Doing time as a Carnie

There are so many symbols of America – Baseball, Hot Dogs, Apple Pie – just to name a few.  But, when summer roles around, all across America there is one thing that stands out in my mind that just reeks of America (for better or worse) the local carnival.

Sure Brazil has Carnival, but they pronounce it funny. The local carnival in America is…well unique. They roll into town under the cover of darkness one night and a few days later disappear in a very similar manner. In between thousands of people walk through the halls and aisles taking in countless booths, rides and tons of crappy it-can-only-be-made-in-America-food pretty much guaranteed to make you regret eating it. God I love corn dogs.


Those who work at the carnivals are known as Carnies. They are a unique inbreed. They travel the country, typically living onsite, working long hours, staying up late and doing it all over again the next day. Their daily outfit typically represents the booth they are stationed at and they spend their day and night pitching whatever game, prizes or food they are selling. Many think those games are staged, rigged. The Carnie’s job is to push the game, to get people to spend money. To buy their wares.

I’ve been to many carnivals as a kid, but now as an adult…not a big fan. Oh sure I still go to one maybe once every other year. But, now I go as a guy, with a family who just wants to have fun…and hopefully not get food poisoning.

What I never expected was to actually become a Carnie. But, that’s the exact opportunity my job has provided me with. I. Am. A. Carnie.

Like many companies mine participates in a few trade shows every year. Trade shows, if you’ve never been to one, are the corporate worlds version of carnivals and recently I participated in Carnival Tour 2012.

Trade shows never seem to be in your home town. So a team of us from the company jet off to some exotic location that we’ll never get to see because we’ll be cooped up in some environmentally controlled building for days on end. We arrive onsite ready to hock our wares. We all have a bags filled with everything we need. First and foremost the uniform.

Some progressive companies allow their Carnies to wear basic business casual – freaking amateurs. Real professional Carnies wear the uniform which usually consists of some god awful company colored polo shirt designed to make us stand out. The brighter and uglier the better – or so our corporate marketing folks tell us. Me, I think we look like a bunch of idiots. There all all kinds. Teams manning their booth in bright purple, bright yellow, fluorescent green, fire engine red and the dreaded prison road crew orange. Oh sure most of us get to change into “real” clothes so no one will know who we are when we are forced to go out to work dinners at night, although true corporate Kool-Aid drinkers (read: Cubicle George) wear their uni out at night too. Not me. Shift over. Shirt off.

“The Talent”

The whole point of the trade show, like the carnival, is to get people to buy your shit. So, we, like the Carnie trying to get someone to spend money trying to win a pink bear, will do whatever it takes to get them into our booth. This usually starts, and often ends with the Booth Babe (and not just because George is constantly staring at their rear ends…and their tops. Ok leering).

Off duty strippers Booth Babes are employed to get people into the booth. I say people…HA. Really, 80+ percent of show attendees are full on tech dweebs, young and old. And, what do tech dweebs like more than pizza, coca-cola and shit loads of bandwidth? Boobs.

Hologram Babe

Yep, temp these geeks with that which they normally have no chance in getting and it’s like a kid in a candy store. Heck, even some companies use virtual Booth Babes, straight outta the files of Star Trek’s holodeck. Boobs…virtual girls…Planets Aligned!

You get them into your booth and low and behold people like George attack the “hot lead” (no that’s not a euphemism for something). Once the dweeb is hooked and on-line us booth workers pounce. We pitch our wears like the Carnie pitching the pink bear to the guy trying to impress his girlfriend at the carnival – he’s willing to spend money to impress her. You’ve got a max of 5 minutes with them.

Sell. Sell. Sell.

Force that Kool-Aid down their throat.

And, this goes on all day. Lure. Hook. Sell. Do it all over again. But, then the fun really starts. The show is over for the day and we Carnies get to live it up at night! Oh yeah, the Team Dinner.

By the time the show ends and those of us who are sane go back to our rooms to change into something more reasonable looking, along with much more comfortable shoes, it’s typically after 8 pm. Some marketing person in charge, the coordinator, has arranged for a Team Dinner.

