My Week of Being
by Brian T. Ezzelle
Since living in Richmond, VA, and
after attending the Virginia State Fair through the past years I have come to
know Tim Deremer, one of the last true sideshow owners and operators. In the
past he has brought his 10 in 1 along with his gorilla girl and mermaid grind
shows to Richmond. About 4 years ago I told Tim that he should let me come out
and work for him (for free) so I can experience life on the midway with him and
After all, being a fan of sideshows
is one thing, but working with one is something else. So Tim gave me his number
and said to call him about a week or so before the next fair. Unfortunately, 3
years would pass before Tim returned with his shows to Richmond. And last week,
I got to be a part of it. The following is a dairy of my notes from my week of
being “with it”.
Friday, September 29, 2006:
After speaking with Tim several times during the week, I finally arrive on the
midway. Dellegger has had the Virginia State Fair for as long as I’ve lived in
Richmond, and the midway hasn’t changed much through those years (I still prefer
the NC State Fair, I am a native of NC).
I meet Tim at his gorilla girl show
around 6:30 PM. He has already been through several girls but the Virginia
Employment Commission has a labor pool supply for the fair vendors. After a day
in the office crunching numbers it’s nice to be outside and on the midway. Tim
gives me a quick tour. I meet Tommy, like Tim a magician from Ohio. He is out
on the road helping Tim; this is his first time on the show. He mainly works
the tickets and the inside lecture for the gorilla show.
Running the mermaid show is Robard.
Also from Ohio, he too is a magician and his specialty is being an escape
artist. Tim also has another guy from Ohio helping out and wearing the gorilla
suit. A local man has hired on as ticket taker. Tim first puts me to work
selling tickets for the gorilla show. $2 a ticket, if they can walk they gotta
Tim shows me how the dollars need to
be arranged in the cubbyhole built into the ticket both. The tickets are
numbered, and that is how they know how business is going (as well as the
percentage they are going to be paying back). So, within 10 minutes I am
selling tickets for one of the last traveling gorilla girl shows. Oh, also they
have a mike in the ticket booth so I can do a pitch while the grind tape runs.
Tim tells me to help myself (Tim doesn’t like to do bally’s). So, after
building up my confidence, I do some grinding:
She’s here, she’s alive, and she’s
on the inside.
Gabora the gorilla girl.
Come see this beautiful young woman
turn into a horrendous man eating ape.
Direct from South Africa, she’s here
for the first time alive.
This is the woman your friends and
neighbors have been talking about.
If you do nothing else at the
Virginia State Fair, you have to see Gabora
Gorilla, gorilla, gorilla, see here
Get your tickets, the next show
starts in a few seconds!!!
I admit, I was heavily influenced
from other grind tapes I’ve heard and read, but I was doing it for real, and on
my own. I was starting to be “with it’.
Two hours later, I discover why they
call it a grind show. You are constantly grinding away. The faces of those
buying tickets soon blur together, but the cash keeps coming in. I am beginning
to think the 5 years I spent in college was a waste, I should have framed my own
show and hit the road…
At about 10pm Tim sends me over to
the mermaid show to relieve Robard. That show is a $1 a ticket, but instead of
giving the mark a ticket you just point them up the steps. The mermaid show is
trailer mounted. I spend about 40 minutes there before going back to the
gorilla show. I admit, it seemed more fun at the gorilla show than the mermaid
show. But at the mermaid show I got to know some of the other workers at games
and joints and talk to them during the slow moments. They thought I was one of
them, and not just some lot lice.
The grind goes on, Gabora changes
throughout the night, the marks come and go, and before long its midnight. The
fair closes for the night. I was amazed that within 5 minutes the midway went
totally dead. Rides shut down, game joints closed, light out. I go to Tim’s
trailer to talk for a few minutes before heading home to my wife and kids. I am
set to return the following night. Tim gives me a pass and my first night of
being “with it” is over.
Saturday September 30, 2006:
I return to the fairgrounds
around 6pm, this time bearing gifts for my new friends. I’ve brought a
couple of boxes of pastries from a local hometown Richmond bakery.
