An Ode to the County Fair

The county fair, a childhood dream that only graces the region briefly, is an experience not to be missed whenever it decides to make roots for a few ephemeral moments. Lighting up the midway with colorful, flashing lights, the fair is the one time of year when people from every age group gather from all parts of the county to take part in some clean, wholesome fun. There are rides that have been in operation for decades, local art vendors selling overpriced crafts, foods deep fried beyond recognition and chances to meet the region’s prize-winning livestock in person. Though I'm no stranger to the experience, I find that with every trip each passing year, I am given new insight on what it means to go to the fair.

The most glaring thing that I've learned now that I'm in my twenties is how much the fair costs. It’s no cheap date. Sure you can convince yourself that buying the $20 unlimited ride ticket on top of the $10 admission fee is more economical if you play your cards right and go on at least X number of rides, but that doesn’t change the fact that it’s at least at least a $30 ordeal just to get yourself a ride on the Tilt-A-Whirl. As someone now in charge of balancing my own budget, it becomes very clear that there’s a reason you only go to the fair once a year. This can also be an issue with families. I'm just paying for myself, but there are those traveling in large groups with at least four to six people in a bunch. What an incredible expense, especially for those with smaller children who will probably only have the energy for a handful of attractions!

As far as the rides themselves, that's an added layer of being grown up enough to be conscious of just how rickety some of the rides can be. The thrill of not being sure whether a ride is in its prime is ever-present at the fair and you can’t help but laugh at the thought of it. It’s part of the fun, but when you’re a little kid you assume that everything is hunky-dory. Not to discredit the ride operators who are really putting in the work keeping everything up to code, but when you're looking up at the chains holding up the swing ride or the strap with a loop on it keeping riders from flying away on the centripetal force ride, you have to wonder if it's really safe or not. You become very conscious of your size when you’re trying not to crush your friends on the Himalaya.

You really become aware of this, especially waiting in line. Boy, do you spend a lot of time in line at the fair. It’s funny to reflect on because as a child it’s fun to watch the ride go around and around and waiting for it stinks, but you’re excited the whole time. As an adult you realize what a large chunk of your evening you spend just standing cold in the wind, trying not to slip in the mud and being jealous of all the people who just barely made the cut. The lines and the waiting aren’t unbearable, but you certainly become very aware of them whether they’re for food, rides, the bathroom or even getting into the fair in the first place.

The social component of the fair is so interesting because when everyone comes to the fair, there’s always those groups of people that you forget exist. As a person in their 20s, the most bizarre group by far has to be teenagers. Middle schoolers and high schoolers are absolutely quizzical. They’re intimidating and come in packs. They're: cutting lines, talking about skipping homeroom, vaping, chewing on their hoodie drawstrings, being on the phone begging their mom to pick them up just a little later, pooling the $20 allowance they were allowed to bring and deciding which in the group of five is going to have to sit by themselves this time. It’s nostalgic and horrifying. The best part is seeing a pair on a date. One can’t help but be a little jealous but also relieved that you've successfully made it out of that part of your life. It’s jarring to be reminded of that part of the past, but there is also a sense of irony that despite the age difference, they're ahead of you in line at the exact same fair.

The fair is such a dynamic event and really serves as a huge characterization of an area: the size, price and fervor. Maybe every above observation is cynical, but that may just be because of where I am in life. Maybe I’m kind of upset that I spent $12 on fried food that gave me a huge stomach ache, maybe I’m a little disappointed there was no rom-com moment on the Ferris wheel, or maybe I wish I hadn’t tripped on a bunch of cables and scraped my foot. Those are the maybes, but I know for certain that the fair is a good time. An objectively good time. With every visit that goes by, I learn that in a new way and I’m excited about the things I’ll learn next time around. That’s what the fair is for.

All images courtesy of Nellie Zucker.