A fair assessment

When you’re younger – when everything seems bigger and more exciting – the fair is absolutely huge. I mean, it’s bigger than life itself. It encompasses everything that a kid finds wonderful – junk food, nausea-inducing rides, animals, other kids. It’s an outlet for the fears of the dwindling summer; one last bash before school starts.

I always found the fair to be intoxicating. The walk from car to rides was the ultimate in building anticipation. The car would be locked and left behind as our path wound through the thousands of cars that had reached the fair before us. The entrance led to a long dirt path, where we would pass hot dog carts, mini-donut stands and trinket galleries, each vendor luring us in with smells or sights as we scrambled to figure out where we would spend our money first.

Each dollar was carefully doled out; measured in extreme frugality. Yet, regardless of our penny pinching, it was always spent far too early as we blew our proverbial wad long before the night was over. Often, the money would be spent before we even reached the rides. It was not very often that we left without plunking every last American coin into some sort of fleeting commerce.

And then the rides. We would allow the ticket tender to strap a plastic band around our small wrists, then turn around and gaze wondrously into the throes of the midway. We’d plan our path with prudence, measuring the length of lines and factoring the overall time allowed to experiment with new rides. We hit all of our favorites. We begged our parents to plug in for extra tickets – our hearts set on experiencing the special rides that weren’t covered by all-day passes.

We ate as if we were garbage disposals, shoveling in trash until we were sick, until the thought of gravity-defying acrobatics dropped from our conscience and we settled into sleepiness. As the sun dropped, so did our eyelids. As the moon rose, so did our exhaustion.

There was a span of several years where I didn’t have a chance to attend our local fair. When I returned, I found the magic was gone. Whether the quality dropped or my maturity grew, I couldn’t get excited for the fair. Vast sections had been virtually roped off – the food was no longer appetizing, the rides no longer desired. The more adult features of the fair began sprouting up, and I realized I had reached the age where the fair is a difficult proposition – too old to be a kid, but too young to understand the adult side.

Now, like many things from my youth, the fair is a relic. I still remember its glory days – my glory days, really – when the fair was crucial, when we would fight to go on the first day – as if we’d miss something unforgettable – and then fight to go back again and again. As a city boy, I have little use for the agricultural side – the original purpose of the fair, I’m sure. I attend when there’s a concert to see. I suspect that most of those without kids of a certain age feel the same way.

In six or seven years, I’ll feel the pull, though this time it won’t be from my heart, but from the hand of a little girl who’s just as excited as I used to be. Eventually, I will be providing the dollars that will be carefully doled out. I will be consoling the stomachaches from a day filled with cotton candy and soda. And I’ll see firsthand what all of the fuss was about back when I was a kid, back when the fair was larger than life.

This was lovingly handwritten on August 10th, 2007