Dodging pig manure on memory lane

Comedian Kurt Gallagher — not very funny by the way — describes the county fair as the place Americans go year after year to get ripped off.

I've not reached his level of cynicism, though the summer fair never fails to send tiny ice picks of deja vu deep in my brain.

Whether you grew up in the Midwest, as I did, the East Coast or North Dakota, your experience at the Jackson County Fair most likely will be similar to mine. I could have been in any small city in America this past Wednesday.

Pigs and cows don't look any different in Southern Oregon than they do in Greenup, Ill. Neither do creaky, vomit-inducing death-trap rides such as the Zipper or the Scrambler.

Carnies, too, are universal, though finding one who speaks English is a losing proposition. The very thought of our neighbors to the south moving into our county to take our God-given carny positions will probably send the Mail Tribune's Hispanic-hatin' forum trolls into violent convulsions. "Dear gawd, thar takin' our carny jobs too!" they'll scream.

I spent my lunch hour just walking around the fairgrounds. I did not go there to do much of anything besides take it all in. I've done the ride thing, and most of my friends were 4-H'ers so I'm aware of what goes down in the animal pens.

Most of the newsroom hates me because I've never written a fair story in the past three years. Every year a reporter is tasked with journeying to the fair to root out a story, complete with a photograph. The goal is to find something fresh to cover, though judging by our story archives it seems the well is drying up.

Miraculously, newsy things late at night during my shift just seem to come up every year in mid-July. Sorry, guys.

Wednesday's foray into fairworld was both eye opening and predictable. It's strange that a place that seems so busy from far away is packed with people sitting around doing not much of anything. Everywhere I looked there were groups of high school kids just sitting around talking to each other. Sure, some had elephant ears in their hands, but you can go anywhere to eat expensive sugary foods without paying an entry fee.

The fair is geared toward children, though several of the ones I saw looked a little dazed from the heat, as did their parents.

Is it worth possible heat stroke to see if the Super Drop Tower is still super?

However, the longer I stayed the more sentimental I became for my days running around dodging horse crap and, on one dreadful year, a tornado at the Clark County Fair in central Illinois.

I'll never forget my fourth-grade year. After having endured the Tilt-a-Whirl for the sixth time, I took refuge under a tree in an attempt not to puke when I heard Guns N' Roses' "Welcome to the Jungle" for the first time. The carny running the Tilt-a-Whirl had the single and kept rewinding the song and replaying it all day. I must have sat there for 30 minutes, until I had it memorized.

And how could I forget the time I was dating a Catholic girl in high school and was forced to spend the day with her manning the pro-life booth? I remember even the most pious of Midwest farm families staring at me in disappointment and confusion.

"C'mon, this is the fair, just let it go for a day," their eyes said.

These memories came creeping back as I stalked the fairgrounds in Central Point.

This year, Jackson County Fair organizers seem to take pride in reporting that the food is stripped of all trans fats and that efforts are being made to expand the recycling program to make the fair green friendly.

Why?

Just as I loathe mandating bars as smoke-free sanctuaries, I long for the sleazy qualities of fairs past.

Does everything have to be sanitized to the point where safe banality replaces grimy fun? Give me trans fats and pig crap and carnies hawking T-shirts that read "Sh— Happens" and I'll take that trip down memory lane year after year.

Just don't expect me to ride the Zipper. That one makes me throw up every time.

Reach reporter Chris Conrad at 776-4471; or e-mail cconrad@mailtribune.com.

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