Not a fan of fairs

We’re in the midst of fair time in Iowa. The county fair schedule is nearly complete and the big Iowa State Fair is here.

At the risk of being labeled a heretic, I confess I am one Iowan who is not enthralled with fairs. Oh, I admire the 4-H and FFA kids and their projects. I enjoy seeing the livestock and all the oddities of the fair along with the new products on display. Most of all, I enjoy visiting with the folks I meet at the fair. But I’m just not the fair enthusiast many Iowans are.

My earliest fair memory is riding on a county fair merry-go-round as a small child. Then, several years later, I recall accompanying Dad to the Hamilton County Fair in Webster City on a Sunday evening. At that time a new car was given away on the closing night of the fair and Dad had some tickets in the drawing box. Alas, his numbers weren’t even close.

When I was 12 years old, my teenage cousin, Judy, took my brothers and me along with her younger sister to the county fair in Webster City for an afternoon. I loved the Penny Arcade and wasted most of my time and money there.

In the early ’60s “girlie shows” were still operating on the county fair circuit. One such attraction had set up a tent on the edge of the midway at the Hamilton County Fair that year. I stood on the sidelines listening to the barker encourage men to enter the big tent to see the “lovely ladies.”

One of the “lovely ladies” was on display. While she wasn’t a Miss America, her assets were brazenly displayed in a garish but skimpy costume. No Sears & Roebuck catalog had ever offered a curious youth such a view.

If ever I heard the voice of Satan it was that afternoon. “Move a little closer,” the tempter seemed to whisper. “It’s okay to take a closer look. Why, a young fellow like you ought to see stuff like that! It’s goooood!”

I’d like to tell you I overcame the temptation to move in closer for a better view of the scantily clad woman because I was a strongly principled young man. The truth is I was afraid someone I knew would see me and tell my parents.

The county fair became more interesting as I grew older because there were girls – real girls, not the “girlie show” kind – from all over the county there. Oh, what a futile exercise it was – teenage boys walking up the midway all evening checking out the teenage girls walking down the midway, presumably checking out the teenage boys walking up the midway. I was so busy checking I never worked up the nerve to do anything else.

Taking a date to the fair eliminated the need to walk up and down the midway to check things out but it necessitated walking up and down the midway to let everyone else know you had a date at the fair.

When I worked at the radio station in Webster City we broadcast live from the county fairgrounds each day of the fair. The first couple of years we broadcast from the back end of a hot, dusty step-van. Meeting and interviewing the fairgoers was fun, but setting up the bulky equipment we used in those days was a pain in the… fair.

Things improved when we worked out a deal with a local mobile home dealer who set up an air-conditioned home which we used as a fairgrounds studio. It was still a lot of work, but at least we worked in air-conditioned comfort.

When I left radio for the newspaper business in 1973, I found that working the county fair as a newspaper reporter-photographer was equally challenging. There was a lot of hurrying up and waiting to shoot photographs. Getting the livestock to stand still for photos was sometimes challenging. And you had to watch where you stepped all the time.

In recent years my “going to the fair” experience has been a day at the State Fair where I learned to look for park benches in the shade. When you get old enough you can sit in the shade at the State Fair and enough people you know will walk by and stop to visit.

We have decided to skip the state fair this year. I love people but too many people in one place at one time is a “no thank you” for me.


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