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Friday, September 17, 2010

Today At The Festival ...

I truly hail from Small Town, U.S.A. And like the swallows to San Juan Capistrano ... or the scary buzzards to Hinckley, Ohio ... each year I return with hundreds of other "expatriots" to our four-day home town rural festival. In a nutshell, the event is like a county fair but with twice the charm and half the sophistication. You draw your own picture!

Every small town has one, but in Ohio they seem to take on themes that focus around farming and crops ... corn, tomatoes, pumpkins, gourds, zucchini, and watermelon just to name a few. The festival has some good points. It's a boon to the local economy and keeps the teenagers out of trouble for four whole days. It also gives the entire population the opportunity to see old friends they haven't "visited with" for years ... even decades. And because the fair is small, you get to see those same "old friends" again and again and again!

And the food ... everything "on a stick" you can imagine. Main Street smells like "elephant ears" and side streets present fairgoers with the conflicting aromas of rich gyros and spicy Italian sausage sandwichs. The sizzle of the woks at the Asian food stand are both frightening and hunger-inducing. Our festival also sponsors a chili cook-off and pie-eating contest to bring out the competitive eaters and their cheering supporters. And there are crazy recipe contests where people create things like "tomato brownies" and "Boston zucchini cream pie." Some of it looks delicious!

But my hometown's street fair has some definite low points. Traffic and parking in a small town "stuffed" with visitors is a nightmare. And the midways ... or Main St. and a few side lanes ... are always delightfully filled with dust and debris, sluggish run-off from the concession stands, and strange, unidentifiable odors. And the noise ... the surrounding buildings trap all the ambient sound from talking and yelling and compressors and hydraulics and everything else that goes into running a bustling festival. Imagine the loudest concert you've ever attended ... then double that!

Then there's the entertainment. Annual events include a small-scale tractor pull (a watered-down version of the county fair competition), a baby-crawling contest (they look like little mobile pork roasts with faces battling for a silly plastic trophy), "bathtub races" (watercraft made of the oddest things assembled at a nearby lake with "boaters" acting crazy to win an overnight hotel stay in downtown Columbus), and a tobacco-spitting contest (even more disgusting than you can imagine). Musical entertainment spans both Friday and Saturday evenings. Friday night is always a local band and they're usually pretty good, but they are not allowed to perform until a sufficient number of people have "filtered in" from the area football games. So they get like a whole hour to rock! Then Saturday night is another exercise in sadness as a boring cover band or an actual "real" band with one aging original member still plugging along takes the stage. Time isn't an issue for this concert, although everyone in the audience keeps checking their watches and cell phones hoping that it will soon be over!

Then there's my new category ... "positive" things about the street fair that aren't positive anymore. I've been out of high school for more than a decade and I kept in contact with those individuals who meant something to me. So seeing all those slightly-heavier jocks and less-than-stunning former cheerleaders isn't fun anymore ... if it ever was in the first place. And it's incredibly awkward ... trying to conduct a conversation with someone you barely remember with lame comments like "so how's like without Student Council been treating you?" is physically painful.

Another thing I used to love was the lip sync competition held every Thursday night of the fair in the parking lot behind the local credit union. There were always serious performers and other groups just up on stage to clown around and get the crowd laughing. I always looked forward to the event. This year, I had a great spot ... standing almost up front with a clear view of the stage. Younger performers always go first, so it was no surprise when this cute little girl walked on stage in a tuxedo-esque leotard and top hat. What was surprising was that the costume had a plunging neckline that showed the girl's navel and she was wearing enough make-up to outfit a tiny car full of circus clowns. Then the music started and it just went from bad to disgusting. This nine-year-old girl started "syncing" to a Britney Spears song and playing to the crowd in a very adult way. She had moves that would make a pole dancer blush. Most of the people in the audience were shocked like me ... either staring with gaping mouths or shaking their heads while lowering their eyes away from the live "kiddie porn" revue. One lady a few places over from me ... probably in her 40s ... muttered quite loudly "Where are that girl's parents? ... I need to hit somebody!!" People around her silently nodded their consent

As the little girl continued to gyrate and pelvic-thrust her way across the small stage, I felt an odd tingling in my body. I now know that the sensation was the last "embers" of the little boy inside me who used to run straight from school up to the fair to play games, ride rides that threatened to overwhelm his youthful equilibrium, and consume his body weight in cotton candy, evaporating. Disintegrating. Dying of a broken heart.

POINT OF RANT: I think this "swallow" will be looking for new skies.

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