It’s that time of year again–time for summer state and county fairs. The heat keeps me away now, but I’m not too old to have fond memories of those good old days at the fair. And what better to do in these dog days of summer than to air out those memories one more time by re-posting an oldie from two years ago. While you’re reading (or re-reading it) I’ll just put my feet up and sit and read in air-conditioned comfort. I’ll be back in a day or two, God willing and the creek don’t rise. And by the way, what do you suppose did happen to that snake woman?
I noticed in yesterday’s local paper that the county fair has started, but I outgrew those years ago, too penny ante for a big-time girl like me. (My apologies to county governments everywhere! Nothing personal.) So I did a little investigating and found that the big one, the State Fair here in Utah, would be starting on September 6, less than three weeks away. Can it possibly be that time of year already?!
You probably remember, as I do, being too young, too socially and politically unaware to inhibit your joy at seeing the glass-eating Indian or the fat lady who could bend down and stick her head through her legs at the side shows, or “freak” shows as they were called then! And all the boys wanted to see the belly dancer of course.
What I remember most about school-sponsored trips to State Fair and what, to this day I understand the least, is the snake woman; I imagined her to be be half-snake and half-woman. I was intrigued yet frightened at the same time of the very idea of a snake-like human! Sad to say (or thank goodness, I’m still unsure which) my eyes glazed over as I went through the “preview” area where she was supposed to be resting in a long, coffin-like enclosure. For all intent and purpose I was completely blinded, and far too scared to actually go inside for the show. I’ve never stopped wondering what a half-woman, half-snake could possibly have looked like.
As an adult, I haven’t visited a State Fair since we lived in Ohio, so my math table tells me my last visit had to have been 15 or 20 years ago. But I do remember it well. What I remember most about that one was the delicious Italian and Polish sausages grilled with onions and chopped green peppers, then plopped onto a hot dog bun.
I followed it up with fried funnel cakes sprinkled with powdered sugar that virtually melted in my mouth as they settled into a pool of grease in my stomach. My friend and I rode the Ferris wheel just once, but we ended the day with at least two frenzied drives in the bumper cars. We didn’t get sick even once.
A State Fair visit in those long-gone days, before children were flooded and over-saturated by television, video games and other technology, when simple roller coaster rides or tilt-a-whirl rides were a phenomenon not to be missed, this is how a typical state fair visit went.
The first thing that alerted you that your school bus had finally arrived at the fair grounds, practically a world away from where you lived, was the Ferris wheel looming high overhead. It seemed so big! It was the first place you headed, threading your way through the helter-skelter and cacophony of circus-tents and carnival “barkers” trying hard to lure you into buying a ticket for the shows.
After you paid for and collected your string of ride tickets for the day, you climbed into a seat on the Ferris wheel and sat happily in the swinging seat with only the iron safety bar between you and the ground far below. You felt simultaneously thrilled and apprehensive. Slowly your confidence would surge as the seat you were sitting on crept slowly upwards, starting and stopping in spurts to let more riders get on.
Finally you were at the top where it seemed you could see eternity, or at least clear over to the livestock and tractor displays. Those things were for the grownups of course, since a kid had far more interesting things to do at the Penny Arcade next on your list. If you were lucky, you might even win a Teddy bear or doll to show off on the bus ride home.
If you’d had a choice, you would never have ventured into the produce and food displays. Or the animal pens with its putrid smells far away from the carnival atmosphere of the sideshow yards. Ah, but duty called. You always spent at least a few minutes there because you knew Mrs. Guthrie would pop a quiz on that part on Monday, and it would count several points toward your semester grades. (It was a school trip after all!)
Afterwards you’d fill up on cotton candy, roasted peanuts, cheap hotdogs and greasy ‘fries. Maybe you’d stop to watch the salt water taffy being pulled behind a window display as you headed over to the bumper cars. You probably remember somebody (youself perhaps?) getting sick, maybe even throwing up either on the third or fourth Ferris wheel ride, or later in a bumper car.
Bumper cars were a favorite of mine, perhaps yours as well. It was the only time my natural timidity gave way to aggression (probably all that black licorice) as I plowed into car after car, turning the wheel sharply right and left and heading determinedly for yet another victim. Vrrrrooooooommmm! Vrooooooooooooom!
Strange, but writing this makes me want to attend another State Fair, and I now have two grandchildren who have no idea what one is like. Hummmm! Do you suppose there’s one more State Fair in me? Do you think it would still be fun?! If you do, and care to join us, meet us at the bumper cars! But, I warn you: be afraid . . . be very afraid!
Update, September 4, 2009: I chanced across a YouTube video that not only verifies the half woman/half snake existed all those years ago, but still makes the rounds today. Read and watch a 28 second video exposing the whole truth about the exhibit. I can’t believe state fairs still have freak shows.