You just can't miss the Fair
For the 20th consecutive year, I had no plans to go to the Clay County Fair and deal with the tidal waves of milling crowds, the obnoxious carneys and the artery-busting fried everything on a stick. In fact, I was still telling myself that, right up to the point when I hit the gate, after parking my car in the faaaaaaaar corner of the parking field in the space that I was kindly directed to, which I think is just north of Guam.
As much as I tell myself that I'd rather be home doing something more constructive, i.e. watching a football game and possibly working up the motivation to clip my toenails, you just can't miss the CCF.
In these parts it is the official last hurrah of summer, one final sensory overload blowout nestled in between t-shirts and sweatshirts, a final chance to celebrate before the leaves fall and we are trapped indoors for the duration of another 13-month long Iowa winter.
It's pretty tough not to find something you are interested in at the fair, modestly self-touted as The World's Greatest. I guess "Solar System's" wouldn't fit on the sign. Basically, anything that exists in Iowa at the moment is hauled, driven, pushed, pulled or dragged onto this site for people to walk past over and over, and for good measure, hunky country warblers and Rock Stars Your Mom Used to Groupie For come and sincerely express how delighted they are that their careers have brought them to the tractor pull arenas of northwest Iowa.
The Clay County Fair is truly a masterpiece of excess - with magnificently more than you could possibly see, hear and eat.
I saw tigers playing "shake hands" with a trainer, wearing expressions that I at least interpreted as utter boredom at the jokes ("He's taking a CATnap, get it?" Hahahaha.) One, I thought to myself, seemed to eyeball the dude as if he were a porkchop in khaki.
I saw performing pooches in crash helmets, performing pigs in pink bows, performing horses in silly costumes. And, performing people dressed as complete lunatics - oh I am sorry ma'am, that is just your normal walking-around ensemble, isn't it?
In fact, the very best thing about the fair is the peerless people-watching.
It is one of the few places on earth where you will find folks in coveralls and chore boots coexisting with homeboys in hardcore rapper wannabe gear. You get the trendy mixed with the redneck mullets. Inexplicably, you get the glittery, jiggly females in the plunging neckline dresses, faux animal skin patterns, leather accessories, mesh hose, spike heels, six pounds of makeup and three hours worth of hairdo. Hellllll-o.... didn't anyone tell them they were going to an agricultural fair that day?
My daughter asks about the music being played as we eat lunch. It is "Sweet Home Alabama," I explain, then some Aerosmith, Guns 'N' Roses, etc.
"Oh," she says. "Music from the olden days."
The conversations are the best I've found anywhere. No matter where you are at on the fairgrounds, you are going to fall into a talk with someone interesting. From one I learned that the best fair food in the history of mankind is the slab of fried bacon on a stick dipped in chocolate. I kid you not. Personally, my favorite at the CCF is the Jaycees' Triple Bypass Burger, where the guy behind the counter tells me in a perpetual primal scream that yessir it comes with a paramedic stretcher at no extra charge.
Nearly everything is deep fried except the concessionares themselves, who probably should be. If I was a cardiologist, I'd have a booth right next door.
One woman says that she has observed more of the animal kingdom peeing and pooping in a single day than in the entire rest of the lifetime. I think she meant that as a good thing, but I'm not entirely certain. You haven't lived until a 600 pound Bengal tiger has dropped a load about six inches in front of you. By the way, tigers love homechurned ice cream. The stand next door feeds its leftover fare to the big cats every night.
People at fairs smoke a lot, I notice. They smoke, their grandmother smokes, their foreign exchange student smokes, the baby smokes in the stroller, their dog smokes... so much for that Iowa public places smoking ban thing.
They sell everything - everything - at the Clay County Fair. From the Let's Cook With Turkey Right Now And I Mean Right Now Buster demonstration to a jacuzzi with a monthly payment plan that I swear to you is a full $100 a montly more than my last home mortgage payment, people will attempt to sell you anything, including a new combine, despite the fact that you are in fact employed as a short-order cook.
The fire-breather guy passes the hat, says he needs to collect for his grandmother's operation. "Hey, if grandma wants implants, grandma gets implants." I'm not so sure he was joking.
The barking of the carnies is a lost art form - no matter how fast you pass by they get their whole speil in. "C'momNow
As much as I tell myself I'd rather just stay home, it is not possible. In this region, the Clay County Fair is as much a part of the calendar as Christmas and the Fourth of July; it's a part of the changing of the seasons, sort of a solstice with a Nutty Bar and a bag of mini doughnuts.
For all the dust and the sore feet, the smell of horse droppings and the lady with the six-foot hairdo that stands directly in front of you at every show, here I am, and I will no doubt be back next year. If I weren't here, I'd be afriad that I would miss something. If you haven't been yet, I recommend it. Sandals season is over, you can always clip those toenails next spring.