The Roads Are Calling, or It's A Carnie Life: Part 8

I helped out with some of the dismantling of the rides and other items for about two hours before Dad told me to go to bed. Allison and I both grumbled about wanting to continue in helping them take everything down, but Dad said we needed to be on the road fairly early.

We argued about it for a few minutes, but the end result was more grumbling as Allison and I wandered off to our separate beds.

I'm not sure what was causing it, but that night turned into a whole lot of tossing and turning, and very little actual sleep. By the time mom and dad woke up at seven AM to start the process of getting us moving, I had already given up on sleeping and was sipping at a coffee.

Dad took one look at me sitting there in the small table seating with the cup of coffee and asked me what the heck was happening. It didn't take me very long to inform him that I hadn't slept much at all, and had been awake for a good two hours or more already that morning.

Dad was even more ticked off when I told him this was the third cup of coffee I'd started drinking today. I guess I can understand him being ticked off, I'd never been one for having more than a single coffee in a day, so admitting that I was on the third one was extremely unusual.

I guess dad was also slightly worried, I'm not sure if it is because of all the stuff I'm going through now after learning I've always been a girl. I was really surprised when he led me to the tiny locked box where we keep some medications and allowed me to take a dose of a sleeping aid.

I sat at the little table, semi-watching mom as she rustled up some breakfast, bacon, eggs and some toast, then we sat down to eat it.

By the time that I finished my serving, I was yawning fairly often. The medication had apparently kicked in, perhaps I could sleep now?

I managed to get up to my little nest without falling, which was a major feat considering that I was having trouble concentrating at all.

I peeled out of the PJs I had put on when I woke up for propriety's sake, slipped under my thin blanket and was asleep within a few minutes.


Wow! I must have really needed the sleep. Mom and dad left me alone, figuring I was getting what I needed most at the moment, I guess.

When I finally woke up, my rustling around up above the front seats made it clear to my parents that I was awake. Mom asked me how I was feeling now, and I replied with the simple remark that I felt rested this time. She laughed and told me that it was now 2.07 PM.

I managed to put on a pair of simple jeans and a t-shirt featuring the rock band Def Leppard and their Downstage Thrust Tour in 2007. Once I was dressed, including a pair of running shoes (what UK folks call trainers), I slithered down the little ladder behind the front seats.

Mom had made her way over to the modestly sized refrigerator and pulled out a container. When she opened the container, I was able to see one of my favourite meals in there, sausages and fries, especially since those guys with their big grill showed up a while back.

She slipped the food onto a plate and popped it into the small built-in microwave oven for a minute or two to heat it up again.

I swear, I must have been drooling or something as the food heated up, as my mom was giving me some weird looks while we waited. Once the food was heated sufficiently, I carried the plate to the small table, took a seat and proceeded to devour the food in a very short time.

At one point, I could see my mom shaking her head. I think she was muttering something about "teaching that girl some manners".

I shrugged it off and kept eating, until there was not a single scrap of food left on the plate, no, not even a crumb.


I found out from mom that we had been on the road since about 7:45 AM, heading toward Carroll County in Kentucky. Dad had decided to take I40 eastbound from Barstow, California, and I learned that we were already somewhere between Gallup and Albuquerque, New Mexico.

They hadn't been pushing it a lot, having covered not quite four hundred miles in a bit over 6.5 hours, but they weren't going slow, either.

I watched out the side window by the table as we continued heading eastward. About thirty minutes later, we reached Albuquerque.

Dad decided that it was a good time for a brief break and pulled off the interstate, then followed Highway 45 to Krispy Kreme doughnuts. We weren't in there for very long, mom and dad both wanted to get fresh coffee they didn't have to make themselves, and of course, they couldn't leave without getting some doughnuts. Mom likes the strawberries and creme donuts. To be honest, I like them, too, but I couldn't resist getting some glazed raspberry filled ones or a few glazed chocolate cake donuts. Dad's a simple guy, cinnamon sugar or cinnamon twists.

