Thursday, October 26, 2006


Destination #3: Almost there at the fair

Even after the wedding weekend, the travels weren't over. Oh no! There were still miles to go before we slept. But don't worry your heads about us - because, you see, we would not be without provisions on the final leg of our journey.

Nope. We'd have all the corn dogs, funnel cake, fried dough, turkey legs, and deep-fried candy bars that we could ingest.

That's because the last stop on the "Where in the World is Our Man in LA?" itinerary featured a stopover at the North Carolina State Fair in Our Woman's hometown of Raleigh, N.C.

Steph and I first started dating nearly seven years ago, and through virtually the entire relationship, she's been talking about her dream trip. I know what you're thinking. Paris, right? Or Rome? London? Hong Kong or Sydney?

Not even the Grand Canyon, folks. No sir, my bride wanted a trip to the NC State Fair, and what my baby wants, my baby gets.

Now the Fair is kind of a cult thing for the people living in or raised in North Carolina. A colleague of mine raised in Fayetteville reacted to the news that we were going by saying, "I'm so jealous."

Friends from Raleigh who relocated to Chicago, and who we saw over the Schumann wedding weekend, got a glazed look in their faces when we mentioned the Fair. "The best," was all they could say. "The best."

What's so great, I'd ask.

"The best," they'd say.

I'd been to the State Fair in Texas, and it was big and not too shabby. I'd been to County Fairs in Ohio, seen statues made out of butter, and the like. So what made this one any different from any other?

Well, it is big . . .

And it is pretty fun. Have to say that Our Woman in LA and I had a pretty good time heading out there. But don't just believe me.

Let's take a look at the tape.

Here's Our Woman in LA and I trying a candy apple. I'd never had one of these bad boys before. Carmel apples, sure. And to be honest, when I heard the phrase "candy apple," that's what I thought people meant. Carmel is, after all, a candy.

Man, was I wrong.

Candy apples cover the fruit with a hard candy shell, sort of the consistency of a candy cane, only more red and closer to apple-flavored. It's really, really bad for your teeth. I mean, really bad. And it's really hard to bite into.

Our Woman in LA and I shared this one, and good though it was, we didn't quite finish the thing.

Of course, eating is a big part of the fair, and Fair Food Professionals go out of their way to make sure that anything represented in the major food groups can be deep fried. For example, here you'll see fried vegetables prominently displayed. Not quite as ground-breaking as the fried coca-cola (still the most disgusting idea I've ever heard), but it gets the job done.

Among the foods I had never seen before were a "hush puppy claw." For the uninitiated, that's a crab claw dipped in cornmeal batter and fried. And the deep-fried candy bar, of course. Which is pretty much like it sounds.

If you're going to a fair, you have to go to the agriculture section. Now, living in LA, we don't get to see this kind of thing very much. No matter how many commercials I might see from the California Dairy Commission proclaiming that "Happy Cows make good milk, and Happy Cows are warm and live in California," I honestly haven't seen a farm animal of any kind since I left the Midwest two years ago.

So there we were at the ag tent, and we thought we'd record our experience. Look at the big pumpkins. Yup, they're big.

We would have spent more time looking at the animals in the ag center, but if you're an animal lover, it's hard to appreciate the champion, blue ribbon cattle when it's standing in a cage below a sign that reads:

"Bessie, the blue ribbon heifer, has been purchased by Harris Teeter Supermarket for $17,000!"

So you get a picture of the pumpkins.

So what's got Our Man in LA a little worried? Is he afraid that he'll never eat a corn dog again? Is he nervous at the sight of the world's largest pig (recently purchased by Kroger for $20K)?

Nope. He's standing next to a case full of bees.

Ah, enough of my protests about animal cruelty. Back to the food. Here's Steph enjoying the healthiest food we had all day (and actually my favorite).

What, the corn is slathered in butter? Yup, still the healthiest thing we had all day.

When you're going to go to the fair, folks, you have to win a big stuffed animal for your lady. It's like a law. So I won this stuffed monkey for Steph at a game that involved throwing darts at balloons.

And when I say I won it, what I mean is that I paid the guy behind the counter more than $30 to give me enough darts to earn the monkey, or any other stuffed animal in the place.

Two things about the monkey bear mentioning. First, like a real monkey, it sheds. You see, when you win big at the dart balloon, you get a stuffed animal with an unmatched degree of realism.

Second, when we left the Fair that night, we got into my father-in-law's pickup truck (used for his business, but it was a spare vehicle for us), turned on the radio, and pulled onto the gravel and mud road leading from Fair Parking to the main thoroughfares.

Mellencamp played on the radio. I looked at my wife. I looked at the monkey on the seat between us. I listened to a few bars of "Hurts So Good." Outside the truck, I watched as a young mother walked hand in hand with her toddler daughter toward the family truck. Mom had a cigarette in one hand, her daughter's tiny fist in another.

Mom dropped the cigarette in a huge mud puddle and kept walking. Then she stopped. She went back, still holding onto her baby girl.

She picked up the mud-spotted cigarette. She began smoking it again.

I looked at my wife, who saw the whole thing.

"Steph," I said. "Here we are. We just saw that. We're in a pickup, in Fair traffic, there's a stuffed monkey that I won in between us, and we're listening to Mellencamp. How much more country could we get?"

None much more, she agreed.

Ah, but there's beauty to be found there, at the Fair. This is a shot of the Ferris Wheel, all lit up for the night. Before we left (and before we saw the mud smoking mom), we took a ride on this wheel. Stretched out before us, we saw the Midway and all the people, we felt the crisp night air.

And I'll be damned. There was something just a little special about it.

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