Traveling sideshows

My tax preparer is a carny.

No, really, she is.

Stacy is a third generation carnival operator and we met when we both worked nights and weekends at Hastings here in Dodge City. Despite our obvious outward differences, our friendship just sort of clicked.

I trust her so much that when she started preparing taxes during the winter months at H&R Block I became a client. I joke with her that if she screws up we’re both in jail and she promises that she can watch my back in the prison yard.

Would your tax preparer promise the same?

Stacy’s true love, though, is the carnival that her family operates. This summer, like every other summer since she was born, Stacy and her family pack their camper trailers, stop their mail, turn off the lights and the water to their houses and head out on the open road. It’s something she takes pride in and I find so incredibly fascinating.

You see when you really consider it, her life isn’t that much different than a farmer’s life or that of a custom harvest crew.

Both crews spend hours on safety drills in the weeks before leaving for the road. Carnival rides or combines, both are large pieces of machinery that can maim or kill a worker or a bystander if you’re not following procedure. Safety inspections are the drill and if you don’t take safety seriously on both crews, you don’t have a job for long.

Both crews have daily operating costs ranging in the thousands of dollars. Combines and grain carts or tilt-a-whirls and the dozer game all are expensive equipment to operate, transport and maintain. And just hearing about her dad working on equipment reminds me a lot of my own dad repairing equipment in the middle of harvest. Let’s just say there’s a lot of banging and inventive vocabulary words in both instances.

Both crews aren’t guaranteed incomes. We know our All Aboard Wheat Harvest correspondents this year are struggling to find work because of the drought, and yet they still have operating loans and labor expenses to pay. In Stacy’s world, a bad gig because of weather means the same thing. There’s no crop insurance and no guaranteed weekly salary for either.

Both crews rely on labor that can be fickle. Stacy grew up managing employees and understanding labor costs just as much as a custom cutter’s kid. Former employees of both crews are often like family, and there are long-time friendships at each spot in the road they stop.

Both crews are often multigenerational operations. Be they carnies or custom cutters, you’ll see three, maybe even four generations out on the road together. You learn skills, whether it’s how to drive a combine or make the perfect funnel cake. The younger generation also often buys into the family business, a machine or a game at a time. Stacy and her fella recently bought her parents’ shares out in the carnival and she took that next big step into responsibility, much like some of my farmer friends are doing buying into their family operations.

The only noticeable difference is that one crew harvests grain and the other harvests fun memories.

So this summer, like the past 17 summers, I will wave big as I watch the custom cutters and the carnies traveling down the blacktop roads to their next gigs. And then I’ll say a prayer for safe travels, good weather and good harvests.

And I’ll add a prayer of thanks that this farmer’s daughter and that carny’s daughter wound up as friends.

Jennifer M. Latzke can be reached at 620-227-1807 or [email protected].