ventured to the Rose Festival's Waterfront Village this weekend in search of the elusive "carny." We hoped to learn more about carnies' mysterious lives, their customs—about life on the road with the petting zoo.

Naturally, we expected a dentally challenged parolee in a Molly Hatchet T-shirt leaning against the Zipper. We found the Zipper, but the quintessential carny was nowhere in sight. Instead, a surprisingly well-groomed trio, in snappy white uniforms with orange and yellow epaulets, operated the notorious vomit factory.

Along with a sharp look, these new-school carnies apparently undergo state-of-the-art media training. "We're not allowed to talk to any press," said one Zipper attendant.

Thus do stereotypes—and romantic notions of meth, biker porn and bar fights in Sioux City—die.

If the ride operators were a snooze, the riders themselves showed no shortage of personality. We dove in to the swirling miasma of mud, sweat and elephant ears to find out what draws people to the neon-lit sugar rush that is Waterfront Village.

WHY HE IS PART OF THE ROSE FESTIVAL EXPERIENCE: "We come down to just cruise around and try to see people we know."

IS HE TOO 'PUNK' FOR ROSE FESTIVAL? "Nah. We like to have fun, too."

RIDES? "Nope, no money. We might get hooked up to go on the swings here in a second."

THE BEST THING ABOUT ROSE FESTIVAL SO FAR: "I had a Philly steak sandwich with onions. A lot of onions."

WHY HE DID NOT RIDE "THE INVERTER": "It looks like the kind of a ride that makes you throw up."

AIDAN'S FRUSTRATION: "He's too short to go on any of the rides. But he sure wants to."

ISN'T THE ROSE FESTIVAL AWFULLY...UM, STRAIGHT? "It sure is...but they're doing much better. When we've come before, it wasn't that great. It was just blah. It's much more family-oriented now, family-friendly. We feel much more comfortable coming down here. It seems like they're headed in the right direction."

AND THE PRINCESSES? "Well, that part's a little bit weird."

WHY IS HE IN A HURRY? "I brought my family down here to see the fireworks...it looks like I lost them."

THE UPSIDE: "I got some pizza."


THE REAL REASON: "The hot girls."

WHAT ARE THEY UP TO? "We were just running from back there, so we can get to the rides again.... We need to find our friends so we can go on more rides."

ON BECOMING MEN: "I used to come with my parents, years and years ago. This is the first time we've gotten to come down, which is pretty cool."