By Kathryn Purcell
Bright, spinning, multi-colored lights dot the night sky. The smell of salty french fries, warm candied apples and powdered sugar-covered funnel cakes fills the evening air. And the screams of daring children, temporarily terrified by the split-second feeling of dropping through space, echo down the Midway.
The advent of fall in Madison brings with it the annual Lions Club Fair and, for the young and young-at-heart, there's no event that compares.
For the Macaroni family, owners of Quitman, Ga.-based Family Attractions Amusement Company, the fair isn't all fun and games. It's their livelihood, and their life.
The Macaroni family has been in the carnival business for three generations, according to Josh Macaroni, and nine family members travel with and operate the fair. In business for eight months out of the year, sometimes the family splits into two groups to travel the Southeast, coming back together when a larger run is required.
Most of the fairs are sponsored by non-profit groups, like local Lions Club, Veterans of Foreign Wars and Shriners organizations. In fact, the Macaronis have been coming to Madison for more than a decade.
With generations of experience among them, the Macaronis have seen the effects of the economy's booms and busts.
The Macaroni's Midway brings in the money, primarily because all of the equipment is already paid for.
"We get most of our profit from owning everything on the Midway," Josh said.
Dad is responsible for the rides; mom, the food; and Josh's income is generated by the games. In the end, Josh said, the revenue from food pays most of the business' expenses.
"Mama is the glue that keeps us all together," Josh said.
From re-stocking games to maintaining and updating rides, it is the Midway that also generates the largest cost for the business.
And the costs are weighing heavy on the Macaronis.
It takes two generators to run the fair, that's everything visible on the Midway, and each costs about $150,000. Unfortunately, while in Madison, both ofthe Macaroni's generators malfunctioned, and the family took a hit of about $250,000 to replace the generators.
As far as employees, who work with the Macaronis operating the Midway, the family finds them through the government's H-2B Work Visa program, which "was created to allow people to come to the United States temporarily, mainly for non-agricultural jobs, in which the U.S. workers are in short supply," according to the United States Immigration Support Web site, www.usimmigrationsupport.org.
According to Josh, it's difficult to find Americans who want to be away from home for three-fourths of the year. Further, the workers that the Macaronis employ through the program work extremely efficiently, and seem to be glad to have the jobs.
"We don't really have a choice," Josh said. "Help is hard to find these days...You can't really find people who want to be on the road eight months out of the year."
Aside from paying employees, the Macaronis also incur costs when paying sales tax, which are due no matter where they set up.
"They hit us up every week here in Georgia," Josh said.
The business pays $300,000 in liability insurance, and the cost of auto liability insurance is just as high as the liability insurance for the rides, according to Josh.
But the expenses of the Midway -- generators, employees, sales tax and liability insurance -- don't compare to the cost of and effects felt from the cost of the lifeblood of the fair- diesel fuel.
"Money is down this year because of [the cost of] diesel fuel," Josh said. "It's going to cost us to work this year."
The Macaronis have seen the cost of diesel fuel rise from $2.20 last year to $4.55 this year. The fair's generators run off of diesel, and it takes 1,500 gallons per week to run the fair. The "Ali Baba" ride takes the most fuel to operate, at 400 amps per leg.
And 1,500 gallons per week doesn't include the amount of gas needed to fuel the 14 tractor-trailers that are used to haul the equipment. It takes $1,000 to fill up just one of the Macaroni's tractor-trailers.
"Our industry, just like a lot of industries, took a hit when the cost of diesel fuel increased," Josh said.
In fact, the soaring cost of diesel may just put many fairs out of business permanently.
"There will be a lot of people in our industry that go out [of business], just like in the trucking industry," Josh said.
In an effort to curtail the costs incurred by the business, specifically in regards to the cost of diesel, the Macaronis thought of raising the prices paid by fair go-ers for tickets, and promptly shot it down.
"How can you [increase ticket prices]?" Josh said. "Do you have any more money this year?"
They won't up the cost of arm bands, either, which have been $15 for three or four years, namely because they own all of the equipment on the Midway.
"Either you raise prices and get nothing, or you do what you can until something comes along," Josh said.
So, next year, they've elected to make a few changes to the routine, including altering the schedule, changing the amount of equipment moved by tractor-trailer and cutting down the loads put on the generators.
"We're going to re-vamp the way we do things out here to reduce cost," Josh said. "We've got to re-group...We're going to cut our weeks down, and move big things together."
Despite the financial straits, Josh is confident that the re-working of the fair won't cut down on the quality of the product- happiness, for the young and young-at-heart.
"We make kids smile," Josh said.