Those words, from lyrics by Rodgers & Hammerstein, are on many
Iowans lips this week as the annual extravaganza unfolds in Des Moines. The
state fair is a literal memory machine. For many Iowans, traditions built
around the fair connect several generations. The campgrounds and parking areas
are filled to overflowing every day during the fair’s 12-day run.
I was raised a few hours’ drive from the Iowa State Fair and it was not a big deal in my childhood, although we attended once or twice. As an adult, I lived within 15 miles of the fairgrounds for several years before I went. I’ve been a regular ever since, going two or three times each year. But it hasn’t developed into much of a family tradition.
In my early fair-going years, I took great delight in seeking out bargains. I knew where and when the best food samples could be found. I knew where the cheapest popcorn was and thoroughly enjoyed the free stage entertainment each evening.
The bargains are much harder to find these days and, while it is possible to avoid overpriced artery-clogging offerings like deep-dried Oreos and corn dogs, truly healthy food is a bit hard to find. The quality and diversity of the free stage shows have taken a noticeable dip, too, the past couple of years.
But, at its roots, our state fair is still a great state fair. We have big boars, hot tub salespeople, blue ribbon cakes, beer on a stick, a place where you can watch piglets being born, lamb burgers, pork chops on a stick and a cow made out of butter. Older buildings have undergone a facelift, new venues have sprouted and there are more air-conditioned places to take refuge from the brutal Iowa summer heat. And there are the people. Lots of people.
People-watching is the No. 1 reason I go to the fair. With a presidential election just around the corner (or so it seems), big shot politicians are regulars here. On a visit to the fair this week, I saw Sen. Tom Harkin being escorted around a building by one of the fair’s biggest benefactors, real estate magnate Bill Knapp. While Harkin was flipping chops on the grill at the pork producer’s tent, candidate Chris Dodd was giving a speech on a bale of hay.
These are a couple of my take-away memories from this year’s Iowa State Fair. What memories have you taken from your state’s fairs?
To read what others are saying on this subject at Janet’s blog, go here.