Monday, September 06, 1999

The County Fair

It was a perfect, blue sky Missouri day, so I took my daughter to the County Fair. While there, we accomplished both of our goals: 1) she went on more than a dozen rides, wearing a smile as wide as her face the entire time; and 2) we overpaid tremendously for some unbelievably mediocre food.

I'm not an amusement park ride kind of guy, ever since a roller coaster incident about 15 years ago in which the restraining bar clamped down a little too hard on my collar bone. These things have a "you must be at least this tall" sign -- they should also have a "you must not be taller than this" sign, too. When you're 6'4", your average ride is gonna crunch your shoulders and bang your knees, and that's before they even push the start button. If I wanted to be that uncomfortable, I would take the middle seat on any commercial flight!

So I wasn't planning on going on any rides today -- that is, until my daughter said that the first thing she wanted to do was go on the ferris wheel, with me! I figured, hey, ferris wheel, no restraining bar, nothing clamped down, lots of leg room, no problem, let's go.

It was somewhere near the top of our second revolution that all those recent stories about accidents on theme park rides flashed into my head. For the remainder of the ride (the ferris?), while she marveled at the view, I found myself inspecting every frayed cable, every rusty connecting bolt, every creaky spring. Needless to say, we didn't crash back to earth, and the ride ended safely.

It was after we had exited the ferris wheel that I had a revealing moment of parental responsibility -- from that moment on, she was gonna ride these death traps alone.

Of course, at five years old, while she has passed the point where she's content to sit in a little kid teacup ride that revolves at 2mph, she's not quite ready for loops and spins and hanging upside down, either. None of those bet-you'll-hurl contraptions, please. We found a dozen or so (thank you, pay-one-price plan!) medium-thrill rides, roller coasters, spinning strawberry tilt-a-whirls, etc. She had a great time.

I watched happily, secure in the knowledge that the carnival employee in the purple t-shirt who was running the ride was completely capable of ensuring my daughter's safety -- right up until the second the ride actually started moving, at which point he went back to daydreaming about getting another corn dog on his next break.

Speaking of corn dogs, what kind of food is that? What is it about the carnival atmosphere that makes normally sane people consume this mutant meal? Let's work through the logic of this fine epicurean delight. You have your basic hot dog, but the bun concept seems old and needs replacing. How about rolling the frankfurter in corn meal instead? Okay, fine, but it may still contain some nutritional value, however small, so we'd better stick the whole thing in the deep fryer for a couple of minutes. Then, hand it to the customer on a nice napkin. No, wait, shove it onto a stick! The wood can count as fiber! Genius!!!!

No one goes to the County Fair for the food, of course. But you spend a few hours there and the amalgam of various barbecued fleshes (I'm not just talking about the other fairgoers baking in the sun) will get to your nose and pull you towards a food vendor like a politician to a fund raising dinner.

Two food items on sale today caught my eye. One was "crab rangoon." I have absolutely no idea what that is, but I have studied my geography enough to know that Missouri is a great place for fresh crab, not to mention its many free-range rangoon farms.

The other taste treat was "roasted turkey legs." These were huge and actually looked great. At one point, six guys enjoying them near us told me they were delicious. I couldn't help think that, as they tried to get their mouths around these massive drumsticks, they looked like a half-dozen Fred Flintstones at the Bronto-Drive-Thru.

We stuck with the old carnival vendor standbys: a cheeseburger, fries, and some spiced brown mystery meat -- could have been chicken, could have been pork -- on a skewer, identified only as "kebab." After washing down that $11 lunch with a couple of $3 bottles of water, my daughter was off to the merry-go-round, the fun house, and the crazy mirror maze.

This is where we had what we refer to as "the head-first incident." She was moving at top speed through the mirror maze for about the fourth time in a row when she missed a turn and -- boom! -- banged right into some plexiglass that was suddenly where she thought an opening would be. The noise actually made two mothers near me say, "Oooh, that's gotta hurt!" in unison. My daughter staggered for a moment like Robert Downey Jr. at an arraignment hearing, shook it off, and then continued on her merry way. Talk about paternal pride! I felt like Barbara Bush watching George W rebuff yet another drug question.

I'm glad that was the only crash we saw all day. You see, this County Fair was combined with an Air Show. If you know anything about Air Shows, you know that they are to airplane accidents what double-wides are to tornadoes. Namely, a magnetic force beyond understanding.

Fortunately, there were no accidents today. Just pilots flying everything from biplanes to jets, doing amazing tricks in the air, some solo, some in groups up to five at a time. Lots of fun to watch, but with a twist I should have expected in this day and age. I noticed at least ten guys in the crowd videotaping these air exhibitions. Nice footage to take home to the rest of the family, to remind them of their fun day? No, these guys roll tape in the hopes that there will be a midair collision, a plane that won't pull out of a dive, whatever. They know that if they get it on tape, they'll be able to sell it to TV, which loves to show that sort of stuff. Don't believe me? Last week, word leaked out of Hollywood that Fox is negotiating with the FAA to let them crash an actual 747 into the ground, and broadcast it live!

Of course, if the agency doesn't go for it, they can always air "World's Worst Carnival Ride Mishaps!" or "When Corn Dogs Attack!" or "When Five Year Olds Meet An Immovable Object!"

We expect the swelling to go down by morning.