MANATEE -- As a third-generation fair worker, Morgan Cudo has some interesting childhood memories. Instead of swimming in a swimming pool full of other children and pool toys during the summer, she jumps into a pool full of bumper boats at county fairs across the country. “On hot summer days we’d swim in the bumper boat pool before the people came in,” Cudo said. “You got that fair experience that no one else ever has.” Cudo is now one of the hundreds of people working at the Manatee County Fair and can be found at one of the balloon games each day, handing out darts and prizes. She grew up going to a traditional school and traveling across the Eastern seaboard during the summer with her family.
As a result she has a deep love for the fair and sometimes sees herself in the children of other fair employees like 6-year-old Justise Aquino, who is living her childhood much like Cudo did.
Justise spent much of Saturday helping her mom at the mechanical bull ride. “It’s fun,” she said right before taking the next rider’s cash. “I tell them when to go and things like that. I like it.”
Her mom Lisa Aquino, owns the ride, said she enjoys being able to spend the day with her children. Not every fair worker is a part of a generational legacy. Marcus Crowsey, 30, has been working with the thrill ride “Nitro” for about two years.
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He has been on the road so long he often loses track of what city he’s in but that doesn’t bother him too much. He said he enjoys working for the fair because of the family-like bonds between the workers. He keeps a list of the cities he is traveling to.
“The people are amazing, and they just love the ride,” Crowsey said. “In hard times it’s nice to see people have a good time.”
Of course, being on the road most of the year always comes with its share of mishaps.
Cudo’s job involves people throwing darts at balloons and sometimes they miss, sometimes hitting her.
“It hurts,” she said laughing.
Most fair workers are well aware of the perceptions that come along with the profession and Cudo said many, like the one that all the games are crooked, are simply not true.
“You get some sceptics but you try to be honest and let them play over and over until they win,” Cudo said.
As for the safety of the rides, Crowsey said they get “checked and double checked, then checked one more time,” to make sure they are in top notch condition.
TODAY AT THE FAIR
When and where: noon to midnight; Manatee County Fairgrounds, 1303 17th St. W., Palmetto
Ticket info: $7, $6 (seniors age 55 and older), $5 (children age 6 to 12), free (children age 5 and younger)
Today’s highlights: dog show, 1 p.m., Mosaic Arena; Mikeschair, 7 p.m., Bright House Main Stage
For more info: Call (941) 722-1639 or visit www.manateecountyfair.com.