Friday, August 10, 2007

Deep-fried Studly Yard Dogs in the Himalayas on a Stick

Let's get this out of the way now: as my boss once asked upon coming to work the day after State Fair, "Is there anything you people won't deep fry?" Jesus, this is the fifth or so time I've gone to State Fair and I still can't believe that anybody would deep fry an Oreo Cookie much less eat such a thing. And if they don't deep fry it, they're putting it on a stick. Often, they'll do both. Alas, one of the best things you can get at State Fair, Steak on a Stick, wasn't there, so I settled for some Shakey's pizza, some calamari (I had to eat something deep fried, else I'm sure I would have had my Wisconsin Citizenship revoked) and of course a cream puff.

But if Summerfest is the Music Festival that's really a church festival, State Fair is exactly what it says: it's a grand old heartland state fair, complete with cover bands, americana food of all sorts, hucksters, animals, FFA and 4H kids, carnys running the rides on the midway, all sorts of midwestern smells from fresh to festering, all sorts of people milling about during the dog days of summer. It's completely unpretentious, its not trying to be anything but what it is, and I love State Fair for it. In fact, this music snob loves State Fair more than Summerfest for just that reason.

But of course, we had to start the day off with some music, and we're so glad we picked Wednesday to go, so that we could get our fix of the Five Card Studs. I think one of the reasons I love them so much is that its not just entertaining watching them. I love watching the crowd react to them. They're so over the top studly, but they do the sexy macho thing so precisely well that sometimes people can't quite tell if they're for real or not. The hot afternoon crowd at the Cousins Subs stage were a good example of that: it took a few songs before they "got" it, loosened up, and had fun. And that's part of the Studs' charm for me. While I'm listening to Cesar Palace croon "After The Lovin'" I'm also watching the transformation of the crowd from bewilderment to enjoyment, as they get sucked into the sexy, sexy vortex and consider that the 70s may not have been such a bad time after all. And State Fair was the perfect place to take in this whole anthropolical study.

The kids were with us, so the next required stop was the first pass at the Midway, and we took the longest Sky Glider I have ever been on to get there. We cashed in our advanced discount vouchers, had our wristbands taped on by some 80s year old volunteer at the ticket booth, and when you're a little kid taking in all these sights, two minutes of shaking rheumatoid attempts at dexterity is an e-TER-nity! Kudos to Sammy and Stella for being polite about it, though.

Clearly the ride vendor has updated a lot of rides. Those old cars that go 'round in a circle (circa 1963) are gone, so are the bumper boats (darn, those looked fun!) but they're replaced, to my parental relief, with a lot of rides that seem to look safer (if not newer) and the protective padding is still fairly strong. There also seems to be a lot of rides that look like kiddie version of the scarier grownup rides, so that they don’t' feel completley left out. Case in point, the kiddie version of the giant drop, which was fun enough and got plenty of giggles out of my kids. Once we saw that Sammy was content with the kiddie zone, we put him on the swings, Brian kept and eye on him, and Stella and I ditched them to hit the grownup rides, as she is now a good 51" tall and therefore qualified to shit her own pants.

Ah, Stella, who used to be such a wuss. Now she wants to go on that ride with a robotic arm that flips you upside down and twists you about. She did that ride at least seven times, thanks to those all-day wristbands. She was one inch short for the Giant Drop, and she was also bummed out that the silver rollercoaster wasn't there anymore, but I pointed out to her that once you get past that caterpillar (the medium sized rollercoaster), the next step up that's really going to satisfy can really only be found at the Dells or Six Flags. So, absent that, "let's hit the Himalaya!" I suggested. She looked at it and at first glance thought it looked lame. Yes, at first glance, it does look lame. It looks like you're just going round in circles. No, the Tilt-a-Whirl is lame. You have to work too hard to make the Tilt-A-Whirl really worth it. No, take a look at the faces of the GROWNUPs on the Himalaya, sweetie. Do they look like this is a sweet ride on a bicycle built for two? No, they look like those astronauts in training for what blasting off into outer space is going to be like, or like that one guy in the Nine Inch Nails video.

