The Red Tent (and Other State Fair Spectacles)

Posted: September 5th, 2009 | Author: | Filed under: Firsts, Food, Friends and Strangers, Husbandry, Miss Kate, Music, Travel | No Comments »

Yesterday, in Minnesota, I popped my state fair cherry.

Mark was astounded to learn I’d never attended such an event. But I grew up in Rhode Island. There’s just not enough room there to have a state fair. And if we ever did have one, I never knew. It must’ve been on a day when I was sitting in the backyard pulling dandelions and complaining to my mom that I had nothing to do.

So yesterday, I didn’t know what to expect. But before we even left the car, as we were slogging through a slow line of traffic, we passed a woman standing roadside on a small patch of grass. She held up a big sign that said something ranty about something or other. But what caught my eye was the huge cardboard displayed at her feet that said: “STOP BUSH! Tax cuts now!”

I didn’t have the heart to call out to her that Bush was in a hammock in Texas right now, sleeping off a hangover. Doing what he used to do as President no doubt, but far removed from having any impact on our taxes. Or, blessedly, anything else for that matter.

Alas, I held my tongue. I mean, live a half-mile from Berkeley. I know better than to come between a gal and her political causes.

At any rate, that woman’s presence on the outskirts of the fair teed up my expectations for the day.

Nearly instantly upon entering the gates, we zeroed in on the Miracle of Birth building. This House of Blood and Afterbirth Horrors had been described to me by our friends the night before. And I couldn’t imagine anywhere to bring the kids that had better potential for being both fascinating and deeply traumatic.

You could, our friends claimed, witness a calf being born, right there stall-side. They had viewing bleachers even! It was like you and hundreds of other sugar-smeared hordes were the personal birth coaches to dear Bessie the heifer. So intimate.

Sadly, we toured the entire barn, stroked the fur of baby pigs, admired cages packed with chicks, and listening to the bleating of wee lambies—without a single Mama cow performing her Miracle of Birth act. There were, at least, large screens hanging from the ceiling projecting miracles that’d taken place earlier at the fair. Well-timed births for some other lucky fair-goers.

And just like our friends said, the video showed that what comes out first are the calf’s front hooves. Oof! Sends a shiver through my privates just thinking about it. But then, to up the drama and fanfare, the cow’s human birthing assistant grabs a CHAIN. Not even a nice soft-feelin’ rope. A CHAIN. And plunges their arms deep into the—well, you know—to wrap the thing around the formerly content calf, and yank the poor thing right on out, onto a pile of hay. [Cuing, I’d guess, delighted applause from the masses of miracle watchers.]

Gazing at the video, I couldn’t help but reflect on my own first experience giving birth. After some FOUR HOURS of pushing— Did you get that? Four hours. After that, my midwife and an OB used suction cups, bungee cords, and I believe promises of a lifetime of high-sugar cereals to coax Kate from my womb.

With no luck. Tenacious little thing refused to budge, sending out a note to the medical team that I believe said, “I ain’t movin’ unless you cut me out of here.”

Which they did.

And now, only 20 minutes into my maiden state fair experience, I made a note to contact my midwife. Why, I planned to ask her, had they not considered the use of a chain?

My reverie was interrupted by my cell phone alarm going off. It’s set to the “DING dong DING dong” doorbell chime ring. I fumbled in my purse. Time to take my birth control pill.

What timing. It was as if, by virtue of my hormonally-charged surroundings, my iPhone sensed a need to protect me from some spontaneously-wrought pregnancy.

And my luck, as we rounded the kids up, having maxed out our entertainment value on the birthin’ building, with 98.3% of the fair left for us to explore, an announcer on the PA system says something about a cow going into labor. Causing the sea of people—myself enthusiastically included—to push towards the back of the barn in one sweeping wave. I’m frantically looking for a break in the crowd to view some live miracle action (utterly unaware of the rest of my group’s location), when the man playing God on the PA lets out a little chuckle.

“Now let’s not push folks!” he says, bemused. “This’ll take a while! There’s plenty of time to come ‘round and have a look.”

Too much time, it turned out, for us to wait with four sweaty already-seen-these-animals kids. By the time we pushed on, the only thing we saw coming out of that cow was a limp puddle of what looked like Super Elastic Bubble Plastic.

The remainder of the fair can be described as hot, bacon on a stick, crowded, corn dog on a stick, hot, deep-fried Snickers on a stick, waves of exhaustion and self-loathing, pizza on a stick, dessert pizza on a stick, giant slide, mini-donuts on a stick, tantrums, sausage on a stick, vows to never return, and fritters on a stick, foot-long dogs on a stick, caramel apples on a stick, ice cream on a stick, and something called “banquet” on a stick.

Not that we sampled it all, but really, we might as well have. It sort of all flows through you. By virtue of just being there, you become one with it.

The best nutritious deal of the day goes to the one-buck bottomless cup of milk. What mother whose been stuffing her kids silly with greasy stick foods won’t buy THAT to allay her guilt?

At lunchtime (because, clearly, we’d been starving ourselves) an Andean band played nearby. One of the ones where a few dudes are on guitars, and a couple others are playing those super-long bamboo flutes that are all attached to each other. The songs are all frantically, relentlessly upbeat. So as we awaited the arrival of our on-a-stick lunches, I danced the kids over to the stage.

Now, in California, you mix lively music and a family-type event and you’ve got every kid who can barely stand out there shakin’ a soggy diaper. And alongside them are hordes of twirling, singing, smiling, and clapping Mom-Dad-and-toddler factions.

In Minnesota? Uh, not so much.

The most unleashed dude I saw had a huge smile on his face and was doing some aggressive toe tapping. I wanted to pack the poor guy in my suitcase so I could set him free later at our folksy farmers market’s mosh pit.

Alas, our epic trudge to the car—overly hot, overly sugar-fed, and just plain over the fair—was interrupted by a sort of spontaneous spot mob parade. We were suddenly hustled to the curbside, and marching bands, art cars, senior citizen orchestras, and folks in large blue cockroach costumes all came charging through.

Which would’ve be wonderful (I, as you may know, love a parade) if it weren’t for how damn deep-fried we all were, how hard-core the cops were about not letting us pass, and how utterly terrified and hysterical Kate became by every parade participant.

Finally, limping towards the car after my first state fair, I marveled at the rag-tag state of our crew—chicken-fried in grease, tears, sweat, and dust. It’s then that I stumbled upon an idea that was pure entrepreneurial gold.

“Next year,” I announced to Mark and Becca, “We’re setting up shop right here by the parking lot. Get this: BATHS FOR KIDS. We’ll have one area where we hose them off.”

“And a spot where they soap themselves down!” Mark adds.

“They can stick their dirty clothes in a plastic bag.” I say.

“And at the end,” Becca muses, “We…. sell them a State Fair t-shirt! For, like, thirty bucks!”

It’s brilliant. We are so close to be crazy stinking rich, I can just feel it.

Well then Minnesota State Fair, we shall see you again next year. And by then, God willing, that dear cow will be ready to birth that baby.

No Comments »

Leave a Reply