It is Fall in the Upstate of South Carolina. This is a time marked by the leaves starting to change, the air becoming cooler and when families feel the need to drive to the mountains to pick large amounts of apples for the perfect Facebook picture, only to discover they have six bushels of apples that slowly rot in their kitchens for the next month. Ah...Fall in the Upstate.
This time of year also marks the beginning of something else. At first, you may mistake the primal screaming sounds you hear as just another coyote that now roams the neighborhood streets of Greenville. It will not take long to realize these noises are far more disturbing than anything a Coyote could produce. These scary sounds are coming from your local elementary school’s fall carnival.
You know these carnivals (some of which take place in the spring) as Sara Collins Freaky Friday, Augusta Circle Circus, Blythe Blast, Buena Vista Bobcat Bash, and the Pelham Road Fun Fair (at least that is what it was called 35 years ago). These events are put on by the PTAs of each school and are major fundraisers for classroom technologies and teacher support. It’s hard to believe that one of these events can produce more than $60,000 for the school.
These carnivals only happen because of a lot of very hard work by a host of volunteers. They take months of planning, predawn set-up and post-sunset cleanup. So if you a see a car riding around with event information for one of these carnivals painted all over the windows, you should go and support a local school. But, before you go, you should know a little more about what you are entering into.
These carnivals are not a new phenomenon. This year marked the 53rd Freaky Friday. Before you can fully understand these events, you must first take a look at where we have come from. Not My Boys was able to obtain a copy of the 1984 Freaky Friday Committee Chairmen list from the Greenville County Historical Archives located in Not My Boy Reid’s childhood basement. While some events still remain the same, it appears that over time we have lost some great events.
Let’s start with two events that were chaired by Reid’s family members. Yes, Reid’s dad and brother chaired the “Break Dancing” booth. I love the fact that there was a booth where kids walked up and handed someone a ticket then just started break dancing. I’m not sure what happened to this event, but I believe 1984 may have been the beginning of its demise, as two Sherards in charge of break dancing is the equivalent of me being in charge of Olympic weightlifting. (I have filed a formal petition to the PTA heads of all schools in the Upstate to restore this booth effective immediately.)
Reid’s step-grandfather managed another great booth, “Pick-My-Pocket.” This is a booth where someone wore a coat with lots of pockets sewn all over it, and kids could come get a prize out of a pocket. If you are worried why we stopped promoting misdemeanor crime activity to our elementary school kids, don’t. While this is no longer an event at Freaky Friday, the five finger discount is still being taught by the principal during the week leading up to Freaky Friday, as she walks around the school in one of these special coats.
There is one more booth that is no longer around that we must pay tribute to: the “Michael Jackson Walk” booth. If anyone you know ever questions how big Michael Jackson was, don’t tell them about his millions of records sold or the fact that he lived on his own amusement park. Tell them that there was a time when kids would pay money for a ticket to wait in line for the chance to moonwalk.
While the basic theme of these carnivals -- sugar-overdosed kids running wild -- has not changed, some of the activities have evolved over the years. When you first arrive at one of these events, it can seem a little overwhelming. Not My Boys will attempt to walk you through a carnival. After reading this do not think you are prepared for what you will witness. Nothing can prepare you and only weeks of post-carnival professional counseling can help you get back a portion of the zest for life you once had.
When you first arrive, you will need to proceed to the ticket tables. These are the only areas of the event where cash is accepted. Things will proceed quicker here if you have a good clean car title. Go ahead and get whatever amount of tickets you think should last the entire evening, then hand the tickets to your children and tell them to have fun. Here is an expert tip: Then proceed to the back of the ticket line because you will have just grossly underestimated how quickly the tickets will disappear. Your children will be back needing more tickets before you get to the front of the line. You will be out of cash; this is where your car title comes into play.
Now that you have tickets and the school has the use of your minivan, it is time to hit some booths. You will want to ease into the carnival. It is recommended to start in the safe area. This would include the Go Fishing booth where your child throws a clothespin attached to a string over a plywood lake mural and in return they will catch a piece of Chinese plastic in the form of a spider or cricket.
