This post was written for people who are considering a job with a carnival or a circus, AND for the families who worry about them.
On the flip-side of my post "Is it safe to be around carnival workers and circus workers" is the question of if it is safe to be a carnival or circus worker. Traveling to unfamiliar places, away from family, and surrounded by a new type of people. Ultimately, my answer is:
This is life. There are no guarantees. But with a good head on your shoulders and a strong moral compass, this type of job can be a positive and interesting part of your life story.
Clean and sober is the way to be
Putting this out there because it is something I know people ask about ...
I spent 5 months traveling with a carnival and have friends who traveled with a circus. At that time we were exposed to drugs, alcohol, and improper comments and suggestions. Honestly, it made me think of high school without the threats of being sent to the principal's office. We were away from our families and in a world that was very different from where we grew up.
But we were still ourselves. And I am happy to report that co-workers knew that it's not cool to operate heavy equipment or work while under the influence.
There was safety in numbers as we explored the world with our new-found friends. I always found it easy to turn down offers of drugs, cigarettes, and alcohol as there were plenty of people who respected my decisions.
Long work hours without many days off
In the 5 months that I traveled with a carnival, ride jocks only got like 2 days off. One was a bad weather day, the other was because not enough equipment showed up in time for regular setup.
Why so many work days?
- Mondays were for setting up.
- Tuesday either finish setting up or open
- Wednesday - Saturday were the actual events
- Saturday Night tear down often extended into Sunday morning
- Sunday afternoon was usually spent traveling to the next spot so you can do it again!
- Unless, of course, it was a multi-week spot. Then Sundays and Mondays were business as usual.
Concession stands and games tend to be faster to set up and take down. I worked in a concession stand and usually got most, if not all of Sunday and Monday off.
Ticket booth operators have the shortest hours ... unless they take on extra jobs for more money.
My longest work-day started a little after 7AM and lasted until almost 4AM. That's about 21 hours, with me having one of the "easier" jobs!
Living conditions can be rough
Those of us who could not afford personal RVs and travel trailers lived in bunkhouses that are smaller than my bathroom. A "tiny home" would be a luxury in comparison! There were different models, but the two that I lived in featured a bunk bed (2 or 3 high), a small closet to store our stuff, a window, a door, and an overhead a/c / heater unit.
There was a small amount of floor space where we put a mini-fridge and microwave. When it was time to move to the next town, our two bicycles, two folding lawn chairs, small outdoor grill, and cooler took up what little space was left. We literally had to unpack the bunkhouse of those items before we could get back into our beds at the next stop.
There were a few times that it took a while to get hooked up to electricity. Not a big deal most of the year, but it can be miserable to wait in extreme hot or cold.
Bathrooms, showers, and washing machines
For me, the bathroom situation was the worst part of traveling and living in a bunkhouse! We did not have one. If we were not at a park with public bathrooms, we had to either use a portapoty or walk to the nearest restaurant or store.
Employees need to be clean. Some bunkhouse trailers come with shower rooms. But none of the bunkhouses I lived in did. Instead we had a wash house with showers for employees and a washing machine / dryer for our uniforms.
The rest of our laundry had to be done at the laundry mat. If there wasn't one within walking distance, we took the company bus or van.
Some carnies and circus workers have their own vehicles. If that isn't enough to get everybody from Point A to Point B, there should also be a company bus or van. The show I worked for took us to town once a week for shopping and laundry. If we wanted to go outside that once a week, we had to talk to someone who had their own vehicle.
My one complaint about that is that the shopping and laundry trips usually came at the end of the week. This was because payday was Friday, so that was the day that everybody had money to shop. I personally would have rather gone shopping and done laundry when we arrived at a new location so we could start the week with clean clothes and a stocked fridge.
Friends are Family
I do not want to hurt my real family's feelings saying this. But I have to admit, many of the friends I made working for the carnival felt like family! I still keep in touch through social media to see how they are doing and their kids are growing.