State Fair time: Rusty rides and food on a stick

If you tried to figure out what was going on down on the farm based on what was going on at the state fair, you'd get the impression that the modern farmer spends his days driving in demolition derbys, racing tractors, playing cow-plop bingo, raising teenage girls who wear low-rise jeans (the better to show off their pierced belly-buttons) and eating deep-fried candy bars. And then eating deep-fried pizza slices wrapped in bacon, with deep-fried Twinkies for dessert. All on sticks, of course.

How much more down-home can you get?

It's like opening the front door of "The Little House on the Prairie" and finding out Ozzy Osbourne moved in and redecorated.

Oh, there are still "farm" things at the fair: rabbits the size of Volkswagens, cows the size of SUVs and pigs the size of sofas. If there's a difference between a blue-ribbon cow and the first runner-up, I missed it. The winner must be decided during the talent part of the competition.



Mysterious symbols were everywhere at the fair: green four-leaf clovers with an "H" on each leaf. People wearing this symbol carried pitchforks and cattle prods, and spoke in their own coded language: "second cutting," "freshening," "walking fence," "milk house," "dry barn," "tedders," "manure spreaders," "hay loaders." Must be some kind of gang or cult.

There is usually a butter-sculpted tribute to some famous work of art: life-sized figures carved entirely out of butter and displayed in a massive glass refrigerator. One year, I saw a butter Mount Rushmore; the next, Rodin's "Thinker." No doubt he was thinking about how clogged his veins were. Next year's sculpture will be a butter statue of a man lying on the floor clutching his chest in agony.

The aisles at the fair are full of home-canned products that have won blue ribbons -- pickled cauliflower, canned string beans, beautiful beets, tasty-looking corn salsa, tomato sauce and all kinds of imaginative combinations of garden vegetables. It showed the care and deep appreciation home-canners have for their food. Of course, there is no place at the fair where you can actually eat any veggies.

Unless you took those beets, stuffed them into the center of a meatball, wrapped it with bacon and cheese, deep-fat fried it and put it on a stick, no one at the fair would eat them. The food that's winning prizes and the food that fairgoers are paying money to eat are so far apart that it makes you wonder if they're giving blue ribbons to all the wrong things. Maybe someone should start awarding blue ribbons to blooming onions.

The midway is still full of fun rides that remind you of your childhood. In fact, many of them look like the exact same rides you rode on 40 or 50 years ago. You'd think there would be a rule that you have to paint them at least once a century. I swear, that Vomit Comet is the same one that had me puking back in 1975. My fingernail scratches are probably still in the paint on the roof of the cabin. Part of the fun of the rides is knowing that a rusty, 50-year-old bolt may break at any moment, hurling you into the center of the demolition derby as the rest of the ride collapses into the Whack-a-Mole tent, whacking all the moles at once.

Ah, good times.

There is no longer a Tattooed Lady exhibit, as almost everyone at the fair has at least two tattoos of their own. Why pay money for something you can see for free?

The cows, goats, sheep and chickens may be one excuse to come to the fair, but the most amazing animals here -- the animals that most of us have come to see -- are the humans. Let's start giving each other big ol' blue ribbons. Best in show.

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