So get this: remember when you were a kid how usually they'd play massive heavy metal music while that thing would whip you around, adding to the danger and the evil? So what are we listening to as it takes us around? "Do Your Ears Hang Low!" Granted, it's a hip-hop version of it, so it's got some edge, but still. It's the song the freaking ice cream man plays, so here's Stella, slammed into me from centrifugal force, holding on for dear life, but laughing her head off because all she can think of is our lame ice cream man who plays it overdriven and distored and whose ice cream is usually too melty to enjoy fully and who's scarier than the most toothless carny. We laughed together all the way back to where Brian and Sammy were sharing a slushie. We came back at night and the Himalaya was at full tilt: lights flashing, sirens going off, carnies flirting with us. And what are we listening to now? Some mellow Pearl Jam song. At least once we got going it turned into a rockin' Pearl Jam song, but that's not what I want to hear on the Himalaya! I want to hear some evil speed metal played by guys who have spikes coming out of their 23-inch necks! I want to hear "Theme from The Sheild"! At least it wasn't the freakin' Ice Cream Man song. Still.

Sammy spots the caterpillar rollercoaster and he's lit up like a ferris wheel at night. "Mommy, I want to go on that rollercoaster. At 3.75 years, he's suddenly not satisfied by the cute little dinosaur any more. We measure him up, and, as long as he's with a "responsible adult" (me, responsible?), he can. We get in line.

At first, I was bemoaning the fact that I'm probably ruined by Six Flags and especially Wisconsin Dells when it comes to rollercoasters and thrill rides, that a piddly little caterpillar with a few turns was going to be boring for me. But I'm here to tell you that the best way to get over that is pretty much the best way to get over anything you think you've outgrown: do it with a little kid. I'm clutching hard to Sammy's chest and I can feel his excitement pounding as we're going up, up up and then down, and that caterpillar pulls a few g's whipping around the decending curve, ("just like the Wizzer at Six Flags!" Stella pointed out.) I'm building it up for him: "Here we go! Wooooooooooooooooooo! Whoaaaaaaaaa!" and his eyes are bugging out and his tummy is vibrating from laugher, and his smile is huge and genuine and he yells at me afterwards in his little boy lisp, "That was awesome," (and I forget for that moment just how much I hate that word) and I agree with him, it was. His thrill is contaigious. At that moment, as far as I was concerned, I just got off of Hades at Mt. Olympus.

After that, my tummy is vibrating and in need of a soda to encourage a belch. We head back to the main part of the Fair, we get something on a stick, and walk about. There's the Florida Yard Dogs, who I'd seen at Bastille Days and who draw me in with genuine fun, musicianship and attitude. They're perfect. They do this version of "House of the Rising Sun" (don't all cajun bands have that in their repertoire?) that is both eerie and ominous and jumps into fun. It's a small little stage, and they're booked all week, so I do what I didn't get to do at Bastille Days, and approach this guy and ask him, So what the heck IS that instrument?" It's called a Jamaican Rumba Box, or his version of it. Most are much smaller, but he built his to accommodate several keys, so the keys are arranged in fifths. He also pointed out that he built it so that he could always play it with a beer in his hand (and he does!) and in fact, "I taught myself to play that way, so if I don't I can't play it! It doesn't feel right!" We go through the Wisconsin Products Pavilion, we say Hi to the Lumberjills ("Chicks with axes!") we wave to Coventry Jones, we ran into Marlavous Marla Rothenberg and her entourage. Brian accuses me of being on smack as I eye the giant bungee jump. "No, if I was on smack, I'd pay the $30 to do it." The price, honestly, was the only think keeping me off it. Really. Honest. We enjoy a fun little hair band, and we spot a kid with a ribbon pinned to his shirt. Was he the kid whose prize steer fetched $18K on Wednesday? No, better: He won the Cream Puff Eating Contest! At least this wasn't a "how many" contest like some awful gluttony of hotdoggery. It was a "how quickly," and his amazed father gushed to us, "Less than five seconds, and poof, it was gone. It was something."


shoes and socks
Originally uploaded by V'ron.
Of course, I take the kids on the Packer Slide, which is what we call the giant slide, for the obvious color-coded reason. We do a few more rides, and cut through the barn on the way, where we get to meet a cow. We do the ferris wheel at night. It's just me and Sammy in there, because Brian is chilling out with the Yard Dogs, and, ohmygod, Stella's met a boy on the caterpillar and they agree to go back to her favorite ride together, and I'm keeping a motherly eye on this from the ferris wheel, and it’s a beautiful summer night and my feet are killing me and I don't care and I have to go to work the next morning after what will be five hours of sleep and the kids are exhausted (but not too exhausted to laugh at their Wisconsin heritiage before finally passing out in the car on the way home. The overload of State Fair pretty much can cure anybody of rampant cynicism.

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