Every year, around the first of August, I start watching for the Northwest Washington Fair posters, that herald the arrival of one of my favorite summer traditions: a night at the fair grounds. Since moving here, we have only missed one year, and we wont do that again! I can practically hear some of my friends groan: “Once our kids are grown, what’s the point?” It’s seedy at worst, kitschy from a neutral stand point and overpriced-for-the-same-thing-each- year, from pretty much every angle. I hear you. Valid points one and all; but I love the fair and I don’t see that changing any time soon. I love sitting on my beautiful deck, in silence, watching the water. I am deeply satisfied with the solitude and peace of the wilderness I escaped to this summer in Montana and Wyoming, and where I live here in Washington. I am very happy in clean, aesthetically pleasing surroundings, no doubt about that. But this girl is still happy to dive giddily in to the seedy, made for Bravo world of the fair.
We generally arrive late afternoon, to avoid the heat, and so the kids can get a few insane rides in first, before we head to the food concessions. Every year, as we enter, I warn my family: “We are NOT staying late!” Then we’re off. Little Man loves the Gravitron, and every year he tries (with no luck) to get the rest of us to go on. Fools climb inside the dark space ship like ride, and then spin so fast that they’re pulled against the walls, for about 2 minutes. He loves to brag that he once rode it 12 times in a row. Amazingly, this is a fact. It makes me sick just to watch others ride it, but there’s little argument that it’s best to get that out of the way before one eats. I don’t do spinning rides anymore. They remind me too much of being very, very drunk and I prefer to avoid either. My kids: spin them, turn them upside down, or drop them from ridiculously horrifying heights and they are very happy. Not me, I just watch and vicariously get a thrill, or get dizzy.
Now that my kids are older, I don’t really need to stand at the exit of each ride they go on, waiting to cheer them as they come off. However, I noticed that they still like to wave to me from the rides. Now, I go just to watch people, generally sharing a running commentary with a good friend, who is equally humorous and snide in appraising what we see. I admit it, I am very judgmental at the fair. I’m not proud of that, but there’s just so much to… well, judge. So, while I try to be pretty “PC” the rest of the year, at the fair: the gloves come off. It’s not pretty, but in my defense: what I see is generally not pretty. I find it damned near impossible not to notice: the garish decorations and sexualized everything (these days, women in bikinis get you on a ride that was once called the Himalaya, and had a very benign, un-sexy yeti); the very young girls in very short shorts and tank tops (colorful bra straps exposed), paired with cowboy boots/uggs/flip-flops/ platforms; their young boyfriends who walk around with their hands around, on and all over said young girls, or the men of all ages staring at them; the totally wasted people of all ages; the teen parents (there were so many this year!), for whom this is probably a big night out, but who bring their very young children and seem very annoyed that those kids want to get out of their strollers (at the fair!) and do something other than drink blue juice from a a bottle (for the record: I feel for these young parents, I honestly do, but it’s hard not to comment); the happy looking families who are there to see their little ones ride the dragon coaster and giant slide, and wave from the side; the teens, the teens, the teens; the country folk and the mohawk folk; and the carnies, oh, the carnies!
This year, we actually watched as a “carney” winked at someone off to the side, then walk over and passed a small package to them (Principessa was sure it was illegal); then scare a young girl by yelling “HEY YOU!” (apparently for fun) so that she looked terrified even before she was tossed sideways through the air. When he saw that someone was blowing bubbles, he gleefully chased them, yelling “bubbles!”; just before he checked my kid’s safety bar and pushed the on switch. I saw Principessa’s face as she watched this entire scene too, and wondered why I still allow my kids to ride these things. Tradition, right? I did it too, and lived to write this. Maybe these guys are good people? What do I really know? But a lot of them just don’t look like it. This year, my friend and I were actually working to figure out which of the ride operators looked the most wasted as they buckled the lap belts of those young girls in short shorts and tanks. Then we watched as another operator spoke directly to the very large breasts of a woman who was asking if her son was tall enough to ride. I was just waiting or him to measure her, not the child! Ick. Really, ick. The young parents, the provocative teens, the sketchy carnies: it’s all there and it’s hard not to stare at and comment on. The lights blare at me in psychedelic greens, pinks, blues, yellow and orange. The game vendors call us over to sink a duck. The air whirs as motion swallows you, whether you’re riding or not. The sound of riders screaming and the clangs and pings and bangs become a wall of sound that washes over me and I am swallowed up in the experience. The sensory over-load is a rush, without any drugs. And I watch, until I just can’t take another minute… or I am too hungry to take it any more.
