The Dog Days have arrived, ushering in my favorite part of summer: Fair Week. What’s not to like about a fair? Ice cream and cider and barbecue chicken, hot dogs and corn dogs and thick chocolate milkshakes, fresh funnel cake all powdered with sugar … OK, yeah, the tune to ‘Favorite Things’ is running through my head right now, but really, these are some of my favorite fair things.
Fairs help define America, at least rural America. They’ve been a part of the landscape for a long time, bringing us together before we became a nation.
Last year, the York Fair celebrated its Centennial, and of course I had to be there. I live about two hours from York, so I haven’t been there in a very long time. It’s a big deal, and rightfully so. Every year, big name headliner bands come to the fair, both country and rock stars making appearances. York’s not a small city, and the fair is in town, not on the outskirts. The fair’s name says it all: The Great York Interstate Fair is a big deal
It was a sobering visit, and a bit disappointing. Don’t get me wrong, the fair had everything you’d expect: fair foods, barking vendors, games of chance and skill, and a Midway you could get lost in – and that was the problem. Everything I just listed covered easily three quarters of the fairgrounds. The livestock, the produce, the canned goods, the competition entries, all the elements of country life, the point of a fair, seemed beside the point, almost an afterthought. I began to wonder if fairs have outlived their purpose. Maybe they have.
Maybe not. I was forgetting the other point of a fair, just as important as the expositions of country living – community. Fair Week is a big social event in a rural area, a chance to get together, kick up your heels and blow off some steam. It’s an opportunity to have some new experiences, children petting sheep and rabbits, teens screaming their heads off on the rides, young men showing off their prowess with dart, ring and baseball, winning the biggest stuffed bear they can for their sweethearts, and parents enjoying a few precious hours of ‘just-us’ time while the children pet sheep and ride the roller coasters.
We need this now more than ever. Twenty-five years ago, I lived for the fair. This was the social event of the summer, trumping hanging out at the mall or cruising the loop in town. Even back then, we complained about having nothing to do, but not during Fair Week.
That was before social media ‘connected’ everyone. Seems to me, it disconnected us more than anything. We have friends we never met, from across the globe, but a young man has nowhere to go to physically meet a pretty young woman. Malls are empty and closing, and who can afford the gas to go cruising, even if the police look the other way? I can’t believe the most popular place to be these days are convenience store parking lots. When did that happen? How did we get so disconnected?
Now, more than ever, we need fair week. Bring on the rides; bring on the games, the deep fried foods, the cattle, sheep, goats and chickens. Go check out the vegetables, the jams and jellies, the amateur photography and sewing; remember, they represent someone’s labor of love, their best efforts, their hopes for a blue ribbon and bragging rights. And if you’re using your smart phone, I hope it’s to text your friends to meet you at the Ferris wheel. Eat some funnel cake, ride a few rides, catch someone’s eye.
It’s Fair Week. Don’t miss it.