Click here to read Lucinda Tart's take on With It.
Who hasn’t dreamed of running off and escaping the rat race by joining a carnival? Read this book and you may think twice about chucking it all for the call of the carny trail. For Barbara Bamberger Scott has “been there, done that,” and her book With It: A Year on the Carnival Trail documents the ups and downs of going on the road as a “carny". The adventures are varied and scary and funny and entertaining, so step right up, folks! The ride of your life is about to begin!
With her risk-loving husband, Zack, and her delightful young daughter, Moon, the author literally packs it up and takes it on the road as she and her family experience the carny life full-time, encountering a slew of bizarre and unusual folks along the way, including the carny legend Crawfish Kid and his claw-handed heir and son, Jr., as well as dozens of lusty and feisty Romany gypsies, characters that go by the names of Alibi Al, Mutt and Jeff, Vinney the Patch, Sam the Chimney, and a host of other kooky but real carny folk, all dedicated to the glory of “working their asses off to avoid getting a regular job.”
From the grimy underbelly of the South’s tiny town carnivals to the bigger state fairs and festivals, Scott and her family learn not just the lingo but the lowdown on how to get “marks" - the public - to spend their money on cheap junk called “slum” by playing games that are obviously rigged. In fact, this book exposes the less desirable and unmistakably dangerous side of life on the carny circuit, especially the shows in the virtually unmapped parts of the Deep South and Appalachia country, even as it tantalizes us with its call of the wild and free road life, unencumbered by jobs and houses and mortgages.
The author does a superb job of describing the looks, smells and sounds of carnivals, even providing us with a glossary of carny terms in the back, so we can get through the book feeling as though we are old pros at the game. I would have loved some photos of the many characters and places the author found herself in on this quest for freedom of sorts, but her detailed descriptions do set the scene, warts and all.
As Scott and her family struggled to make ends meet through many “blanks" - small hicktown carnivals that made them no money and were pretty much a bust - they continue to be drawn to that Big One, the one large state fair or show where they will make the financial killing they dreamed of when they hit the road in the first place. Yet one begins to feel, after reading With It, that the author got more from the journey itself than from the ultimate destination. She, and her kin, lived a year of life that many of us will only ever dream about or dare to imagine. They made friends, laughed, cried, went broke, stretched themselves, walked on the wild (and freaky) side, and lived to tell about it. They did the one thing we all threaten to do at one point or other in our stressed out, boring lives.
They ran off and joined a carnival.