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Brian "Doc" Godin

Toronto, Wednesday, 31 August 2005

I first started in 1980. I walked down with some friends to see the show setting up in Chatham, New Brunswick, a different show, Bill Lynch Shows, owned by Soggy Reid at the time. I went down to watch them set up with my friends and we ended up getting hired by the bingo. We worked the week. We were sure that they were going to leave town without paying us. We were quite sceptical about the whole thing. I never knew anything about the carnival except what other people thought of it. So we were sure they going to leave town without paying us and we were scared of the people we worked for, actually. Lynch was pretty rough at times. Soggy was a boxer and he’d get in a scrap with a customer every once in a while. They ended up paying me.

I worked in the bingo for a couple of years. I’d come back year after year. We went to the next spot and worked a little, then went back home for school, Labour Day. I started working for John Drummey in the office. I worked for Drummey for a few years in the office. They had three units going. I travelled on the big unit with John, then did year-end stuff with him. I always wanted to come here to the Conklin Show. Even a few times we had a plan I was going to come for the CNE, just to visit and work it, but it never happened. I worked for Lynch Shows for 12 years, summertime only. I worked my way through university.

Then in 1992, I came over. Scooter hired me. I went out on that Northern Lights Show that they had in Alberta and Saskatchewan, a small show. I was very disappointed when I showed up there. I’d heard that Conklin Shows was the biggest and best there was anywhere and I showed up in Toffield, Alberta, and the winter quarters was a little field with a ticket box for an office. No running water, it was quite the experience. I went out for the summer. The show didn’t do very well and we closed it at the end of that year. Then I went to the Patriot Unit down in the States. That played New York, Pennsylvania, Ohio, North Carolina, quite a few spots. We took a spot every week for about eight months of the years. We travelled to a lot of spots. We even had two units going for a while, down there on that Patriot.

Mr. Conklin stopped it in ’96 or ’97; then I went to the big show out west. I was the office guy on the Patriot, but when I went to the west Scooter had me run the ticket office the first year, so I could see how they did it. The next year I became manager of financial operations and was in charge of all the offices. I continued with that job until about five years ago, 2000, when Scooter became Vice-President and I was promoted to Director of Financial Operations. I used to play the whole west and only go down to the States to get them open. I was living in Calgary when Scooter and I moved out there to open an office, then they transferred me down to West Palm about four years ago. So, now the few months that we’re not open I’m in West Palm. Every spot the big show plays I go.

I took computer science in school because that was the thing to do in the ’80s. I never really went that way when I got out of university. It was decision time, whether to go work for IBM or whoever, or stay here. As most people around here will tell you, I sort of ended up staying here. I really enjoyed the people I worked with and I didn’t want to have a cubicle job, nine-to-five. I never wanted to be that Joe Schmoe; I never pictured myself with that nine-to-five job and somebody over your shoulder all the time, in that same boring routine. I don’t like the routine. There’s always something different out here. I always say, it’s a little like an abusive marriage, you don’t know why you stay, but you do. You block out the bad and remember the good.

My best friends are out here, the people that I’m closest to are out here. Except for my immediate family, who are still in New Brunswick. When I’m home, I call these people here to see how they’re doing. I’m glad I’m here. It can be hard as you get older, hard on your body. The route’s tough. That western Canada is a killer. I always tell my kids, if you can do the west, you can do anything. You get through Calgary-Edmonton, you’ve done it. The kids that work for me, I always call them my kids. I got 18 college-age kids that travel with me. It’s an experience for them. A lot of them are returnees.

Of course, we’ve got the South Africans over here now and they’re good. I’m very happy with mine; I have a good crew. There’s a few that didn’t like it, just like anywhere else. If you hire 90 people from anywhere, 10 of them aren’t going to like it, maybe more. So that’s how I got here today.

After Soggy died, Drummey ran Lynch Shows for the family for a few years and then he bought it out. He owned it for about four years and just sold it last year. He sold it to some people that came from Barry Jamieson’s show, Jack Adams. He’s over there with his family. There’s still a fair amount of Bill Lynch people that still work there. There’s a few other shows out there. Ted Hynchie started up a show, which I guess is a nice little show. He’s a Nova Scotia boy. I haven’t seen his show.

Lynch Shows was more like your eastern road show than the big show. It’s typical that you go and you play small towns. There were the Friday night fights, some pretty good fights. In Summerside, up until the year I left, we always some pretty good fights. There was an incident years ago, when a carnival guy beat up a local town guy. So every Friday every year, they rolled into town to whoop it up on the show. It was pretty big. Some years it was really big. They painted on the side of their vans, “Kill the Carnies,” and they’d get all drunked up and make the trip into town.

