After last week’s torrent of anxiety which was conveniently followed up with a mini rollercoaster of hormones, I wasn’t up for too much of a challenge this week. That meant heading south to Salem with one of my best friends to hit opening night of the Oregon State Fair.
I’m not a fair person. Big surprise. But this one, my first state fair, held the promise of Dwight Yoakum, one of the few country musicians I love. I was introduced to his music back in high school and instantly became a fan. Afterall, even an angsty teenager can’t live on Siouxsie alone. So off we went, on a beautiful, late-summer afternoon into the world of bad food, blue-ribbon goats and cowboy hats.
Bad food was the first order of business. My friend and I shared a fried Twinkie, picking that off a long, long list of weird fried food, including fried Pepsi and fried bacon-wrapped peanut butter cups. The Twinkie, covered in powdered sugar and chocolate sauce (of course) was pretty good. I never need to eat another one. This was followed up a bit later with my friend’s first Elephant Ear. It was slightly less good. We should have gotten the funnel cake, damn it.
The games and rides didn’t have any interest for us old folk, so we concentrated on not stepping in shit while we wandered around the animal pens. It was great to see all those creatures that sound so familiar – pig, cow, horse – and be reminded that they’re actually magnificent, huge and beautiful. It was hard to see them without wondering what kind of stress this strange environment was having on them. It was harder knowing how many of those animals would be turned into food. Cows? Cows are gorgeous. I have no eloquent words around it. We just suck for creating these beasts simply to kill them, so says the sole vegetarian at the state fair.
And on we went to more neutral territory: the Creative Living Hall. Inside were rows and rows of cakes, including the same barbie-doll cake that my mom made me for much of my young girlhood. The pies were displayed in a lit case. The bread and cookies were lined up in giant wooden cabinets. Shelves lit from within made the jam jars on one side, the pickled/fermented jars on the other, look special and delicious. Ribbons were also being given out for cut flowers, floral arrangements, place settings, and lego displays. There were quilts and weavers and authors and a row of people in full plastic aprons who’d just finished eating too much of something. It was all kind of amazing. Once upon a time, this was entertainment. I appreciate the people who still consider it so.
With that wrapped up, we headed to the ampitheater to wait for Dwight. Right on time, there he was in all his countrified glory. From our position in the way back, he could have been the same young guy I once had a surprising crush on. Nobody but him has ever or could ever make such a pair of painfully tight pale jeans look so good. His current state of baldness remained a mystery beneath the permanently affixed cowboy hat and he twisted around on his pointy boots the same as he always had. He played all the old hits and sounded great.
The whole thing was a big nostalgia trip: Shave the sheep. Eat the cotton candy. Cook a berry pie. It’s a very particular kind of nostalgia, one I’m not particularly comfortable with. It had to be taken with a grain of salt (and a belly full of oil and sugar). Still, as we headed back to the car, the air had the perfect sip of cool. The lights of the fair were just starting to come on. It was good to swing through this alternative universe and it was good to be driving home.