We walked back out to the RV, only to find some kid trying to get into it using what looked like a pen knife. The kid, who looked like he might be about my age, maybe a bit older, apparently didn't hear us, as Dad grabbing him by the arm and pulling him away caught him by surprise.

Mom was already on her phone, calling for a police officer, reporting an attempted robbery and possible attempted vehicle theft. I guess she mentioned that our RV is still fairly new, only three years old and still running just fine even with all the mileage we put on it.

Anyway, we were astonished when the police showed up just a bit over five minutes later, even more so that there were three cars. A pair of big, burly guys listened to us for a moment as Dad continued to hold onto the boy. What surprised me the most, and perhaps mom and dad as well, although I can't be sure, is that the kid only took one swing earlier at dad, which resulted in dad squeezing his other arm quite hard.

That, I guess, told the kid that trying to fight my dad was a losing proposition, and he had remained in Dad's grip, visibly sulking.

One of the five officers on the scene apparently recognized the boy and sighed in exasperation. "Dammit, James McCoy, this is the third time in two months that you've been caught trying to break into people's vehicles. What the hell is up, why are you on our radar so much?"

I was a bit surprised about her using the on our radar expression, until I realized that she meant about him being caught so often.

What surprised everyone there was the boy's response, which had all five officers tensing, almost reaching for their guns. "I can't stay home no more, Missus Barnett, my dad got laid off seven weeks ago and he's been turning to the drink, which just makes him really vicious." At this point, James pulled up one sleeve of his three-quarter sleeve football shirt to reveal several dark and obviously recent bruises.

Officer Barnett growled, a sound that was heard by everyone present, then used her radio to order an arrest warrant, giving current name and address. While she was doing that, one of the big guys was talking with mom and dad, asking what they wanted to do about James.

Mom's response was very clear, "If he's being mauled like that, and I doubt that's all that's happened, he needs to be kept safe from his father. He didn't do any actual harm here, our biggest concern is that he have somewhere to go. Does he have any other local relatives?"

The other big, hefty guy nodded, "An aunt that lives in one of the smaller communities on the eastern edge of the city."

Dad nodded, adding, "Get the boy to her, then do whatever you folks need to do to ensure that James can be free of any further harm."

The first big officer, whose nametag read Albertson, asked, "So you folks won't be pressing any charges about this?"

Dad sighed, replying, "Not much point to it, officer. As my wife said, no actual harm was done. Plus we're with Birchland Carnivals." While dad was saying that, mom passed them a card with Jack Birchland's cell number on it, and everything was quickly verified to their satisfaction.

A few minutes later, we were going back to the interstate, having seen young James wrapped tight in Officer Barnett's arms as we passed by.


The rest of the trip to Carroll County was rather quiet. It sure made a nice counterpoint to the incident with James in Albuquerque.

We stopped at the Pilot Travel Center not far from the border going from Oklahoma to Arkansas for the night. Dad had decided that, since we had an RV with places for each of us to sleep fairly comfortably, we would save the cost of renting a motel room for one night.

We parked the RV in a back corner of the truck stop's lot, then headed in to see what they had available for food. If you've never traveled much, one thing you need to know, and this is rarely ever proved wrong, truck stops have some of the best food you can find anywhere.

I have to agree, plus the prices were actually fairly reasonable. Dad nodded when I asked if I could have a decent sized steak. Mom looked at me for a moment, then shook her head and ordered a Caesar salad with chicken in it. We all enjoyed our meals as we relaxed there.

You know, it was actually a wee bit odd, sleeping in the RV that night while not moving. I guess it doesn't happen very often, well, except for when we are at a fair somewhere. It took me an hour or so to get to sleep that night, but once I did, I slept fairly well, waking up rested.

We were on the road again shortly after 8:30 AM, after a rather good breakfast that had me patting my stomach and moaning happily. Heck, yeah, it was good. Four buckwheat pancakes along with a nice big chunk of ham, three eggs, lots of home fries and four slices of toast.

