Constable: A year of hitching rides and carnival jobs in search of astounding stories


Daily Herald columnist Burt Constable’s article about American OZ starts off strong and gets stronger.

“In search of astounding stories for his book, “American Oz,” journalist Michael Sean Comerford of Barrington spent a year trekking 21,570 miles, mostly by hitchhiking across North America as a modern-day Odysseus. Facing trials of hard labor and staving off the wrath of carnies, he worked for traveling carnivals and spectacular state fairs across 10 states.”

Constable, who I worked with for a dozen years at the Daily Herald, called me a “survivor of a glorious, dangerous, lonely, exhilarating, joyful and life-altering year.”

American OZ began as a journalistic enterprise but turned personal as I worked shoulder-to-shoulder with ride jockeys and jointees (carnies who ran rides, showmen who ran games). So Constable gives his summary of who I am.

“As a reporter, he’s garnered bylines for the Daily Herald, the Elgin Courier, the Barrington Courier, the Chicago Sun-Times, the Chicago Tribune, the New York Daily News, the Budapest Sun, Budapest Business Journal, the Prague Post and the Moscow Times. He’s dined on caviar in Budapest, eaten at Maxim’s in Paris, was the one who christened his father’s 60-foot yacht “Seanchaí” — Gaelic for storyteller, has visited nearly 100 countries, studied with Buddhist monks in the Himalayas, danced with Imelda Marcos in the Philippines, and won a heavyweight boxing championship as a student at University College Cork in Ireland.”

He read the book closely and liked the diversity of the people who picked me up hitchhiking.

“He talked about everything from Russian literature to lepidopterology (the study of butterflies) with the diverse cast of characters who gave him rides. They include “an Arctic Circle teacher, an Arkansas preacher, a Chinese cook, a balloon clown, a magician, a denturist, an environmentalist, an FBI bureau chief, two Navy intelligence officers, a nuclear engineer, a pizza delivery driver, authors, cops, drifters, hillbillies, hippies, mechanics, miners, refugees, religious zealots, rodeo riders, truckers and a former wolf who became a man,” Comerford writes.”

Constable’s ending knocks me out.

“In his quest for astonishing stories, Comerford has wandered the world, mingled with misfits and millionaires, and vows to keep looking even if the most astonishing stories are his own.”