We went to the State Fair over the weekend.
We had gone last year, with my sister (MultiplesMommy) and her daughters, and had a wonderful time in the rabbit and poultry barns and the children's petting area. The latter was spotlessly clean, even the straw underfoot. I'll never figure out how they managed that with all those calves and goats around, but I was impressed. Last summer, we let the kids ride a few of the "baby" rides, got carnival food for lunch, and topped off the afternoon with Son's first taste of cotton candy (which he still talks about). And last year, there were huge swaths of the Fair that we never made it to, which I suppose is what happens when you go to the fair with two adults and five children, ages 5, 3, 2 x nearly 2, and 1.
So this year, I was bound and determined to see the rest. I had visions of cow barns and horse barns, jam and pie competitions, the giant ferris wheel, goats, live music, bulls, sheep, and fascinating contests involving animals. To be honest with myself as well as you, I think I also had in mind a giant countryside area, with straw on the ground, attendees in overalls or bright cotton dresses, and someone chewing on a hayseed, standing on a split-rail fence, and telling tales of last year's surprisingly terrific, radiant and humble pig.*
I'm not sure why I clung to those daydreams of my youth, those visions of the 1950s State Fair with its clucking, motherly women fussing over their cherry pies, its children running loose and free between the barns and the ferris wheel, the candied nut stand and the long picnic tables stretched out in the shade.
After all, I was at the State Fair just last year, and I know perfectly well that the only unpaved part of the fairgrounds is the parking lot and the central grass area with the small bandstand. I know that there are electrical cables snaking underfoot at every turn, and that gaudy commercial food stands sell bad Coneys (that's a hot dog with the works, especially chili, to those of you who aren't from Michigan) and elephant ears and gyros.
But, you see, last year, I was only in the Poultry and Rabbit barn -- a lovely old, whitewashed affair with a giant, turned central staircase up to the second floor, sloping wooden floors that sound pleasantly hollow under the running feet of children, and dust motes dancing in the slanting sunbeams that pour through the windows. So although I could see from afar the carnival rides on the other side of the fairgrounds, I didn't really have much sense of perspective, and I expected that everything would be as nostalgia-filled as that old poultry barn.
This year we entered on the other side of the grounds, my logic being that this way we wouldn't get caught up in bunnies and carousels, cotton candy and shade trees before we even made it to the large animal barns. This year, we were going to start with the big stuff. But what met us at the entrance to the State Fair this year was not large scale versions of the lovely Poultry Barn. Instead, it was the big stuff in a completely different kind of way: the most over-stimulating kind of carnival you could ever imagine. There were fun houses, two roller coaster, an immense ferris wheel, tilt-a-whirls, and cheap (expensive) games of skill (luck) -- every single one of which had blaring speakers playing music so assaultingly loud that I couldn't even identify the songs. It was so noisy that I had to shout to be heard by my children who were standing right next to me. The music was grating, the patter of game vendors annoying amplified. Everything was loud and glossy, plasticated and commercial. It all screamed RIDE ME! PLAY ME! TRY ME! in the loudest possible kind of way.
Son was, of course, immediately enamored.
All I wanted to do was run away to the adjacent pig barn, stand in the shade, and watch nap time, currently underway.
We managed to make it through the pig barn and a bit of the horse barn before Son couldn't stand it any longer and nearly cried with anticipation of riding rides -- even though the draft horses we were looking at were astonishing. I've never in my life been that close to such enormous animals. I'm 5'9" tall, and I was eye to rump with most of them. And yet, the horse stalls, though thoughtfully each jerry-rigged with a box fan to help the horses cope with the heat, were behind such thick steel bars set so close together that I could hardly get a good look at the horses, let along take any photos of them. Except for the thick beds of straw, polished hooves, individual fans, and multi-thousand dollar silver-trimmed tackle lying around, you would have thought these poor horses were in jail.
So, it was with some regret but not that much reluctance that I turned away from the horse barn and towards the shrieking rides. We bought $20 worth of ticket ($1 each), deciding that was our limit for Son. And then were promptly shocked to find out that a single 90-second roller-coaster ride was FIVE tickets (and he, of course, could not ride by himself). So we steered him towards rides a little less dear, and ones with more sympathetic carnies in attendance. He adored the bumper cars (4 tickets, please, though since he didn't make the height requirement to ride alone, the attendant let Husband accompany him for free).
Daddy didn't have quite as much fun as Son on the spinning teacups. And then, with two rides under his belt, Son consented to walk around a bit. When we discovered a mounted police competition, he was enthralled. And inside the giant coliseum, we had a great time watching the draft horse competitions, with everything from single-horse gigs to six-Clydesdale wagons.
Daughter ate her weight in cheese sticks and oranges while Son made a game of picking which would be the winning horse or team in each contest. He got every single one right. (Note to self: take him to racetrack for next family outing. Kidding. Sort of.)
And then we had dinner, and darkness was falling, and I managed to convince Son to go with me on the ferris wheel -- something I've wanted to ride since I was a little girl, and yet never managed to do.
It turns out that after about 8pm, the carnies pretty much stop asking for tickets on some rides. With 10 remaining tickets, we had a ferris wheel ride, a go for both kids in the bouncy house area, a ride on bumper boats (Son) and carousel (Daughter), two rides on the giant swings that rise up in the air (Daughter) and a roller coaster ride for Son on the kiddie coaster.
While the gyro I had for dinner, the lack of blue ribbon pickles and preserves, the intensely commercial HUGE carnival rides that overshadowed the animals, and the general air of man-made loud as opposed to lowing cows dimmed my enthusiasm for the State Fair somewhat, I do have to say that the kids had a grand old time.
And, there were vestiges of what I imagine State Fairs used to be (and perhaps County Fairs still are in some parts of the country). I only wish we'd made it down off the ferris wheel in time to take in the pig races in person.
* Don't know what I mean? Check out Charlotte's Web.
(with apologies for the grainy nighttime photos taken from high atop the ferris wheel)
Tuesday, September 2, 2008
We went to the State Fair over the weekend.