The Yankee Doodle Fair opens this week. There’s cotton candy, a roller coaster, semi-rigged games — all for less than the cost of a water bottle at Six Flags.
Though the Yankee Doodle Fair has been a Westport tradition for 100 years, it was not on my radar growing up. In junior high — the fair’s target age group — I was a Long Lots boy. An event on Imperial Avenue was irrelevant.
We had our own carnival. It sprawled across an empty, weed-filled Post Road lot, next to Dairy Queen (now Swanky Frank’s). That’s right: Every May there was a fair where Barnes & Noble now stands.
What I remember most were not the nights spent prowling the grounds, trying to impress other young teenagers by smoking cigarettes, sneaking into the sideshow and generally acting cool.
It was the fact that my friends and I set up the rides.
I don’t know where OSHA and state regulators were, but the carnival operators actually hired 13-year-old boys to build Ferris wheels, roller coasters and Tilt-‘Em whirls.
We had minimal training — toothless, tattooed men in T-shirts handed us wrenches and pointed us in the right direction — and even less supervision. We were not, at 13, the most conscientious of workers. And as Westport kids we were not exactly mechanical whizzes.
It’s a miracle the entire carnival did not collapse in a heap of twisted, teen-constructed metal.
But who thought about things like that? We did our “work.” We pocketed our $2 pay. And as we strolled around Long Lots all week, we thought of ourselves not as suburban boys, but as carny roustabouts.
As proof, we smoked the cigarettes the real ones — our bosses — had given us.