There was an unfortunate incident where a guy reached into an apron in a gambling joint. This was on our second show, I was on the big show. The local bad guy reached in to steal some money and the jointee guy hit him with a hammer. That was very ugly. He went into the hospital and all his friends came down. The whole show was in the office hiding. The bad guys were rocking the office and they ripped the phone lines out. It got really ugly. They had to get the RCMP to come to guard the show when they tore down and left in the middle of the night. Cut the date short and left town while they were still alive. The show guy called us and he was panicking, he was scared. Fortunately it never escalated, but it was boiling until they got the RCMP in to secure the place. They tore down and got out of town and never went back.

I haven’t been back there in a long time. The shows have never done great out there, but they were sort of consistent. The Maritimes doesn’t boom or bust, it just kind of all stays the same, which is one good thing. Our friend, Mr. Weather, is always there. Lynch

Shows was a nice show. It’s changed a lot since then, I guess all the shows have. I’m sure it’s not the same there any more.

I was lucky when I came here. I’d been trained by John Drummey, who used to work for Conklin, so when I came here I knew all the Conklin ways pretty much already. We just ran it the same way over there, as far as all the office stuff was concerned. He cleaned up their books when he went there, so it was the same system. We used the same IOUs, just changed the name on them. Everything was the same, all the forms were the same. It was quite funny actually, because I arrived in Brantford for a bunch of training, and they got out all the forms, and I saw that they were exactly the same, every line on them was the same. All the systems were the same, everything was the same, so it was fine, it was good.

Because it’s bigger, you have the volume, here things are more departmentalized, it’s more formal, it’s more organized. But it has to be, it’s a big machine. Whereas there, a lot of people did a lot of things, here you got a lot of people doing one thing, just to get it done. Still a lot of people do a lot of things, but it’s quite structured here, which is good. It’s the only shot we’ve got. Mr. Phillips told me a long time ago, “You’re never going to get it right. You might think you’re going get real close, but you’ll never get it right, so don’t be disappointed.” We go for as close as we can, but we know we’re never going to get it right. There are too many variables, too many things you can’t control.

I give Mr. Phillips reports every day and he reminds me when I’m doing a not-up-to-snuff job. He points that out to me in a very good way. I like Mr. Phillips. Whenever he tells you you’ve done something wrong, you’re glad he did. You’re not scared to go in there. He tells you flat out, “You fucked that up,” but he does it in a nice way and tries to make sure that you don’t it any more. He makes you want to do better. He’s a professional, a great guy for this industry, smart. He knows what’s going on. We’re lucky to have him. He’s here all day, every day, he’s never not here, always here. If we’re open, he’s here. He’s been around a long time. He knows this route. This route is different. He has valuable knowledge. He knows all the players and he’s well liked, on both sides of the fence, on our side and the fair boards’ side, so he’s a big asset.

He’s a funny guy; I like him. Mr. Phillips says that our defence mechanism to avoid going insane around here is that we can find humour in anything. It’s sad, but five minutes after a plane goes down, you joke about it. It’s the only way you can cope or you’d go insane. Jimmy Lee used to be out here for years and years, he had rides. He told me a story this summer. His mother came out here, in the late ’70s. She came to visit and she’d never been to the show before. She was here a few days and she said, “Jimmy, did you ever see that movie, One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest? This place is just like that. Everybody here is nuts, but everybody thinks they’re OK and only the other people are nuts. But you guys are all nuts.” It’s true. We’re all a little bizarre, but that’s what keeps us sane. We can cope with many things.

We had an employee whose father was killed a couple of years ago. We were talking about who was going to go tell him. So, Mr. Phillips said, “We’ll just line everybody up and say, ‘Everybody whose father is still alive, take one step forward.’ Oops, not so fast.” Of course, that’s not what we did, but that is how we cope. We amuse ourselves. It helps. The craziness that follows us, or that we create maybe. This season hasn’t been too bad.

We had a little bit of a South African uprising with some employees in Edmonton, with a little bit of mass quitting. We lost about a dozen on teardown night in Edmonton, going into a tight jump. That was an unpleasantness that we got through fine. We haven’t had anything real bad happen to us this year. Everyone will survive.

The craziness this year hasn’t been so much, except for the new ownership thing is interesting; it will be an interesting year. There’s uncertainty with a lot of people. Nobody really knows what’s going to happen. A lot of speculation and false rumours have gone around for the last few years. Where it’s all going to go, who knows. I’m sure there will be changes. There has to be. You’re not going to buy something and leave it the exact same. So it’s realistic to expect changes. Hopefully, they’re for the better. The industry has been hurting. Gas went up 20 cents a litre last night and the price at the booths did not. We have a lot of trouble passing on these costs and it’s eating away at the show for the past few years. It was keep it safe, but maybe not pretty. We couldn’t do some of the things that we have always done. We would just shut down winter quarters and say see everybody in a month. We needed to get stuff done, but we just couldn’t. So where this is all going to go, we don’t know.