We made a quick stop in Memphis, Tennessee, around 1:15 PM to grab a few items that mom wanted to have food wise.

From there, we continued along I40 until we were near Nashville, then switched over to I65 to head north into Kentucky.

We reached Carrollton, Kentucky, that evening and were soon parked in the space we were allowed for the fair's duration. Dad decided that we could stay in the RV again that night, which meant that it would be fairly quiet, at least until folks started arriving at the site.


Several other folks from Birchland Carnivals pulled into our area within an hour or two of our having arrived. One of those vehicles was the big pick-up owned by Tina Hanson and Ricki Keswick, and within minutes of their arrival, Allison and I were quite busily jabbering away.

Yeah, I missed being with Allison a fair bit, even if it was only for a couple of days. When you're doing stuff together on a thin rope fifty feet off the ground, you tend to get to know the other person fairly well, as your life may well depend on them, much like my helping Allison recently.

The gear hadn't arrived yet, although someone said the guys driving the rigs would likely pull in tomorrow morning. With all the rides that we have now, on top of our much smaller amount of gear such as the big tents and the assorted items used in our acts, it can easily take the whole team a good ten to twelve hours to get everything either set up or dismantled, then they have to haul it around between the various fairs.

That just meant that Allison and I ended up doing several types of exercises, including a variety of stretches before and after the exercises.


My sleep was shattered early the next morning by the very loud sound of a big rig's air horn as they approached our location.

I pulled myself out of my bed, barely remembering to put on some basic clothes before going down the ladder and out of the RV.

One of the big rigs pulled to a stop a short distance away and a door to the cab opened, then Lane Johnson stepped out of the truck. Lane is a fairly big guy, about 6'2" tall and somewhere around 190 pounds or so. Why his parents named him that, I haven't the faintest idea.

Anyway, Lane and his driver, Billy Riggs, were soon down and heading to the back of the truck to open the access doors. That led to Allison, myself and three other young folks whose parents work for the carnival, Petey, Simon and Alvin, following the two men.

We were soon busy helping them to unload some of the items they were carrying. Several bigger items near the front of the trailer required a forklift to move them around, which Billy and Lane didn't have in their truck, so those items would have to wait to be unloaded.

We'd been working for maybe an hour when four more of the big rigs pulled in, including two 53' flatbed trailers loaded with ride parts.

By the time we stopped for lunch, the last of the eleven semis had arrived and everyone pitched in to get everything up and ready for the fair.

I wasn't able to help out much with the set-up of the rides, although I did act as a sort of spotter while some of the guys were placing various pieces where they belonged on some of the rides. Having someone watching from a different angle prevented at least two accidents that day as the work progressed in our area of the fairgrounds that very well could have happened if someone weren't there to watch them work.

Most of the rides were set up by the time night fell over the fairgrounds, but that didn't stop them at all. I know that at least one crew was damn glad to have me watching as they worked, as we narrowly avoided another accident before Jack called it quits just after 10:30 PM.


We had had one of mom's "quick mix stews" that she makes in a huge crock pot on our little stove in the RV when she's in the mood. I guess she was feeling that way earlier today, as she had thrown together a rather tasty meal based on some venison, onions, carrot and potatoes.

That whole pot was emptied in a matter of maybe twenty minutes by a large number of our folks around mid-afternoon.

What I didn't know was that those guys with the big grill were apparently following us around, as we had helped them become known. Jack had just ordered everyone to stop when someone muttered something about there being someone nearby using a barbecue grill.

It didn't take long for the smells coming from that equipment to draw most of our folks to where they had set up all of their gear.

As usual when they were around, I demolished a fair chunk of food before I wandered back to our RV to climb into my bed.


There wasn't a lot of work that needed to be done on the Friday morning, so we had everything in place just before 11 AM.

We hadn't realized, until we received a brochure listing the events for the various days, that the only daytime shows were on Saturday. That left us with little to do during the days, as the crowds wouldn't be there until shortly before each evening's shows and events started.

