to the Claremont show grounds. I met with Bridie (an English girl who also agreed to this crazy adventure) and her best mate, Libby. Together, we all crammed into this 1970s era trailer with a peeling linoleum floor, four bunk beds and a defunct refrigerator. Thus began our journey into madness. First up was our show in Waroona, a very small town of one street about one hour away from Perth. We arrived there on Tuesday night and spent all day Wednesday setting up for the weekend festivities.
Now this includes building tents, stocking toys into the game stalls, decorating the area, washing the rides, washing our boss’ truck and generally carrying bags of stuffed teddies from one location to another only five feet away. Generally we work from around 8:30 a.m. until 4 p.m. on Wednesday and then repeat the whole process again on Thursday, until everything is up to John, our ringleader’s, standards. Oh, I forgot to mention John. He is our 40-something boss who inherited the carnie business from his father, Jack. He has been working in this line of
business since the tender age of 10 and runs the whole kitten-caboodle with his two brothers, Matthew and Darren. They are quite a rowdy bunch and exchange more cuss words than actual English with one another. Most of the time I am just referred to as muscles, brains or freckle, none of which I can contest. I seem to get along well with them and they seem to like me, but boy are they a handful at times and mighty sarcastic.John also has a young fiancĂ© from the Philippines who casually “helps out” with the work, but she is more there for the eye candy than anything else I am sure of it. Besides, her fingers look like crawling caterpillars when she lifts anything. So I am happy when she flutters away to idle her time elsewhereAnyways, back to the work: these country shows usually last Friday night and all day Saturday, with me standing in a stall shouting at kids to come waste their money. Yes I have been harassed and yes I have been flirted with all in the same night. I saw a little girl get hit in the head with a pointy dart that ricocheted off a balloon that should have popped, been threatened for not being honest with a child and even witnessed a girl fall out of a ride that flips you upside down. She was 12-years-old and screamed a lot. No one knew anything had happened until it was after the fact. I have also seen far too many livestock auctions to actually count, so many flies nesting on peoples’ backs it would make your head spin and been degraded by many a mum for “cheating” their precious babes out of hard earned money. Needless to say, the carnie life is quite an eventful one.

But through it all I have been having an absolute blast. Like in Waroona for example, after we were finished with our tasks, we have free time, meaning we can do whatever we want.So, in typical fashion, I find things to do in a town that lacks any notion of the word fun. Like when Bridie, Libby and I walked an hour to the Weir (giant lake in Waroona) and took to the beach and rolling hills.Or when we hitch hiked in the small town of Brunswick to the neighboring city of Bunbury with this nice lady named Amanda who owns a shop full of cow related merchandise. She picked us up in her Mercedes, showed us the town and then picked us up later in the day as well! Her husband, Mike, works in the mines and her three sons (David, Ben and Chris) fancy us so much, they plan to take us out this weekend. Amanda even took us to her house for dinner and we watched as her cousin hosted a Tupperware party. After that, we had morning tea with her 83-year-old mother, Faye at the store as she crocheted a scarf. Other antics include hopping to thrift and antique stores in every town we visit, decorating the caravan for Halloween, only cooking on a barbecue or in a microwave and generally finding ways to do laundry or shower since most places we seem to find ourselves in lack public bathrooms. So in an effort to keep clean, I actually snuck into a caravan park down the road and used their private showers today and yesterday, risking trespassing in the name of shampooed hair. It was truly an experience.

Other than all these little tidbits, not much else has transpired. I am enjoying the pay of $600 a week, which comes after we tear the whole carnival down on Saturday night (yes, we work 14 hours straight on a Saturday: in our games from around 8:30 a.m. until 9 p.m. and then ripping absolutely everything down for another four hours following). I have more bruises, blisters, scrapes and cuts than I ever thought I could get, but boy am I having a time here. I am seeing so many beautiful pieces of Australia I would have never seen otherwise, including these small cities with so much charm and so many nice people. I mean, come on, I am the only American I have met thus far while here (aside from a Cincinnati man who runs a store called Taffy in the city of Bunbury…but he doesn’t even count because he’s been here for nearly 30 years) so of course they love me. And don’t worry; I have not forgotten about any of you back home, it is just incredibly hard to find stable Internet anywhere in Australia, especially since they seem to be light-years behind us in how to properly govern a functioning town. But that’s beside the point.

