Rockaway Carnival Brings Screams of Joy
The candy apples, screams of joy (sometimes fright) and the many colored lights can only mean one thing – the carnival is back in town.
Lawrence Carr Expositions turned the Seagirt Beach parking lot, from Beach 13 to Beach 17 Street, into a midway recently. Most people know what they’ll find when they get to a carnival – the games, the rides, the food – but, what they overlook is the people. Everyone who works there seems to have a story. They come from all over the country (sometimes from other countries) and from different backgrounds.
Everyone’s heard stories of children who have run away to join the circus, well Raymond Gallegos ran away at the young age of 15 to join the carnival. In 25 years he has been to 10 different countries and every state in the United States.
"I wanted to join the carnival because my parents were already in the circus," explained Gallegos. "I wanted to get away from the circus."
Although his former wife and children now live in California, his children were raised in the carnival. They were home-schooled until high school age when they began attending regular school.
Gallegos manages all the kiddie rides at the carnival including putting them up, taking them down and their maintenance.
"It’s probably one of the biggest [responsibilities] out here because you’re dealing with the kids," said Gallegos, who hails from Albuquerque, New Mexico.
This was Gallegos’ second visit to the Rockaways, but in the past eight years he has been to New York eight times. "Basically, it’s a second home," concluded Gallegos.
For Fred Desepio the New York area was his home growing up. He could practically be considered a hometown boy, since he grew up in Piscataway, New Jersey.
"The city was very much a part of my life as we grew up right outside the city all those years," said Desepio, who has been with Lawrence Carr for seven years and is the Assistant Manager for the show.
His introduction to carnival life came when he worked on the boardwalk in Seaside Heights in the 1970’s.
"I was going to college and I made more money out here, and I stayed with the business all these years," recalled Desepio, who now makes his home in Miami.
For Desepio, 48, the joy of meeting different people and seeing different neighborhoods is part of the attraction of the carnival life. He also likes being able to come back to familiar places each year.
"From playing the same route every year I have my favorite restaurants in the area that I go to," he said. "I like to go out and eat – enjoy the local cuisine. There used to be a place over in Atlantic Beach, but we found out last night that it was shut down. It was an Italian restaurant."
Desepio’s girlfriend is also in the business. They met in 1975 when she was running a game for her parents. The best part of the show being in the Rockaway area for him is that it is by the beach.
"It’s the atmosphere that I grew up in," he said. "I grew up by the ocean and I always like being by the beach. That’s why I like Rockaway."
Desepio has also noticed the new buildings and improvements in Rockaway.
"I see it is turning around a little bit," he said. "I think there is big hope for this area."
The newest members originate from South Africa. Rudie Lange, Mark Schoeman, Andry Britz, Martin vander Merwe, Jordan Zietsman, Thinui Viljoen and Leonie Barnard are in student exchange program. Except for two members of the group, who arrived on the day of the interview, the rest had been here for only four days.
"For us it is a working holiday," said Lange, who said he is doing it for the experience. "We see the US for nothing, travel with the carnival and we’re working and we get paid."
Kathleen McSweeney, who runs one of the games, met her husband when she was working local shows in Massachusetts.
"I met him at the ferris wheel five years ago," said McSweeney, who was formerly a restaurant manager. "We got married on the platform of the ferris wheel and then we took a ride on the ferris wheel."
McSweeney and her husband, known as the Deadman because of his approximately 100 tattoos, will be married one year on August 9.
There is a definite family atmosphere that surrounds those who work in the carnival.
"Some have their whole families out [here]," explained Desepio. "A lot keep their kids in school until school’s out. Once school’s out the families come up and join fathers, mothers or whoever is working up here. They come out for the summer and then go back to school in August."
The Lawrence Carr show that was in Rockaway, which has about 45 people, will be all over the city until the end of June. They then head up towards Maine and are back here after Labor Day for about a month.