You’re in a far away city, away from family and have no commitments until that 8 am conference call your boss signed you up for before booth duty. And, where do they choose to get reservations for dinner? In the restaurant IN the hotel you are staying at, which by the way is the same place the show is located. You will never escape.

Of course the 8 pm dinner res means that people will arrive at 8:30…at best. A few cocktails and high-fives with George later and we sit down for appetizers. Dinner is typically served shortly after 10, some more high-fives and, for those of us who didn’t figure out how to escape earlier, we finally get out of the restaurant around 11:30 or 12. Then it comes…

Who wants to go out drinking and dancing?

This is the second chance for Carnies. If you blew your first chance at escape (bailing on dinner) you now have one more chance before it gets real ugly. Play your cards right and you go to bed with a stomach ache from some hastily prepared meal and minimize your hangover. Play your cards wrong and you are in for a good 2+ hours and are guaranteed to be uttering the words, “holy shit, who scheduled this call anyway?” with a pounding headache in a few hours.

Meanwhile, the email is piling up. Everyone who didn’t get sentenced to trade show duty is back at the office creating urgent to-do’s for you. And, somewhere around 2:30 am you see the one from the boss who set up a lunch meeting with you and that “great company” he met earlier that day.

Bossman: “CV, I’ve setup a lunch meeting for us.”
Me: Really? I have a raging hangover, a meeting at 8 am that will last until probably 10 because the schmucks will show up late, and I won’t get breakfast – otherwise known as a stale bagel and luke-warm coffee until probably 11 and  you want me to go have lunch at 12 with people that I’m sure I’ll never want to talk with again, but will email me constantly for months on end? “Sure bossman. See you then.”
God, I’m a corporate whore. Shit my head hurts…I need some water. $10 for a bottle of water that the maid left in my room?!?! Hmmm, the beers in the bar are only $8. Nah what am I thinking? Where’s my fucking Advil?

What’s the beauty of this? We Carnies get to do this again in at least 2 other shows this year! Pack up the Winnebago and off to the next city!

And, to think I could’ve skipped all those  years of school and gone straight to cleaning up puke on the tilt-o-whirl for a living.


About CubicleViews

Observations, thoughts & random bitching about cube life, food, beer, wine, whiskey and sometimes politics. Living the dream in a 6×8 doorless polyester walled cell.
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12 Responses to Doing time as a Carnie

  1. free penny press says:

    Ah the things we must endure while being employees… You are so correct in that it’s just like being “Sideshow Bob” for a few days.. except we don’t get any prizes, just long hours and achey feet..Our company invades Vegas every year so yeah, well you already get that picture..
    on a sidenote, about 3 miles from me is the Carnie resting place of the states: Gibsonton, Fl.. (google it)..nuff said 🙂

    • CubicleViews says:

      Vegas huh? I think virtually every Corporate Carnie has to do time in Vegas. Which show are you there for?

      And, seriously…I did Google it and have just one question: Was there some law that was passed that requires Florida to be the most whack-ado state in the nation?

      • free penny press says:

        Thank God almighty I am just passing through here…raised on the east Coast.. You would have stories for days just riding through their “town”.. Have some great pics too.. Oh yeah we do it big in Vegas–The Bellaggio.. but damn it’s a longggggggggggg 4 days..

  2. At a previous job I got to go to Montreal for a couple day trade show. I took the train from Toronto which was a fun ride and much nicer than the drive. The train pulls right into a station that is underneath the hotel I stayed at. No outside. The next morning, up and off to the convention center which is conveniently connected to the hotel by an underground walkway (cold winters in Quebec). No outside. Breakfast, lunch and dinners were all spent at any hotel or restaurant that was connected by the underground. No outside. I spent three days in Montreal, but never once went outside.

    • CubicleViews says:

      Ugh I hate that-never getting outside. There’s this one place I’ve been to many times for shows that everyone calls the Biosphere. You enter and never leave for anything. It really messes with your mind.

  3. timmer says:

    I bet the most annoying person in the carnie cadre is the fresh college grad funneling the corporate Kool-Aid.

  4. So not to be maligned as the corporate kool-aid drinking shill over here, but I will admit to enjoying parts of some of these tradeshows. Especially if you can get out of the Team Dinner – sometimes the nightlife is awesome.

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