By BRENDAN KIRBY – Al.Com
DAUPHIN ISLAND — It was 15 minutes until 1 p.m. Saturday, and the Island Mystics Mardi Gras parade was about to begin.
For Lee Morrison and other vendors, though, the day was about to end.
She’d been working Bienville Boulevard since about 10 a.m., selling bags of pink cotton candy out of a shopping cart. With the floats about to roll, Morrison was trying to get in a few last sales before she would have to get out of the way.
Morrison, of Morrison Show Fronts, said she has been working Carnival parades for about 15 years, but her roots as an event vendor stretch much further back than that. She is a fifth-generation carnival worker and has traveled from Miami to New York for parades and fairs.
“My life’s in carnival,” the Mobile native said. “We’ve traveled all over. I’ve been traveling my whole life.”
Morrison said her family owns Diamond State Amusements, which sets up rides at state fairs. Of all the events, though, she said Carnival season is her favorite.
The family business might not live to a sixth generation, however. Her 17-year-old daughter, Ashley, was helping out Saturday. But she said her ambitions lie with nursing.
“I’ll at least go to college, and then I’ll know I have something,” she said.
The weather for Dauphin Island’s second parade of the year could not have been better, and hundreds of folks seemed to enjoy the captain-themed procession, with pirate floats and other boat floats passing by.
While Morrison calls all the shots as a business owner, Tom Beatty has spent his life working for other people. He was pushing a cart filled with beads and other trinkets Saturday for McNamara Concessions.
Beatty said he has worked the parades for the past 20 years. Before that, he worked for the circus, which he joined when he was 16 years old.
“It was the only one who would hire me,” said the Massachusetts native, who has been traveling pretty much ever since.
Beatty, 52, said he spent a year taking care of animals for what is now Cole Brothers Circus and then got into the concession business.
He said he ended up in Mobile County, where the weather is nicer. But he still hits the road quite a bit.
“I get to go up North during the summer,” he said.
Ohio resident Forest Watson said he worked for a concession company back in the 1970s. About three years ago, he struck up a partnership with a friend who has a merchandise store, and W&W Concession was born.
Using Mississippi as a home base during Mardi Gras season, Watson said he works part time, traveling to about 10 parades a year to supplement his Social Security income.
“I’m 68 years old. You gotta do something,” he said. “You can’t buy a job. It’s either this or nothing.”
On Saturday, Watson was grumbling about unlicensed vendors cutting into his business. He whipped out a permit from Dauphin Island showing that he had paid $120 for two carts.
Watson said sales were disappointing at the Dauphin Island parades this year, which he attributed to a sour economy.
“This is the first thing it affects,” he said.
Other vendors were more upbeat.
“A lot better this year than last year,” said Amanda Green, of Morrison Show Fronts.
Green said the hottest seller was a $5 plastic gun that shoots tiny pieces of potatoes.
“We even give them a potato with it,” she said.