There certainly has been an influx of money. They poured some big money in. There was not a question of money, there was a question of time in the spring. We had all the money we wanted and winter quarters was going full blast. As fast as we could get everything stripped and painted. They have done a nice job. The show looks nice. Everything is spruced up. It’s noticeable, with the uniforms and the paint. It’s a big monster to take care of. Trying to fix something on the show is like trying to change a flat on a bus going 80 miles an hour. It’s hard to do. You can’t just stop and fix things the way you want. The bus is going fast. You’ve got to keep on and try to do it.

It will take a while for all this to shake down and see where it’s going to go. Sometimes you’ve got a feeling that it’s going to be the greatest thing in the world, sometimes you think it’s going to be an “oh-oh.” Nobody knows. Sometimes it looks like its going to go great and sometime you think, “Oh, oh, we’re in trouble.” That’s normal when this type of thing happens. It’s a big thing and there are growing pains. They’re serious about it. They want it to work and they have some smart people involved, so it’s a matter of getting all the personalities together and shaking it down, which is not easy to do. It’s a tough thing to come in and introduce changes, and listen to other people’s opinions, and mesh the whole thing together and come up with the best solutions. Some of the things we used to do were stupid, but some of them were smart.

This show’s been big and strong for a long time. It hasn’t been able to net any money, with the problems we’ve had and with the economy and the prices of things. We spent a lot of money on e-tickets; that was a financial strain on us. A few bad things happened with us there, a few disappointments from suppliers and product development. Nothing really seemed to go where we thought it was going to go. It’s changed directions a few times.

These new owners really want to see it fly to and they’re taking it in another direction. It’s gotten better every year by leaps and bounds. It is the way it will go. It’s a natural. It’s the way the whole world is going. We’ve been working on this for about 10 years, from the very first little one that we had set up in the Brantford office. It would be a joke now, but it was the first swipe. It wasn’t deployed out in the midway, but that was the start of it, just sitting around the table and Scooter bouncing ideas and buying the first equipment. Yeah, it’s probably 10 years that it’s been going. I’m sure we’ve had it out here now for about 6 or 7. It’ll fly.

They’ve got some pretty smart guys working on it now, company people, so they’re dedicated to it. People in LA. They have IT people there working on it furiously. There’s several guys that are dedicated exclusively to this for us. It’s better than just being somebody else’s client. Now it’s an employee who has to answer, well why doesn’t it work or why he hasn’t met his target dates or whatever. Fred Rosen is the type of guy who when he wants something done by a certain day, well it better be. I think that’s good. It’s going to force the game. It’s going to be an ever-evolving thing. We’ll be constantly updating. All the rides are e-ticketed and the games, it varies by site. We haven’t gone to food yet. We’re going to one day. We’re concentrating on getting it 100% before we expand farther. When it flies perfect, it will be the whole fair experience. So of course we’ve got to get it working perfect, then we’ll get it going everywhere. That’s the long-term vision.

A lot the old timers, like Hardy and all those fellows, they had sort of just were retiring when I came out here. So I knew of them and have heard of most of them, but most of them I’ve never met. Hunky Joe might have still been there when I first went out west. Even old Brantford employees, like Heinz, and the others who had been here for ever and ever, they’re retired. Some of them have passed away. I was never privileged to know a lot of those old fellows. Some of these kids working in a Hardy don’t even know it was named for the guy who came up with the idea of making those joints. Bobby Hunter has been here for a very long time. He’s over there sleeping under a trailer, I just saw him. Sleep when you can. Scooter would know them. John Anderson would know them. Mr. Phillips knows everybody. Howard would know them. Those type of people. I came in just under.

How the show works is kind of in waves. An age group of the fifties guys, then an age group of the forties. There’s like a ten-year age difference in between. When I first started here, there were several people of my age group and we kind of grew up into the company together. As people moved up, we moved up almost in steps together. It was like we all held hands and jumped to the next level together. We didn’t move in different stages, it seems. The show promotes from within. It’s natural. It’s hard to find a nut that will do this. I would have liked to know those old guys. You know, in the CNE hey-day, the guys walked out of here and bought new Cadillacs. Now you walk out of here and you buy a garden hose to siphon out gas. I would have liked to have been around in the late ’70s. Of course they had a few bad years in the ’80s that I wasn’t around for either. I might not be here now.

Bill Harding was with Patty for a long time. He lives in Hollywood, Florida. I just talked to him last week. He’d have some good stories. He worked with all three Conklins. He was the marketing guy for the Patriot Unit. He was involved with Yonkers forever. He managed it up until it stopped, about three years ago. They were going to build a casino. They started but I don’t think it’s done. I think something political happened to stop it.

