When home is a jump

Gamers wash tarps on parking lot jump in Daly City, Calif.
Mexicans cut wood and repair gravitron standing boards in San Mateo, Calif.

“If you own a rug you own too much.”
Jack Kerouac

Setting up in a new town depends of the “rugs” a carny brings.

Carnies set up their homes on each jump but it is a road home very different than the home lives of townies.

I begin each jump by walking the area in search of a dollar store, Walmart, Rite Aid, discount grocery store, my bank branch (to deposit week’s check for child support) and either a library or a McDonald’s for Wifi access.

At least one gamer in my current carnival has WiFi in his bunkhouse. Every carny has a cell phone, many have smart phones with WiFi.

A nearby laundromat is almost too much to ask. Currently, an unscheduled van fills with Mexicans and drives to the closest laundromat every week.

Top of the exploring list for many carnies is the local liquor store and bar. In Hayward that was the Dark Horse and the Hollow Leg. In San Mateo it is The Swingin’ Door. (I know there’s a drug highway too but I’m not interested in outing our drug users’ secrets)

It’s strikingly similar to a nomad’s existence. The nomad returning to last year’s jump knows the watering holes and resources. The inexperienced must listen and walk the new hunting grounds.

Good morning America

This morning, I woke and listened for the weather. No rain or wind, so the walk to a portable donniker across the fairground parking lot won’t be a struggle.

I walked back to brush my teeth by a storm drain and spat into the drain.

Most carnies on this route have a microwave, propane-heated stoves, grills or other heating device for meals. The Mexicans pool their money and wives shop and cook for the group. So breakfast is usually whipped up in the room or the trailer.

My unit has “reefers, “short for refrigerated trailers, for Mexicans on nine-month work visas. They are crowded trailers with 15 bunks, stacked three bunks high. The reefers have a small kitchen, lockers and two showers. But they aren’t refrigerated during the summer, the Mexicans bring in their own fans and air conditioners.

We haven’t had hot water for days. It’s still pretty cold most nights and mornings in northern California so many carnies are choosing not to shower in the cold water.

Carnies come out of their trailers, cars and R.V.s still eating their tamales or heated oatmeal while drinking coffee.

Most days this winter and spring, the commute to work was just a few yards away. Work call is 9 am when setting up or repairing. It is an hour before opening on show days.

Supervisor Robert E is responsible for rousting the carnies and is fond of yelling at the bunkhouses at work call time.

“Work call! If you hear my voice you’re already late.”

By the end of the season, carnies will have heard this call-out scores of times.

Today, we finished refurbishing the gravitron’s standing boards around 10 am. We’re going to set up in a church parking lot in late afternoon and that time gap worried Robert E.

“No drinking between now and about 2 or 3 this afternoon,” he said. “We’ve got work to do. Pleeese.”


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Tomorrow: Road homes, families, shout-outs

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