My Week of Being “With It”

 

 

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 his team.

 

 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 pay. 

 

No Refunds

 

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 now! 

 

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 October 3.

 


 

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. 

 


 

Ending Thoughts:

 

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

Richmond, VA

October 10, 2006

 


Photographs Courtesy of Brian Ezzelle ©2006 Copyright all Rights Reserved

 


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