Monday, July 30, 2012

Put In My Token, Rode the Tilt-a Whirl, and I Was Giggling and Dizzy

Tomorrow I am going to the fair with a group of my friends. Its exciting for me, because I haven't been in probably four years, and before that its only been off and on since I was a teenager.

Until recently I was unaware of how many people had never experienced a fair. I always took it for granted that people knew what I was talking about, would have childhood memories of the fair, would appreciate it the way I do. I was wrong.

Even within my circle of acquaintance I have discovered a serious lack of fair knowledge. This, to me, is a travesty. So I have set out with a couple of pictures and my own personal knowledge to educate you.

The fair is something promoted by the county every summer. Its a big gathering that combines livestock and vegetation shows with arts competition and midway excitement. Its a big to-do here in my area of the country. Remember Charlotte's Web? Wilbur was shown at a fair.

There's plenty of animals to look at too, everything from horses of all breeds to cattle and sheep. There's other critters too- mules and goats and chickens and stuff. All of them judged like a dog would be at a dog show. The ribbons are all posted in their pens, and you can see the winners when you walk through the stables on the back half of the fair grounds.

There's also competitions in photography and artwork, handicrafts and cooking. You can see, and sometimes taste, jellies, jams, pies and cakes all made with an eye for winning one of the blue ribbons. In the same arena that there's food, flower and vegetable competitions there's people selling all kinds of wares- necklaces, knives, makeup, home spa systems, life insurance- you name it. Its fun to walk around and collect the free pens and back scratchers, combs and kazoos they all pass out. In the middle there's a graphologist who will analyze your handwriting and tell you all about your personality. There's city and county betterment associations who want donations. Booths where you can win prizes for a price, and the proceeds benefit charity. There's also any number of politicians vying for your vote, and I don't remember going in an election year, so maybe we will avoid that area.

There's also a grandstand where every night a concert or show of some sort takes place. There's stuff there during the day too, local bands and talent competitions. Their fun to watch and listen to. This year there's a truck and tractor pull, a "drifting" exhibition on the raceway, Glenn Campbell is preforming on his farewell tour, and country music star Deirks Bently is preforming. In past years there's been more hard rock in the lineup...I remember there being some bands that I wanted to see, although not so much this year.

To be honest, though, the midway is probably my favorite part. I love the rides, despite the fact that there are always people who tell you about a cousin of a sister-in-law of a friend who's aunt died on this or that ride because it was poorly put together. Yeah, the structures are temporary. But the people who have been doing the fair midway for our county have been doing it almost as long as I have been alive. I have never seen an accident at our fair, or heard of one. On top of that, I happen to like the non-inside out rides, more like the ferris wheel and the scrambler. I like the ones that take you in circles and make it to where centrifugal force pushes you to the outside and you squash your seat mate. This thing on the left? Forget it. I went one year and rode something like that and was terrified the whole damn time. Don't get me wrong, there's a few dangerous ones I like, but I usually stick to the bunny slopes. The fair runs high on giant swings and things that simply lift you three or four stories in the air and spin you in open space until you puke. Not my style. And the really scary stuff? I'll save that for an amusement park. I won't ride a fair roller coaster, but you bet I'll get in the bumper boats or the bumper cars.

Scattered all along this midway full of terrifying and awesome rides is a ton of midway games, where you can play slot like machines to win pocket knives, toss golf balls into fishbowls to win knives, throw darts at balloons or shoot water pistols into a target to win giant stuffed animals you have no use for. Do you need any of those things? No, not really, but its a good time anyway.  And nothing really shows someone you love them like winning them a teddy bear or stuffed tiger twice their size, right?

I'm particularly partial to the duck pond, run by one of the local charities, where you use nets to catch brightly colored rubber ducks. Each one corresponds with a prize. I always seem to get turtle wax, I'm not sure why. I also usually get some sort of ice cream bar, some mardi gras style beads, a comb or a hair brush...oh, lots of stuff. I love it, and each duck wins something. I almost always spend twenty bucks on duck nets, and come away with a bunch of nothing, but its the thought that counts. The money goes to charity and I always have a fun time playing. Its great to see the little old men who run the thing calling "a lovely necklace for the lady! Throw in an ice cream too...she's awfully pretty!" I get just a huge kick out of it.

