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The beauty of county fairs
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My 8- and 10-year-old nephews visiting from the Big City had never been to a county fair. Maybe in their rich county in their rich state, they didn't have them.
What would a county fair look like in their well-to-do suburban part of the country? All the carnies probably wear khaki slacks and have degrees in child psychology, while ours all look like they're sex offenders hiding from their parole officers.
And the rides! The nephews had never seen such rides. Apparently Disney World and Six Flags don't have rusty, old, shaky contraptions that look as if the peeling paint is the only thing holding them together. They didn't seem to notice any difference between Disney's ultra-modern Space Mountain and the aging, battered, used-looking king of our midway, the Scream-a-Thon.
No doubt the county fair ride inspector gave the Scream-a-Thon a thorough going-over before it was approved to be operated by the finest temp worker minimum wage could buy. It probably takes years and years of training, as well as passing a tough test, to earn a license to run something like this. Then I remembered we voted to cut things like ride inspectors in last year's election to lower property taxes.
Well, if an 8-year-old can ride it, how bad can it be? I'll get on with him. What a baby ride, I thought, not very fast but a little bit jerky. By the time I realized it had just been loading other suckers, it really started to spin. The centrifugal force was trying to rip the pacemaker right out of my chest. As our cage violently spun around, we went from queasy weightlessness to queasy multi-G forces in milliseconds. A week later and I'm still queasy, but the 8- and 10-year-old went on to do all the other the rides. Twice.
Then they asked me, "What's a Demolition Derby?"
"Oh, you don't want to see that," I told them, steering them away from the grandstand and toward Fried Dough Alley. I carefully explained to them how noisy and smoky and crowded and dangerous it is to watch guys crash cars into each other as fast and as hard as they could. "Half the time the cars burst into flames and the firemen run to put them out," I said. The more I told them, the more they wanted to go.
"But first," I said, "we have to get something to eat. Your parents will kill me if I don't feed you." When the healthiest thing at the fair is a deep-fat-fried avocado, there's not much point in trying to eat healthy. The kids went for the donut sundae. Now I'm thinking, maybe their parents will kill me because I fed them. "Aren't you afraid that will spoil your dessert?" I asked, but no one answered.
The Demolition Derby was everything I told them it would be and worse. After half an hour of solid engine noise and the crunch of metal on metal, I was longing for the peace and quiet of the Scream-a-Thon.
On the drive home, they both pledged to become derby drivers instead of hedge fund managers, no matter what their parents thought.
Contact Jim Mullen at