Now I know you are all craving more, but I can only use the wireless in this community center for a brief hour, so must sign off for now. But keep checking back, as more things are to come in the near future.

And you can be sure I am taking loads of pictures for all of you to see, if I could now just find a damn kangaroo crossing sign! Ok, I must go and try to find a way to fix our leaking ceiling (it rained last night and yes, all the seams in that piece of shit we call a home began springing cracks at around 6 a.m. this morning after a torrential downpour) and play Frisbee with these three Estonians that also came along for this effed up ride. Sometimes I truly wonder what I have gotten myself into.

Oh, and on a random side note, Australia does NOT celebrate Halloween, which is mighty devastating to such a ghoulish connoisseur of my caliber. But I did manage to decorate our caravan with a skeleton aptly named Steve. And there have been numerous shark attacks here recently, one even at the beach I frequented quite often. But fret not, this American is still treading water....for now!

AND THE QUEEN IS HERE. Tis all.

Alright, love to you from the down under! Stay in touch mates.

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

carnie-fied


Well now. It has been almost 10 days since you've last heard from me and boy do I have some stories for you. If you remember (and for your sake, I hope you do) my last escapades had me working as a diligent employee with the Perth Royal Show. That means since Oct. 1st. I have been enjoying all things carnie (or "showie" as they call the carnival workers here). Now what I thought would just be some fun circus work for a little added moolah to pad my pockets has actually turned out to shape my future plans while I'm here in Australia. Please, let me explain a bit:

I awoke at 7 a.m. on Saturday the 1st of October to ensure ample
time for my arrival at the showgrounds. I was instructed to come at exactly 8:45 a.m. and you can be sure I was not going to risk anything on my first day.The showgrounds, about a 8-minute train ride from our flat, are rather convenient, but cost $3.80 each way. So, in typical Nicholas-the-stingiest-person-alive fashion, I walked one train stop down from our apartment every day for 10 days (took about 20 minutes) and caught the train from a neighbouring station, costing me only $1.80 each way. Let's just say after working 13-hours days though, this habit became a little too taxing. So, I am at the carnival. A red collared shirt is thrown my way with the logo "Sideshow Amusements: No.1 in Fun" emblazoned across the front. A roller coaster and Ferris wheel provide the backdrop, which I thought funny especially since our company didn't have either of these rides. So, after changing and meeting many other young people assigned to work in different game booths (more Taiwanese people, those lovely Italians, two Germans, a handful of Brits and some true Aussies--yes, I was the lone American) I headed over to my game, Deal or Double Up, to get ready. But instead of thinking over a script of what to stay, I already had hoards of people, throwing $6 a game in my face to try and win themselves a teddy. I was utterly unprepared. So, I improvised. I pretended we were on a game-show, holding a fake microphone, pounding on the wood displays to simulate a drum roll and even dancing with older ladies to sway their grand kids to try their luck at my game of risk. I cajoled kids, parents, young and old to get their butts over and after a couple hours, definitely found my groove. I was yelling, pointing, staring and doing anything it took to be the best at this game. Alongside me was a girl from Estonia (Inga) and a guy from Hong Kong (David) who pretty much just watched on in amazement. Later in the week they were both moved to other games, I think because I was doing most of the work for them. Anyways, the first day went off without a hitch. We had a half hour for both lunch and dinner breaks and were able to meet people from other companies and generally make acquaintances with everyone we could see. After a week though, these people became like best friends, yelling for change, sharing food and asking if we needed help...so the experience has left me with a positive outlook on the power of cross-continental friendships.
Back to the games though. The first day was about 14 hours. Yes, 14 straight hours, with only an hour break total: cue Sunday morning and the loss of my voice. The next day was way harder than the first. I spent more time at the showgrounds than I had in my own apartment and sleep was riddled with weird dreams. Needless to say, 7 a.m. creeped up fast and I was again summoned to my booth for more yelling and entertaining. Each day was a new crowd, full of new kids, so even though we were beat, they were all looking for the best we could give and that's what our bosses wanted.
So in true performing fashion, I sucked it up, drank a ton of water and got myself many a cough drop to prepare for another 12 hours of convincing people to waste their hard-earned cash on a game I later found out was just rigged (there were supposed to be cases with small, medium and large prizes inside. After playing the game for awhile though, I noticed not a single one had a large prize and only two contained mediums.
In this way, more people played more times to try and get big stuffed animals, with the average person spending somewhere in the neighbourhood of $18 to $36 each. Holy shit). To help ease the burden though, I got a new partner in crime, Steph, a girl from London. Together, we helped each other out and worked to gather even more people, sometimes blocking the thoroughfare with a crowd all assembled to see our antics. It was so much fun and after one day, she lost her voice too. Flash forward several days (and pretty much more of the same general thing) and we are at Friday, Oct. 7th. Not much had changed, people were even friendlier with one another and everyone was helping to make the experience worthwhile. Sleep was difficult, but I did get to come in at 11 a.m. two days and was even sent home early one day which helped. We also were permitted to put out several more mediums and one large prize, since so many people were playing our game, it was difficult to hide that we had NO large prizes (I can't tell you how many mums screamed at me for cheating their kids). Our bosses also granted Steph and I the use of a microphone to get even more spectators. He told us later in the week our booth was the single best moneymaker that year. Kudos to us I guess!

