Magical moments at carnival

Shiny signs were affixed to utility poles throughout the city each July. The carnival was coming!

The dusty, scorched grass and cracked parking lots of the City Park were about to turn into a paradise of rides and games.

Rose City Rides came to town while we were sleeping. At least it seemed so. We didn’t see them coming and we didn’t go to the park early to watch them settle in. It would spoil the surprise.

Instead, we started looking for change – in the sofa, inside the car’s ashtray, and even outside along the sidewalks.

We cashed in bottles and did some chores around the house. If we wanted to go to the carnival, we needed money.

On the evening of the opening of the carnival, the city was in full effervescence. Every car seemed to be turning toward the park. Children were rushing down the sidewalks as if the sidewalk was burning their sneaker soles.

I turned my feet around towards the carnival, trying not to run. The pockets of my shorts were ringing with coins. I felt rich and so happy to live in the city, walking distance to everything.

When entering the city park or the carnival grounds, the first thing I noticed was the smell. It was a mixture of popcorn, motor oil and sweat. I took a deep breath through my nose and held it, adding it to my favorite memories.

Then the sounds. A little music floated in the torrid air. Engines creaked and creaked. Male voices were yelling garbled words that sounded like laughter.

Huge black electrical cords snaked through the grass, connecting lights and noises together. Tiny trailers, cheerfully painted to conceal their rusty seams, housed cotton candy machines and funnel-shaped cake pans. They circled the rides like old west wagons; the aromas bombarded us as we passed.

The Ferris wheel looked like a giant hoop. Around the giant wheel were the silver scrambler, tilt-a-whirl, and little kiddie rides in the shapes of cars, planes, and animals.

As I hurried from ride to ride, I watched the stalls at the perimeter of the carnival grounds. Men in sleeveless T-shirts sat or stood inside each, announcing promises of great prizes for the price of a ticket.

I did not go to these stands. My favorite game was not followed by a screaming man. It stood alone, like a glittering island.

Claw machines. Glass boxes filled with cheap cameras, rings, ceramic statues and belt buckles stood side by side atop a trailer that stood outside the hubbub of peddled games.

I bought my tokens, inserted one, and turned the metal handle on the box of my choice.

A small claw was swinging madly above the ocean of gifts. At a moment determined by fate, his descent began. The open mouth collapsed against an object below and the claw began to close.

I prayed for a prize. I watched the metal teeth scrape against a jewel and almost pick it up. Then the claw closed and returned to its perch just below the upper glass.

More tokens. More tries with the claw. Prices juggled and moved, changing angles. I couldn’t give up. Every token I spent brought me closer to a win.

I won a few small toys that night, but nothing valuable. The best treasures were still there, just below the ever-moving claw. But I could still win them, and all I needed was a little luck.

And I had reason to smile on my way home.

There was tomorrow night and the following night. Carnival was in town and it was a magical time.