Monday, September 12, 2016

How I Fared at the Fair (and the Fair Fare Upon Which I Fared)

"When they pulled into the Fair Grounds, they could hear music and see the Ferris wheel turning in the sky. They could smell the dust of the race track where the sprinkling cart had moistened it, and they could smell hamburgers frying and see balloons aloft..."  
-E.B. White, from Charlotte's Web

Recently I duped cajoled persuaded one of my new friends--a particularly amiable chap named Jeremy, who is always up for hijinks and shenanigans involving this humble state of ours--into not only accompanying me to the State Fair, but also into going along with the 12 hour schedule of events I planned out for us.

This is not a typo: 12 hours. 

If you think there's not 12 hours of things to do at a State Fair, then you clearly haven't had the privilege to come to a Midwestern State Fair. And also you're probably a bit of an idiot. I don't know what other state fairs are like--hell, I don't know if the Indiana State Fair is always like this, but it being the Bicentennial and all, good golly, there was so much to do and see (and, uh, eat) that 12 hours simply wasn't nearly enough.

We went on a Saturday, after a week of gorgeously sunny, warm weather. As we drove up to Indy, the clouds were gathering in, heavy and close and grey, and--no joke--as soon as we turned on 38th Street and joined the line of cars waiting to enter the Fairgrounds, the skies opened up and the rains came down. It was an annoyance, but not a game-changer--on and off throughout the day, the rain continued. It was never a gully-washer--but it was enough to keep the crowds down a bit, and give us an excuse to spend some time at the Beer, Wine, and Spirits Exhibition Hall (more on that later.)

In the past, when I thought about county and state fairs, I thought about only a few things: food, and the Midway rides, and the carnies and hawkers. But in researching and planning this year's adventure, I got a chance to really think about the backbone of the fair: the farmers, and the creators. Early on, we spent a fair amount of time in the Purdue Science Agriculture/Horticulture Extension Building (and not just because it was air-conditioned!), and I'm glad we did, because it helped put so much into perspective. It was here that Jeremy spun a gourd (this is not an innuendo), and where we ogled the longest gourd (not the same one that Jeremy spun) and where I got to see ALL THE CORN and where we pondered the ethics of keeping a punkin that was on life support...

And where we saw beautiful displays of prize-winning vegetables, and a scarecrow that was legit scary and also won a prize (what the eff is wrong with Hoosiers?!?)

The thing that I found the best about this part of the fair was seeing the pride that people were taking in their produce and livestock, and the ways that they try to do outreach and inform people of the incredibly important work that they do. In a sense, County and State Fairs are like professional conferences for farmers, but open to the public. It's kind of silly--I think there's such a conception of farmers in America being backwards, or hicks, or bumpkins, but they do work that is critical to the survival of our human race. Like, the work that you and I do? It's important to some, but not in the same way that farmers are essential. It's fantastic to see them gathered at the State Fair and celebrating what they do, and the difference they make.

Now, let's talk about the Bicentennial Experience.

As I've mentioned, oh, 2 or 3 or 200 times, it's Indiana's Bicentennial this year, and they sure as hell did a fantastic job of celebrating it at the Fair. They had an entire exhibition hall dedicated to Indiana history, commerce, and culture. I was in hog heaven...

My favorite part was the LEGO display of creations that depicted Indiana life and culture. 

(College rivalries and covered bridges; it's what we are known for)

(And corn, too. We are totally known for corn. I about died when I saw this LEGO 
creation of a Hoosier family farm, complete with corn and soy fields and a basketball 
goal. It was hard to tear myself away from this display.)

Because of the weather (it alternated between "Oh look! More rain!" to literally ten minutes later: "UGH the sun is out and it's so humid!") we ducked in and out of many climate-controlled buildings, most of them filled with either displays related to farms and farming, or Indiana And Why We Are Awesome, or...

Replicas of Indiana farmhouses!
I honestly have no clue. Something needle-pointy? I love it. 
Quilts! Because Indiana. 
Collections of Antiques

Scrapbooking layouts. There is actually an award
 category for this, I think. Again, because Indiana. 
Bug collections. I'm not even kidding.
 There were SO MANY BUGS.

Bunnies who moon you.
It's as if, as my fellow adventurer pointed out, everyone in the state who is motivated enough comes together in Indy for the State Fair to say, "Hi! So this is what I've been up to this past year."

Now. Let's talk about what REALLY matters at a fair...

...the food. ALL THE FOOD.

This is merely one of about 1,816 food venues at the fair. 
About 1814.5 of them feature some sort of variation on deep fried victuals.

This is what the vendor called the "I'm Single Special"--a sampler of deep fried death. AKA Deep Fried Oreo, Birthday Cake, Reeses Peanut Butter Cup, and Cookie Dough.

Deep fried cheese...

 A bacon cheese burger between two donuts. (To be fair, it could have been worse; 
you could have gotten mac'n'cheese on it. Also, I didn't get this; my friend did. So, a win?) 

Funnel cake. SO MUCH funnel cake.  Regular funnel cake, Cookies and Cream Funnel Cake, Red Velvet Funnel Cake...BIRTHDAY CAKE FUNNEL CAKE! (Now, let's be clear: I didn't eat all those different funnel cakes. I'm just saying, there was a variety.) I ended up having a birthday cake funnel cake in celebration of Indiana's 200th birthday. HAPPY BIRTHDAY INDIANA! I ate that 
funnel cake all for you. It was too sweet.

And my favorite (and possibly the healthiest) things I ate: pig on a stick (AKA a wonderfully marinated pork chop on a skewer) and sweet corn on the cob. Both were indescribably delicious--and perfectly Indiana, too. I'll be dreaming of these yummies until next year's fair. 

After a cloudy yet golden dusk gave way to a humid, drizzly night, after a full 12 hours spent surrounded by folks from all over the state, after we spent all of our money and consumed two weeks' worth of calories, after we celebrated Hoosier history and culture, we trudged back to our car, parked in the vast center of the Fairgrounds. To the west, the Midway lights still twinkled; to the south, the Farmers Coliseum--built during the Depression as a WPA project--stood sentinel over the whole Fairgrounds. We were tired, over-full, but justifiably proud: we had done and seen and eaten just about everything we had planned for. We did right by the Fair, during this special Bicentennial Year. Because of those Bicentennial celebrations and exhibits, it was a once-in-a-lifetime experience. And while I know I will return to the Fair many times in the years and decades ahead, none of them will ever be like this Fair experience, during my first year Back Home. 

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