Out beyond the chicken coops, through the scented haze of cooking grease and just before the carnival rides, Glen Thompson stands in the midway at the Oklahoma State Fair with an offer.
He'll give you 100 shots to obliterate a red star printed on a white card hanging 10 feet back from a shelf lined with airsoft shotguns. You just make sure each dollar spent is well worth it.
He'll even give you an edge if you pay attention.
“You don't want to shoot straight at the star, you want to shoot around it,” he said. “I tell them all the time but nobody wants to listen.”
For 35 years Thompson has been barking his carnival pitch in the midway, but his words are just a lure for the ultimate deal clincher — eye contact. He carries a lifetime of showmanship, he said, and he can size up a target with a single glance: a young man ready to impress his new lady friend or a good old boy who can't resist a dare.
Once his eyes connect with theirs, he said, it's all over.
“Not everybody walks away happy, but people are going to win,” he said. “You wrestle with morality here every day. You deal with what's right and what's wrong, but you treat everybody the same way and it's got to be right.”
Since June, the Arizona resident has traveled from show to show, through San Diego; Sacramento, Calif.; Milwaukee; St. Paul, Minn.; and now Oklahoma City, where, he said, the people are extra friendly, the women extra pretty.
He calls himself a pirate, an expert in “gallivantry” who navigates his course on a day-by-day basis. And he's one of dozens of contracted amusement game employees who will spend the next week fetching dollars on the lot.
Fairgoers can talk about the food they ate, the rides they enjoyed, the people they saw — but only at the carnival do they get a chance to put their money on the line for an oversized stuffed souvenir to take home.
In it to win it