Wednesday, November 28, 2018

COLUMN: Fair Pt. 1

Did you see "The Late Late Show" last week when my favorite shiny-veneered super-villain, Thomas Cruise Mapother IV, convinced talk show host James Corden to join him in a skydiving adventure? I couldn't help but wonder what I would do in the same situation. While it's true that I've often yearned to see Tom Cruise take a flying leap, I wouldn't ever opt to join him.

Some people are thrill-seekers. I'm more of a thrill-avoider. Occasionally newspaper columnists get chances to do cool stuff like climb construction projects or fly with the Blue Angels. Those are amazing opportunities, to which I would say: "HAHAHAHAHAHAHA. No."

You might have your own definition of the word "thrilling." My version goes like this: "Ooh, my Amazon order arrived a day earlier than expected. How thrilling!" "This DVD has an extra commentary track? Thrilling!" "McRib is back? I'm thrilled!"

So why, then, did a self-confessed thrill-avoider recently find himself walking through the gates of our area's week-long home for cheap thrills? For the first time in 25 years, why would I purposely go to the place where stomachs churn, hearts burn, and the agonizing screams of the tortured fill the night sky?

I'm not sure, really, other than the constant month-long reassurance that "EVERYBODY'S GONNA BE THERE... THE GREAT MISSISSIPPI VALLEY FAIR!" The jingle lies, people. "Everybody" was not there. I wandered that whole place, and I can assure you from first-hand experience that Katie Holmes was NOT there. I checked.

But yes, I did it. I came, I saw, I ate funnel cake.

Now, I'm not gonna take any cheap shots at fair-goers, that's lazy journalism and it's dead wrong. I saw people of all walks of life, so I'm not about to issue any unfair stereotypes. I will say that I felt somewhat in the minority because the clothes I opted to wear that evening included sleeves. But hey, if you've got a side-body that you're not afraid to show countless strangers, go for it. Sleeves aside, the fair unites us all under one common cause: To eat horribly unhealthy food and then try super hard not to vomit it back up while being strapped to mechanical torture devices.

I may have approached the midway with the wrong mindset. I distinctly remember thinking to myself, "I ate a big lunch today. All I really need is something light to nibble on." I should have realized that "something light" doesn't exist at a fair -- and if it DID, someone else would find a way to throw it in a deep fryer and cover it in powdered sugar. I saw a vendor offering something called "Chicken on a Stick," which seemed like a nice little kabob-y thing to snack on. Then he handed me -- with TWO hands, I might mention -- what appeared to be 70%-80% of a whole chicken, deep fried to hell and back, attached to a popsicle stick that was clearly for ornamental purposes only. Fair food is NOT for amateurs.

I loved it all. There were angry-looking tigers, friendly-looking wolves, high-diving pirates, giant robots, and countless exciting ways to separate me from the contents of my wallet. At the far end of the midway, there was a wonderful exhibit devoted entirely to horse poop. Well, and the horses that made it, I suppose. But if I had to guess based on smell alone, I'd say the poop was the real star of the show.

In all honesty, I was there for one reason and one reason alone: to spend some quality time in a stable full of goats. I love goats, and I simply don't have enough of them in my life. In the grand agricultural animal kingdom, goats are far and away the best -- mostly because I don't understand them. They're strange creatures that look like the result of an unholy tryst between a bull terrier and the aliens at the end of "Close Encounters of the Third Kind." I'm not quite sure why anyone keeps goats, unless you're looking for a less efficient source of milk, a less efficient garbage disposal, or a less efficient lawn mower. Still, I love them to pieces. I hear that "therapy goats" are a real thing these days, and I will gladly sign up for goat therapy any time, any place.

That leaves us with the rides, and I wisely left those to a younger generation. Once upon a Shane, I greatly enjoyed the Tilt-A-Whirl and the Scrambler, but recently I was at a park with some friends and felt my stomach drop out while I was on a simple playground swing, so I think my whirling and scrambling days are behind me. As for the crazier rides that take you airborne, upside down, and round-and-round, I truly think the only reason one willingly goes on those is to test courage, challenge gag reflexes, or respond to a dreaded double-dog dare.

The crown jewel of this year's show appeared to be a flashing mini-rave of a ride called "GENESIS," where riders strap in to be hurled violently in sideways circles. And speaking of hurling, the only guy who looked more miserable than the riders was the poor soul tasked with cleaning up the after-effects with a spray bottle and a roll of paper towels. Let's just say it wasn't an ideal ad for the "quicker picker upper."

All told, I had a pretty fair time at the fair. I might be too chicken for the rides, but I wasn't too chicken for chicken-on-a-stick. Plus I got to pet a goat, and hey, it was pretty thrilling. Maybe I'll go again in another twenty-five years. I double dog dare myself.   

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