Carnival employees tend to fall into two categories: temporary workers or seasoned veterans. While a temporary employee may only travel with the organization for a single season, a veteran carnival worker may stay on the road for years. Such a seasoned funfair or carnival is known as a carny or carnie. A carny often lives in a company-provided trailer or stays in local hotels while traveling the circuit of state fairs and sponsored carnivals.
A carny may be responsible for setting up and operating a particular carnival ride, such as the Ferris Wheel, Tilt-a-Whirl or Scrambler. Assembling these rides requires mechanical aptitude and physical stamina, along with a working knowledge of electricity and safety regulations. A typical work schedule for a carny may be an entire day spent assembling and testing a ride, then selling tickets or operating that ride every day during the carnival, then finally spending a day disassembling the ride before moving on to the next carnival gig or back to the company's base of operations for repairs and inspections.
Other carnies may work in the food service booths or at one of the midway game booths, although a veteran carny can generally pick his or her preferred work assignment and perform those same duties year in and year out. Others may cross-train on various rides and attractions in case a temporary employee quits or cannot travel. A seasoned carny may also act as the supervisor of a ride construction crew or oversee the food or gaming operations from a distance.
Because the turnover rate of many carnival organizations can be high, new employees may not face rigid background checks before they begin work. As long as they are willing to work long hours under hazardous conditions, new carnival workers and experienced carnies alike are generally left alone by their employers. Carnival work is very transient, which makes it appealing to those who prefer to remain on the road instead of maintaining a more permanent address. A carny's mail can be sent to the organization's base of operations and held until the employee can collect it, for example.
There are some unsavory aspects to the carny lifestyle, however. Some carnival employees may be constantly traveling in order to avoid arrest or other legal problems. Others may have significant problems with drug or alcohol addiction, which would make finding other forms of employment very difficult. Because the job is so transient, some unscrupulous carnival workers have been known to commit minor or even major crimes while working in a town for a short time. By the time the crime is reported, the offender may already be on the road to another location.
This reputation for substance abuse and criminal activity has seriously affected the carnival industry as a whole. While most carnival employees respect their customers and abide by the law, some do take advantage of their circumstances and commit illegal acts. Efforts to discipline or fire veteran carnies for these violations can prove problematic for the companies, however, so the offenders are often punished financially or kept off the road as a punitive measure.
The life of a true carny is definitely not glamorous, but some people discover they enjoy the transient lifestyle and freedom of movement provided by the carnival industry. Employment applications are often available at local carnival events or through contacting the carnival company's main base of operations.