Most of the weekday events here seemed to start around eight PM, Saturdays ran from mid-morning to late evening, Sunday it was closed.

We were able to wander around the grounds and check the various buildings and look at the wide assortment of animals here for the shows.

The evening events set-up didn't stop us from doing our shows during the day. What it did mean was that we had much smaller audiences at those times. I was surprised on the Monday afternoon to overhear Jack Birchland saying to my dad that he didn't like the evening only system they had for the fair here. He added that he thought they were missing out on getting folks to come during the day after working night shifts.

I didn't hear what dad said in reply to Jack as I was already past the two of them, heading over to the tents for another show.


We almost had a major incident as Allison and I did our act on the tightrope in the early afternoon on Wednesday. I have no clue as to how the two guys managed to get into the fair with the handguns, but they did, and the bastards actually fired them INSIDE the tent.

I've trained myself to be able to ignore most noises, but it's damn hard to ignore a .45 slug whizzing by your ear fifty feet off the ground.

The hardest part of the whole thing is that one of the bastards, while firing in random directions, killed a girl across the tent from him.

In less than a minute's time, the tent was swarmed by more than a dozen police officers; some were town, some county, some state. The two guys soon found themselves lying facedown on the floor of the tent, then being cuffed and Mirandized before being rudely hauled away.

The idiots had even gone so far as to shoot at some of the officers, not a smart move with that many officers on the scene already.

Allison and I had, as soon as the bullets started flying, jumped down to the safety net, then scurried into whatever cover we could find.


Allison and I were quite shaken up by the killing of the girl and the fact that we could all too easily have died from the randomly aimed shots. I'm not sure how Jack found out about it, but we were near him for most of the rest of that day, as we were too stressed out to do another show.

We spent a good hour or two that evening talking with mom, dad, Tina and Ricki, our family members, about what had happened.

For the rest of the week, we continued to do the daytime shows in both tents, plus our rides and some booths were getting limited use.

Except for the early evenings, when we usually did our last shows of the day before the fair's events started, we were lucky to see perhaps a dozen or so people in our tent while Allison and I were up on the tightrope performing as if the crowd were much larger.


On the Thursday evening, just after we had finished our last performance of the day, I ran into mom coming out of the other big tent. Terrence was walking next to her, both of them carrying the whips they used in the act involving Terrence's two lions and our lioness.

I noticed from a quick glance that mom was frowning, something that was rather unusual for her. That prompted me to speak. "Hey, mom. What's up? Why are you upset? What's happening?" Another glance showed that Terrence was just as upset as my mom, this was not good.

"Hello, Lara, Allison," mom growled. "We just finished another show with barely two dozen people in the tent to see it! Where the hell is everyone? The fair's main events for each day don't get going until 8 PM or later, we should be seeing more people, but we aren't. Why?"

I sighed, shrugging my shoulders as I replied to her, "I have no idea, mom. We finished our last show up on the rope a little while ago, it was a high tension act at one point as I overbalanced for a moment and almost fell off of the rope. We had about the same number of people."

I was just able to hear Terrence as he mumbled, "We aren't getting anywhere near the crowds we would see at other fairs."

Allison pitched in at that point, "I'm fairly new to all of this, but even I'm noticing that there are very few people at our shows here."

That was when we all were surprised, as another voice joined the discussion that we had started, it was Jack Birchland's voice.

"If I thought it would do us any good to break a commitment, I'd pack us all up now and go," he stated. "But I gave my promise to the folks that run this fair that Birchland and Whirlds of Whee would be here until the fair ends on Saturday, and I won't break that promise."

Mom turned to face Jack and smiled briefly as she looked at him, "We'll keep working, then, but I'll be glad when we can get out of here."

Jack nodded, "That will be late Saturday night, probably some time on Sunday for a lot of our folks, but no later than that."

Jack watched as we nodded our agreement to what he had said, then we wandered off to catch the shows taking place that evening.

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