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Another Portland Blog

Monday, June 14, 2004


Rain carnies

Have you ever wondered what sort of people hang around Waterfront Village on a Tuesday night during a virtual monsoon? OK, maybe you haven't. That night I had an hour to kill before the last showing of Harry Potter at the Broadway. With nothing better to do, I decided to find out.

I wandered up to the ticket counter around 9:45. The bored teen working the gate said they were closing early and let me in for free. Woo! Hoo! I had a fifteen minutes to soak up the sights, sounds and smells of Rose Festival.

The park was awash in a bog of mud and, no more than three steps in, my Converses had gone from black to brown. With the exception of the staff and scattered cops in yellow jackets, I pretty much had the place to myself. As I wandered around, exhausted barkers stared at me with thesort of expression usually reserved for prisoners on a Depression-era chain gang. Only a few bothered with the usual shtick. Despite the weather, one working a goldfish stand was still stuck in maximum carnie mode. "HEY THERE, JOHN WAYNE! LET'S SEE YA' TAKE A CRACK! ARE YA' A DEADEYE?"

I didn't get a good look but I'm pretty sure he was running a game where participants try to toss a ping pong ball into bowls. Fearing I'd actually win and get stuck with a fish in a movie theater, I refused to make eye contact. Nevertheless, would the Duke's excellent marksmanship have helped him score a goldfish? This guy seemed to think so.

Nearby, empty neon rides shook like dogs trying to shake off wet. I made my way to the Ferris Wheel but the operator's expression muttered, "Don't even think about it." I hiked back to the Graviton, a space saucer that hurls riders around so fast they stick to the inside walls. It was on its last spin of the night. Further down, the 20-foot tall Zipper looked deadly in the rain. Other than the, the only things still open were the Village's funhouses.

I haven't been to a carnival like this since, well, the last time I did this in the mid-'90s. Apparently, 21st century funhouses offer a variety of themes that stretch beyond haunted real-estate. One was devoted to Hollywood. Another, called "American Rock," had a gigantic picture of Britney Spears on the side. Inside, large speakers spat out the Offspring next to a pink disco ball.

Back among the games of chance, I checked out one that offers mirrors as prizes. Back in the day, it would have been a haven for hair metal knock-offs. Motley Crue and KISS no longer make the cut. The one on the Waterfront only offered mirrors stamped with images of Eminem and Nelly.

Having never gone to a movie with gigantic stuffed animal, I broke out two bucks. I tried at a hand at a strange little game involving quarters and rainbows painted on a table. The goal was to toss the coins and land them on one of rainbows' colors. Had I gotten one in the red, my date to Harry Potter would have been a two-foot tall Powerpuff Girl. Sadly, most of my quarters rolled across the table and into a net on the other side.

As I headed out, I noticed a carnie pouring over a leather notebook full of financial papers. He starred at it intensely as one of his colleagues yelled at him from the stand next door. Frustrated, he began throwing softballs at the guy's footlocker desk. Maybe out of spite or something else, the carnie refused to look up. Near the exit, another sat on a stool in rain with his head between his legs.

"Are you OK," a voice asked.

"I don't know," he moaned.

"Really, are you OK?"

"I don't know."

Was he drunk? Was he about to have a heart attack? Was there something foul coursing through his veins? I didn't hang around to find out. Instead, I wandered over to the Veritable Quandary for gin, the only mood-setting drink I could think of appropriate for a movie starring teenage British wizards. As I plopped my wet ass on a stool, a businessman gave me a quick look. My mud-splattered sneakers and soaked sweatshirt convinced him to quickly down a glass of white wine in two gulps. He was out the door before the bartender could come over and roll his eyes.

UPDATE: For more bittersweet carnival related fun, click here to read XE's exhaustive write-up of a parking lot carnival on Staten Island. He scored himself a goldfish and a life-size Spiderman doll.

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