The food is the next step in this visceral binger, and food is something I think about a lot as we plan our trip to the fair. I eat very little that day, in anticipation of the outrageous amounts I will consume later. There is no other time of year that I must have a one pound turkey leg. Must. Have. It. This is usually eaten with an ginormous mound of greasy, curly fries, doused in salt and ketchup, and vegetables in the form of corn on the cob, slathered in butter. We share all this, but massive amounts of food are eaten, no matter how you rationalize it. This year as we ate, a Willy Nelson cover band played a few feet away as the sun got low and we filled ourselves with all that fair food. Little Man, having just finished his own turkey leg (which he didn’t share), smiled and said: “When you’re at the fair, it’s just good to be American.” Sing it Willy!
Round two is dessert and starts right after turkey and sometimes continues until just before we leave. Dairy rules here man, and one must eat dairy in some form. The cows are being milked right at the ice cream stand, just to show you how close to nature your food is. We often share a Moowhich as soon as we’ve finished “dinner.” They’re ice-cream sandwiches, made with home-made chocolate chip cookies and vanilla ice-cream filling. Heaven. I let my friend get that, and just mooch bites, that way the calories don’t really count: they’re not mine. Every other year, I’ve had an elephant ear and a frozen chocolate covered banana (semi-healthy, right?), but this year there were no frozen bananas and I traded in the elephant ears for my first Funnel Cake. Holy delicious, fried, fatty dough slathered in strawberries and whipped cream Batman! Little Man and I shared one, but there was some serious fork battles going on as we duked it out for the last bite. To my credit: I drink water, but that is the only healthy thing I ingest.
There is one thing that I never miss a the fair: the barns. The barns are the best part of the fair for me, and I always save them for last. If the food is the binging, the barns are where I purge all the less desirable stuff that came before. Having ridden horses most of my life, I smell that wonderful hay, oats, manure and animal smell and I just want to muck a stall and saddle up. I can’t be rushed in the barns and will walk each isle and check out each “Beef,” “Swine,” “Equine,” llama, goat, chicken and rabbit that made its way to the Lynden fair grounds. I want to pet each cow I pass, run my hands along the satiny coats of the magnificent horses, and often find myself thinking: “we could raise a few goats.” Or, “chickens would be nice.” Who isn’t charmed by the goats, climbing atop each other’s backs or their food bins and challenging the others to knock them down? I’m endlessly amused by the piglets shoving each other aside to get a solid grasp on the exhausted mother pig’s teats? The barns bring out my inner farmer and I am patting, cooing and down in the hay, nose to nose with a pig, regardless of the muck that’s there. I find myself reading the brochures on 4H and wondering if I could still join. I will stand and watch the equestrian competitions, as my kids pull on my sweater to leave and I practically whine, “just one more minute.” (Note to self: I will start riding again this year! Western or jumping, that’s the ticket.) I save the barns for last because they are my happy place.
When we’ve eaten as much as we can; ridden all the rides we can handle for the $30 arm band (for real or vicariously); listened to the Tea Party vendor explain the Declaration of Independence; checked out the military and police vehicles; visited the expo on all things seen on TV (will that magnet really make my knee feel better?); looked at each blue ribbon for quilting, knitting, sewing, leggos, drawing; grown immune to the screams of riders being hurled about; and collected enough manure in our treads to almost guarantee a salmonella outbreak at home… it’s time to leave the fair. As we pass the darkened gates, most things besides the rides having shut down for the night, I take one last deep inhale of fair and prepare to return to my clean, ordered world… until next year.
Do you love the Fair? Tell me about your favorite fair foods or experiences. Pass this along, if you liked it, with the Share button, or hit Like and show some love.
Note: the “carny” link is a photo from on line. I did not include photos of people who were actually at our fair, to be fair.