“The Midway is the Message” was published (The Boise Weekly) August 29, 1996.
The Midway is the Message
We went to the state fair last week. For a long time, we skipped it, but, I remind you, my wife had a baby about six and a half years ago, and that kid can hear the screech of Ferris wheel brakes from way over here in Meridian. Good ears, I tell you. She knows when a Good Humor truck leaves the warehouse, so there’s no point in trying to hide a carnival from her.
We always go through the barns first, though. Kids need to know there are things in life more basic than cotton candy and spin-barrel art. I tell her about the old days, when state fairs were to show off the fullest udders, the porkiest pigs, the best-hung bulls and pumpkins you could drop a VW engine into—all there at the center of attention so that the men and women who feed the world could wear their dress bibs for a few days and brag a little. She’s a tad young to understand when I tell her that fairs have never been great art, but in their own way, they gave the community an excuse to pat itself on the back.
Well, Daddy? Where’d they put all the hot tubs and karaoke singers if there were big ol’ bulls and pumpkins all over the place back then? And why’d they mess around with those dirty pigs when ‘bout everywhere you look, there are corn dogs already cooked and on a stick?”
A 4-H kid from out where all the pastures haven’t yet been turned into subdivisions overhears her and gives me the kind of frightened look you used to see on the faces of 8-track tape player salesmen and keypunch operators a few years back. “She’s from France,” I whisper.
But I can no longer avoid the truth my daughter has exposed, which is that our state fair—most likely like all the other states’ fairs, too—still puts the heart of a community on display, just as it did in the old days. And just as in the old days, it’s the one event where folks from every social and economic stratum of our marble cake society can rub elbows and break gyros together. Only now, we celebrate the hot tub dealer and the Pronto Pup franchise man. And fewer and fewer folk from any stratum wander over to the barns and give the 4-H kid from Alfalfa-ville a pat on the head and a “Thanks for the grub, Bub.”
Still, I don’t see anywhere near the pride in the hot tub guy’s eyes that I used to see in the men and women in bibs, scratching their big ol’ bulls behind the ears while the town strolled past.
After my girl grows up some, I probably won’t go to the fair anymore. She’ll want to go with her friends. I predict in not too many years, she will rather be seen bald than with her dad.
August 29, 1996