Another safe activity is the six-seater bicycle ride. This has replaced the pony ride from yesteryear. No longer are animals subject to kids riding them for hours at a time. We have now moved onto torturing a dad who navigates a six-seater bicycle for four hours in a row. Ah...progress.
Next, let’s head to the amusement rides. It is best to snort a box of Nerds before heading to this section. The Nerds can be obtained by making a quick pit stop at the Goodie Walk. This has replaced the old Cake Walk. Instead of a dry homemade cake, now winners receive a small baggie of items consisting of 100% sugar. The Nerds will help ease the pain of placing your child on a ride that you are pretty sure was retired from the traveling carnival circuit years ago due to safety concerns. The Nerds are magical because they will allow you to feel comfortable when someone you would not feel confident handling your toaster places your kid on a swing connected to a chain that is about to turn in circles at high speeds. If your children are a bit older and like to be violently spun in circles, they can ride the “Dragon Fly Swing.” This is a combination of the swing ride and the tea cup ride at Disney.
Another classic is the “Rapid Slide.” Clever name for sure. Here you will give someone lots of tickets for a burlap sack ride down a small incline.
The parking lot will share the amusement park rides with the ring toss booth. Innocent enough right? Wrong. The rings are being tossed at 2-liter soft drink bottles, and if your child lands on one they keep the drink. Your child will land one; it is just a matter of whether or not the 2-liter will cost you 75 cents or $27.50. After your child wins a bottle of Chek Peach Soda, they will immediately open it and begin chugging it. This will be the point you have officially lost your child for the night. They will quickly turn into a gremlin and the next time you hear their name will be from the PA System screaming “Mr. Robinson, your child has been found and is at the DJ Booth.”
During the time your child runs wild, you will head over to the silent auction and bid on a themed gift basket like it is a basket full of gold coins, instead of the “ultimate camping basket” that it is. While you will attempt to fight someone over a sleeping bag and battery powered lantern, here is what your child is up to:
They are running. From the point that peach soda hits their lips, they are running. They only stop to buy cans and cans of silly string. This is the part that will require the most post-carnival help. You are not in any way ever prepared to see a child running at you full speed, spraying silly string, while generic soft drink pours down their chest. You will need safety glasses to protect your eyes from the string and a hard hat to protect your head from flying empty cans. The only thing that stops this craziness is that the silly string booth will sell out right before the National Guard is called in to help establish a curfew.
When they run out of string, they will participate in an epic battle of laser tag, attempt an inflatable obstacle course, almost break an arm in a jump castle, have a tiger painted on their face, have their hair colored blue and pink, drink three more 2-liters, eat two cups of shaved ice, have their arm placed in a sling and a fake bloody bandage on their leg. (On a side note: It is funny that pretending you have war wounds is still a very popular thing amongst the kids.)
The event is starting to reach it’s peak of insanity. The music is blaring from the DJ, only to be interrupted by the scream, "The silent auction closes in ten minutes." You sprint back over to realize you were just $437 short on your child’s classroom artwork. As you walk away dejected, sucking on a mystery-flavored Dum Dum, the “surprise” fifth grade flash mob is just getting under way. These are kids line-dancing who have been through the freak boutique, the mash tent, and consumed 20 gallons of sugary acid known as Sam’s Cola. Here is some footage of what you will see.
You now realize you have to get out of here, but where is your child? If you are not prepared, this can set you into a panic. But don’t worry; you can train for this. The training will require a little effort on your part: Go to the mall during Christmas season, but shotgun a beer and spin around on a bat 50 times before you walk in. Then proceed through the mall screaming your child’s name. This will get you close. The only thing that is tough to simulate is the fact that almost every child will be wearing the same color shirt at these carnivals.
Once you return home, your child should settle down two to three weeks later. It seems like a lot to comprehend, but know that it is really one of the best school weeks of the year for your child. Cherish these times. Volunteer to help and be a part of this, because before long they may be trying to chug something other than a 2-liter coke.