At the fair: swinging into action

Above the buzz of carnival games and the smell of hot sugar soar 30 airborne kids with the best seats in the fair. Richard Thomas scans the overhead flight from below like a grounded hawk, watching every movement. The ride gathers momentum and 60 dangling legs arch outward from the pushing spin.

“No kicking!” Thomas points up to an erratic chair whose occupant can’t resist reaching a toe out toward his neighbor.

The ride tilts to an angle and the swings oscillate in rhythm through the air.

Around the ride’s perimeter, a half-circle of kids has already formed, anxious and waiting beyond the gate.

When in line, 2 minutes and 12.5 seconds feels like a lifetime, but for those descending back to ground level, their ride was all too brief. As soon as swings have landed and latches are freed, dizzied kids swarm out the exit only to rejoin the growing line.

Thomas wishes them a good day and then makes his way to the entrance gate, where a giddy pack presses in, extending their wristbands and ride tickets.

There’s a mad dash to claim swings, and Thomas does his best to admit the kids in order.

“No jumping without a parachute.”

“Are you certified to ride this?”

Thomas offers a quip as he secures each newcomer into a seat.

“I got into it by accident,” says Thomas of his career. At a Florida fair 13 summers ago he was a single dad with three children. Thomas cut a deal to work rides for a day, and his kids were allowed unlimited ride access. He enjoyed the work so much that, five years later, he quit his job as a cook and took the carnival gig full-time. Now his kids are grown and Thomas travels the western states swinging from fair to fair.

He’s worked other rides but Thomas says the swings are always full. Around the clock, every day, with two hours on and two hours off, Thomas’ job is a whirlwind of activity.

“You have a nice trip. I’ll see you all around!” Thomas shouts from his post under an umbrella. The swings jolt to life and then ease into steady unison, circling higher and higher above the crowd of kids below that eagerly wait their chance to soar.

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