And for all of you out there who think that wrath and lust are my big sins, take a moment to appreciate the time of the year for me where gluttony takes the wheel. Everywhere, and I mean everywhere, there are food carts with things tempting me to eat. Everyone makes fun of me because I normally eat myself sick, and I'll ride more rides and then keep eating. But I can't say no!

There's an old fashioned, honest to goddess A&W Root Beer Stand that still sells pint jugs of root beer with the little plastic animals on the edge of the jug. Just like in the fifties. To some patrons, its a throwback to their childhood, to me, its a way of experiencing something every person in my family has loved for as long as I can remember. And with that root beer, there's no question, you have to get a foot long corn dog. They're so good! And the last time I went I finally broke down and ate it with mustard, the way you're supposed to, instead of with ketchup and it was delicious.

Outside of the A&W there's stands selling burgers, nachos, philly cheesesteak sandwiches. There's an air conditioned (!) Hiland Dairy store where you can sit and eat ice cream and burgers like a malt shop. You can find really, really good barbeque everywhere, even a chicken friend steak sandwich. And that's just a start. There's farmers who roast whole ears of corn and then shuck them for you, dipping them in hot butter and letting you sprinkle on whatever seasoning strikes your fancy (and there's always at least two dozen kinds). Potato twisters, where they take the potato, spiral it along a stick and fry it, are not to be missed. Giant blooming onions that are crispy golden brown on the outside and soft on the inside....and they all taste better because they're at the fair. Its a universal truth.

And Sweets! Oh, if you have a sweet tooth you're in the right place. Cotton candy, ice cream, snow cones, candied and caramel apples (they're different things, I promise)  are everywhere you turn. They'll make you funnel cakes with cherry soda batter or whip up pineapple juice like its frozen yogurt. And they deep fry everything! Oreo cookies, twinkies, cheesecake, even Snickers bars are not safe from the deep fryers and the sticks. And man, are they good. I have to keep eating the proteins like burgers so I don't give myself a diabetic coma from the sweets. The main show center always has a candy seller where you can buy saltwater taffy and other candies by the pound. The last time I went we bought four pounds and only made it home with two...I can't say no to hand squeezed lemonade and limeades. I don't want to.

I will eat my way through the fair this year the same as I do every other year. I'll stay until I've tried everything once, and then I'll grab a caramel apple a second time on my way out to the car. Its so much fun.

Now, I would be remiss to make it sound perfect. Its not. August is the hottest month for us. Tomorrow it will probably be 110 degrees again. It won't be pretty. The trash will smell, the asphalt and the oil from the machines will flat out stink, and there will be people like me there, eating too much and getting sick the minute they hit a ride just a little too hard. Some of the people are rude, or classless or backwoods. It takes all kinds, and all kinds go to the fair. Everywhere I turn I'll see teenagers making out, and I haven't been once that I haven't seen some girl's underwear or lack of on a ride since I was old enough to notice.

The parking's atrocious and I'll pay as much to park as I do to get in. (Or how much a ticket costs, Sakura got us free entry this year.) Again, all the money goes to local charities and youth organizations, so its hard to argue, but its insane all the same. The food will be outrageous. I'll pay dearly for all my favorite snacks. If we don't blow at least a hundred on games, I'll be shocked. But, that's part of the fun. Its why I haven't been in the last few years. Money is scarce and the fair is expensive. It will be crowded and hot, and my clothes, whichever ones I wear, will be ruined. To ride the rides I'll break down and buy an armband for $20 so I don't have to pay per ride. After three rides it will have paid for itself. And I'll ride more than three rides.

There will be irresponsible parents everywhere. Children running unchecked, teenagers being rude. There will be people who cut in line and people who stare at my group of friends. I will be able to wallpaper my bathroom with religious pamphlets and stock my cabinets with vials of emu oil. My feet will hurt, I will stink, because my deodorant will surely not hold up. It will be intense.

But when the fireworks go off at sunset, when my arms are full of useless toys, my neck aches and even my eyes are sunburned, it will be worth it. I'll look at Kitten, Oscelot, Sakura and Flyguy, and I'll be so happy, full and blissed out, I won't care.

The fair, after all, only comes once a year.
I'll be back with a full account.


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