Yonkers was a decent fair, but it was out of the way. Most people hated going there. It was dirty, right in the shit hole of town. I didn’t like going there. I didn’t like the people; they were nasty, dirty, rude. Not being from there. People who lived there could walk by a huge dumpster garbage overflowing everywhere and think nothing of it. They’re used to living in that big city filth and mess. I never liked it. The porta-potties were terrible; they looked like they were from World War I. There were bad, scary people there. Not where I wanted to be. They never really messed with us, but when they were messing with each other you could still get in the way.

In Columbia last year they were shooting pretty good one night. Just outside the gates. They were fighting and fighting. We knew it was bad. We were trying to get shut down. It was Saturday night about 11 o’clock and we were trying figure out how to close, because it was packed, how to close without getting into a panic. As it turns out, we were just getting ready, and then right by the office, it was only about 30 feet away, just outside the gates, they just started shooting at each other. The bullets were flying by the office as we went running. Fortunately, they only hit each other. They never hit any innocent people. It was sort of the people who had been involved. I’m pretty sure a kid died. That was exciting. I think a bullet hit one of the offices. That was scary. We were very fortunate. The fair introduced a policy that anybody under 18 had to be with an adult to get into the fair after that and have ID. So that kind of squashed it because there was big talk about retaliation between the group gangs. These were 16-year-old kids. The kid that died was 14, shot in the back of the head. It was nasty, a lot of shots.

Toronto here they’re shooting each other every night too. There’s usually no trouble here since years ago. We used to have trouble on Labour Day Monday, but that’s not a problem at all any more. Black Monday was real bad at one time. It’s lucky that nobody was ever killed. Show guys were arming themselves with hammers and stakes and dogs. They were ready because they knew it was going to come and it did come. I’m glad I wasn’t around for any of that stuff. It gets ugly fast. That’s gone away. The police have done a good job of squashing down on that last day.

There’s no fights here at all now. It’s very quiet and calm. The people that want to make trouble just don’t come here. They don’t want to pay $12 to fight; they can fight at home for free. So it’s fortunate that none of that’s happening at the CNE.

The school’s not that old, but it’s had some interesting things happen. The kids were away at space camp three years ago, when the space shuttle blew up. They were with those kids. They were gone away for the weekend, so they were at the space centre with those peoples’ kids when the shuttle blew up. We brought in some trauma people. These kids are pretty tough; they seem to be anyway. They’re a little more mature. They live in a different world. By the time you’re 10 years old you’re probably working more than half the men out there. Putting in a long day, blowing up balloons or doing something for dad. Start by running to get drinks for a quarter. Most kids that grow up out here have a pretty good work ethic. The school is a good thing for them. They score very well on national tests. They’re way advanced. Their teacher, Linda, is tough. They go to school long and hard, and there’s no excuses. They go on great field trips. They learn about a lot of different cultures. They do some neat projects. Same teacher has been with the school ever since it started. Now she’s hoping to get corporate schools going. It’s always been her dream to get this going on every show, regardless of who owns it. She cares a lot about that. The school’s a non-profit organization. Parents pay substantial tuition. It’s subsidized with fund-raising and donations. It’s not free.

My very first year working here, at the end of the year, the eastern road show used to have a pool tournament to celebrate the end of the year. Being the new guy, Scooter and them invited me out to meet everybody. I went to the pool tournament and I’m a terrible pool player. I grew up in the carnival business, but don’t smoke and can’t play pool, so I don’t know how I’m allowed to stay. I went to the tournament and I was Scooter’s partner in the doubles. We made it all the way to the finals on Scooter’s skills and my luckiness. Scooter says, “All you gotta do is make sure the cue ball stays down here. You can miss, just make sure the cue ball stays down here and he ain’t going to be able to make the shot.” So what do I do, of course, the cue ball ends up way down at the other end where it shouldn’t be. The guy shoots and wins. The fella looks over and says, “Way to go, Doc Godin.” The next day at work, that’s what they said, “Great shot last night, Doc!” And it stuck, just from a stupid pool game.

Out here, if you don’t get Stinky or Lefty, Doc ain’t a bad one to get. I’ll take it. Most people out here only know me by that name. I’ve even had different fair boards call me and May would tell them to call the show office and ask for Brian. They would call and say, “Hi Doc, is Brian there?” I’d say, “Yeah, just a minute.” Then I’d go, “Hello.”

Note: There are over 200 pages of interviews here, mostly verbatim and unedited. If you find spelling mistakes or typos, or want to add something, contact me at john [dot] thurston [at] sympatico [dot] ca. Thank you!

 

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