our last day of work, which was Saturday, things were rather bittersweet. everyone was ready to be done, but people had grown accustomed to seeing the rides everyday. Let me compare the size of this show to something akin to Waldameer, maybe even bigger. With animals, rides, games and anything else you can think of spread across at least a 4-mile radius. It was massive. I didn't even see the whole show. It even took me 15-minutes just to walk from one entrance to my booth, and there were more than 10 entrances!! That gives you a better idea, I hope.

So it's the last night now and I had yet to ride anything. We were surrounded
by all these amazing things and had no time to use and abuse any of them. So, Steph and I asked to be done early and what do you know our boss agreed.
We ran past all the things we wanted to ride (under fireworks no less) and most of the operators let us on for free, which was a treat. We saved around $80, especially since most rides were around $10-$15 bucks a pop. We definitely know how to charm people I'm sure. Goodbyes were hard after that, but I still had Sunday and Monday to help tear down the game booths, which I had agreed to earlier in the week.Those days were easier, with lots of unscrewing and collecting piles and piles and piles of materials to load on countless trucks. I crushed multiple fingers and bled on many a knuckle, but the $1,700 at the end of 10 days was oh-so worth it. I did so well, John, my Ed Hardy wearing boss even asked me to (get ready for it) join him for seven more weeks of travelling carnival work around the south of Western Australia. Pay is $600 a week (only three days of actual work a week, the rest is free time) and free accommodation in a caravan. So, I promptly decided (and unfortunately had to turn down my two other job offers) and packed up all my belongings. Bought a sleeping bag and some groceries and now, as of today at 2 p.m., I will depart for a 7-week tour. I have no idea what I'll be doing, but John said I will be moved around to different games and rides. I will also help set up and take down each time. About 7 other people from our troupe are also going, so I definitely won't be alone. Should be quite the adventure!! I am both nervous and excited, because living in a camper for two months could get quite uncomfortable, but the pay will certainly be worth it. Here's hoping!!
video
So, you've heard the story, but trust me there are many more, like the guy who said he would stab me in the neck if I didn't give him a big prize or the 14-year-olds that offered a hand-job to see what was in one of the cases they didn't pick. Yes, I knew signing on to work for the carnival would be interesting, but I definitely got more than I bargained for. These people are freaking crazy and John said the customers could only get even weirder in some of the country towns....Oh Jesus. But more stories will certainly follow, as well as pictures! As for now, I will try and update as regularly as possible, even though I will have a lack of Internet. Posts and pictures will certainly keep coming though whenever I get a chance. Just keep checking back and please, please, please wish me luck!

Love you all!