I finished reading Stephen King's Joyland, last evening. From Canfield Fair days to Conneaut Lake Park, Geauga Lake Park and Six Flags in New Jersey, I have been fascinated with the workers at the fairs and amusement parks. This novel follows a college student in 1973 at the University of New Hampshire in Durham to a summer job at a North Carolina beach amusement park.
As a little girl I watched the workers, thinking they could ride those rides any time after closing. I grew older admiring the camper trailers they lived in as they worked the fairs. Camping at a fair, how delightful to a growing child.
Curiosity invaded my rides as a teenager, as well. At Six Flags, the coolest ride with loud rock music was run by a long brown hair young man, I don't think much older than the Rainbow girls flooding to the ride over and over. He slyly looked us over but I'm sure he thought "jail bait."
Intrigued, I played with the idea of living that life. The trees intermingling with rides, the midway with strolling tourists being suckered into games. The only game I loved was Skeeball. I could tell those other games were rigged.
Joyland dug up those old feelings of living a carnie life and stories that could be told. Stephen King did not live the life before writing this story. He researched on line. I felt a little cheated when I read that in his note at the end. He is a master story teller and my memories of eying the teenage or college age boys imaging their stories increased my enjoyment of the novel. The idea of living on the beach in an old boarding house, listening to waves crashing on the beach while nursing a failed relationship and solving a mystery swept me away.
I, again, loved the local references. A friend in the novel was from western Pennsylvania, didn't say which town, though. Tom Kennedy was a radio host for Y-103, who ended up having done nasty stuff, but that is not how this Tom Kennedy in the novel turned out. Mr. King mentioned Camp Perry in Ohio. And all the places on the New Hampshire coast, Portsmouth hospital, Kittery and on down I could say I know those places!
The allure of those "fun" jobs that I would have never done. Our aunt's sister cleaned the cabins at Conneaut Lake Park, my older sister remembers. Sometimes those girls got to go along and play while their mother worked. I guess that is the closest I get to a carnie worker. The insider story of underground tunnels and hangouts laced with specialized language called to me. I want to know how the people live.
On this last day of summer, the end of fairs and the closing of amusement parks, I salute these people who make a living cleaning nasty stuff, putting up with rude people and probably getting paid very little. Happy Labor Day.