Roadside carnival surprisingly doesn’t suck

Rating: four starsPrice: average
Review April 9, 2007

I’m not afraid to admit that I am an unabashed lover of roadside carnivals. It’s not that difficult for me to put aside my initial fear of portable, unstable thrill rides and the modern-day gypsies who operate them. Sure, it may not be the safest way to spend a Friday night, but it may be one of the most fun.

photo / Nicole Haddad 

While driving to the temporary carnival that has been set up near Ben White and I-35, I had expectations as high as one can possibly have when traveling to a cotton candy-coated, rickety death trap. I mean, aren’t these carnivals pretty much all the same? You’ve got your standard rides, rigged games, crying babies, awkward teenagers, and turkey legs all, of course, bathed in a soft neon glow.

But it turned out that this carnival had more to offer than I was anticipating. I was most impressed by the number of rides that went upside-down, not to mention the number of people standing in line to ride them. The carnies definitely brought their A-game with the rides. Some of them spun you around in circles while rocking you back-and-forth and holding you upside down for good measure, just in case you wanted to review in reverse the funnel cake you ate a few minutes ago.

Since vomiting doesn’t really appeal to me, I opted for two of the more standard carnival rides: the Tilt-A-Whirl and the Ferris Wheel. While the rides were not cheap (most cost $3 to $5 per ride, or you could pay $20 for a wristband), their duration more than made up for their hefty price tag. By the time I was done whirling and tilting, I felt like I had more than gotten my money’s worth.

Speaking of getting your money’s worth, don’t play the games at carnivals. You can’t win, and even if you do, the prize is rarely equal to the amount of money and pride you had to pay to get it. The games at this carnival were all cash only, and as I watched my friends fork over their money and lose at the milk bottle toss and the dart throw, I thought about how our money might have been better spent by having another go on the Ferris Wheel, with its lovely view of St. Ed’s and the Frost Bank Tower.

photo / Nicole Haddad 

What did I see that I wasn’t expecting to see? A freak show. That’s right, an old-school freak show – with one small difference. These were animal freaks, not human freaks. There was a cow with two noses, a steer with six legs (two were growing out of its side), and miniature pony, and an albino turtle (not sure what makes those last two freaks). There were also stuffed freak animals and freak animals in vats of liquid. My eyes were delighted by a giant rat, several two-headed pigs, and the stuffed head of an alleged Chupacabra. Freaky.

Of course, no carnival would complete without the delicious carnival food. Funnel cakes, pizza, lemonade, burgers – this carnival had them all. Personally, I can’t get enough of the cotton candy, so on my way out I bought a giant bag and spent the rest of the night eating spun sugar and contemplating the gloriousness that is the roadside carnival.

This carnival has already been at Ben White and I-35 for about a week, so by the time you read this you may have missed your chance. Soon the nomads will pack up and head off to another abandoned parking lot in another town. The roadside carnival is like the wind, and you can’t ask the wind to stay around an extra day so that you can visit the freak show.

photo / Nicole Haddad 


Anonymous's picture

Do you know who the carnival was run by? Some are “thomas” carnivals - what was this one?