Everyone is very appreciative. Tim puts me back in the ticket box for the
gorilla show. I get the money organized and the got into the grind.
Its going to be a busy night. New girls, new marks, but the grind is the
same. The midway is so packed and business is so good I don’t get to do my
own grind, the grind tape works fine.
During my time I got to know Tommy
very well. He does a lot of magic shows back in Ohio but his formal training
was in art education (just like my wife). He’s not married but has a big family
back home. He likes life on the road and shares a bunkhouse room with Robard.
I brought him some pictures I took the previous night of himself working the
ticket booth along with some pictures I have of older gorilla shows from the
1960s and 1970s and a picture of my own sideshow banners. I also speak with Tim
a lot that night and try to learn more of the business side of things.
With so much of the fair being cash,
how much gets reported and how much is under the table? I try to learn the
costing model. How many tickets does he have to sell an hour to cover his fixed
costs? Are the shows and joints passing along the cost savings from the latest
gas prices or are they pocketing it? Liability questions. Tim tells me a few
things, but he mainly knows about his own operation and not much on the others.
He tells me he would never own a ride or food joint, he doesn’t understand how
the independent ride owners make it today’s world or how the food joints make it
with the cost they incur.
After speaking to Tim, the grind
show seems like a great business model. I relieve the ticket taker for a bit
tonight but I don’t make it down to the mermaid show. That night I pay no
attention to the dark ride or the other things around us, just the marks as they
come and go. Maybe it is good I’m only working here in Richmond and not going
on to the next spot?
Soon midnight comes and once again
the midway is transformed into a ghost town within 10 minutes. I tell everybody
good night and head home, tired. I plan on returning the following Tuesday
Tuesday, October 3 2006:
Due to some last minute
things that have come up at work, I am unable to make it to the fairgrounds.
Tim tells me it’s not too busy, so it’s not problem at all.
Wednesday, October 4, 2006:
I return to the fairgrounds, but this time I’m with my family. I am once again
on the other side, a mark on the midway. I introduce Tim and Tommy to my
family. I learn that the guy doing the gorilla had run off during the night.
Tim jokes with my wife that he has agreed to sell me the show….ha ha ha. I take
all 3 of my kids in to see Gabora and we get the full treatment (they let the
bars fall down which produces a huge noise when the gorilla begins to escape).
My son (4) runs out crying to my wife, but my daughters thought it was cool. My
oldest has now seen Gabora about 5 times and always comes across impressed.
With the forecast of rain coming, I decide to say my goodbyes to Tim and crew
tonight. I give Tommy and Robard my phone numbers and emails and promise to
exchange emails once they return home to Ohio.
After a few last words, I again
thank Tim for letting me hang out and giving me the chance to be “with it”. On
our way out, we stop by Jack Constantine’s shows and see the world’s tiniest
lady (he has several touring) as well as the snake girl (human head, snake
body). We head on home.
Again, I am very appreciative to Tim
Deremer for allowing me to spend time helping out with his shows during the
Virginia State Fair. It was a thrill as well as an educational experience. I
got to see life on the road for those who work the rides and shows, and have
seen now that grind has many definitions beside just grind show.
It’s a grind out there on the
midway, time grinds away, and you get grinded. I can also see that those who
stick it out are definitely a different cut than everybody else. I would highly
suggest that any other sideshow buffs and fans, if given the chance to work with
a real, legitimate, traveling sideshow, grind show, pit show, whatever, do it.
It will give you a whole new appreciation for what we all love and hope to
continue to preserve.
As I told a mom buying a ticket on
that Friday night, not only is this a form of entertainment, its historical and
a piece of America that you don’t see much anymore. She asked me what I meant.
I asked her when was the last fair or carnival she attended that had a real live
sideshow such as this in addition to the rides and games and food joints?
She couldn’t remember.
I hope Tim is able to keep his show
on the road!!!
Brian T. Ezzelle
October 10, 2006
Photographs Courtesy of Brian Ezzelle
Copyright all Rights Reserved