This is my annual review of the Illinois State Fair. We went yesterday: nine Chinese scholars (including Jie) and myself. I assured them that this would be the best one-day experience of "American culture" they could get. The state fair has everything American: food, religion, politics, plant life, music, animals, hobbies, sports, kids, thrilling rides, and unpredictable weather.
The fair features a wide range of food, from America's best food to its worst. Unfortunately, all the best food is locked behind glass in the "Hobbies, Arts, and Crafts" building. There you will drool over the lushest vegetables in the land, sweet fruit, mouthwatering pies, delectable cookies, gorgeous cakes, and lovingly canned preserves. The state police sit right outside the building in case you try to get into any of the display cases. If you want to eat healthy on the day of the state fair, eat before you go.
But if you don't mind risking a heart attack and diabetes, here is a possible "State Fair diet plan for you. Start at the "Fried What?" booth and wolf down a fried Milky Way bar and some fried pecan pie. Then wander over to the iJerky booth and get some kangaroo jerky. Modern fairgoers don't have to settle for the old fashioned funnel cakes: You can now get a funnel cake burger. And there is more to drink than just lemon shake-ups and beer. Several vendors now have biscuits and gravy (gravy would be classified as a beverage when you attend the fair.)
Several religious booths are always at the state fair. While riding the sky glider (with Jie) we got stalled right over the booth that promised to tell me if I was going to heaven. According to the signage, all I had to do was answer two easy questions. When you are stuck 40 feet in the air in a sky glider, you prefer to NOT be going to heaven right that minute.
Both the Democrats and the Republicans had booths at this year's fair. But they were both BORING... In the old days, you could stop by a political booth and pick up some campaign posters, some bumper stickers, and some buttons to wear on your shirt. I have a whole box in my closet of those collectables. But evidently all the political money these days is going for trashy TV commercials--not the neat stuff you can collect and show friends.
This year's fair featured our governor, Bruce Rauner. It was the first time I'd seen him in person. He appears to be the skinniest Illinois governor of my lifetime. But if he stays around and eats at the fair, he won't be.
No Illinois state fair is complete without a celebration of corn and soy beans. Did you know we use corn to make spark plugs, glue, aspirin, diapers, tires, instant coffee, and drywall? And did you know that we use soy beans to make printers' ink, crayons, lubricants, diesel fuel, carpets, and candles?
A favorite at the fair (at least for me) is the display of farm animals. This year we meandered past mules, Clydesdales, hogs (and learned what the notches in their ears mean,) goats, sheep, dairy cattle, and prize bulls. And then there are the human animals. The hog judge was kind of shaped like one. The guy who jumped off the 80 foot diving board into 9 feet of water seemed kind of like a dog running out on the highway. The kids at the Future Farmers of America building (tending the newborn animals) kind of reminded me of the sweet critters they were babysitting.
The day before we went, the fair actually had to close early because of heavy rains and flash flooding. But as in the aftermath of Noah's flood, the dry-land had reappeared by yesterday morning-and all was back to normal. I have been going to the fair for over 45 years now, all my adult life. I have always gone with friends and family. And each year I feel there the pleasant ghosts of those who have been there with me in the past. I especially miss going with my daughters. Someday soon my grandson will go with me.
As I was sitting down yesterday to eat something fried from the Brazil food booth (in honor of the Olympics) I saw Jeff Koch, my oldest continuous friend in this life, getting ready to sing some barbershop music with his choir; didn't know he was going to be there. But that's the state fair for you: the familiar is experienced and graced and experienced all over again. --Mike