Monday, September 1, 2008

To Huron and Back

Garrison Keillor went to Iowa's; James Lileks went to Minnesota's; I thought I'd better speak up for South Dakota.

My wife, our daughters, a friend of my daughter, Grandbaby and I went to the State Fair Friday evening and Saturday. My wife wanted to see George Jones in concert Friday night for her 50th birthday, so she and I went to that while the girls (except for Grandbaby, who hung out with my Mom) used the carnival rides to inflict dizziness and gastric distress upon themselves.

I've never been a big fan of George Jones, but the old guy (77 later this month) did give a good effort; he was onstage for a solid 90 minutes. He can't sing like he once did, but most of his repertoire doesn't require soaring vocals; he can still croon well enough. His backup band, as you would expect, was thoroughly professional. I didn't know until I got there that South Dakota native Sherwin Linton was opening for him. Linton has been at it for about as long as Jones; I remember hearing about him when I was a kid. He's a Johnny Cash-style performer (he even titled an album "Hello, I'm not Johnny Cash"), and he still does it pretty well. Best of all, he knows what an opening act is about; he gave a solid 40 minutes or so, then stepped aside.

Before the show we wandered the food avenue looking for something relatively inexpensive and edible, finally settling on a pretty decent roast beef sandwich from the South Dakota Cattleman's Association booth, on the theory that since they produce the stuff they have an extra interest in making it good. They also had the added motivation of the South Dakota Pork Producers selling sandwiches next door; there was a bit of huckstering from both sides. Later I saw a booth offering alligator on a stick and was tempted to try it just as a novelty, but $6 for what appeared to be 4 small pieces of fried something was a bit steep for me.

My wife and I didn't wander through too many buildings; we've seen most of this before, and the heat made such incursions a threat to respiration. She did look over the wares for sale at the Senior Citizen's building while I bought a relatively cheap root beer float ($2 for a 12-oz can of root beer and a cup of ice cream - mix it yourself). We spent a lot of time at her favorite carnival game, Coin Push. Drop a token onto a flat surface with other tokens, small prizes and chips that can be exchanged for larger prizes; a board pushes everything toward a drop slot; whatever falls out is yours. It can be a bit addictive. My wife and stepdaughter both really get into it.

My daughter and her friend went through the reptile exhibit, while a man who worked there tried unsuccessfully to get my stepdaughter to pet a small snake he was holding. She did take Grandbaby on a camel ride in the kangaroo-pouch carrier she uses, and the petting zoo was a big hit. We missed the pig races, and I don't believe they had the trained bear show from last year, which drew huge crowds. They didn't have any of these attractions when I was growing up just a few miles from the Fair. It's good to see them trying to spice things up.

I did notice something interesting while carrying around Grandbaby (she wanted nothing to do with the bassinet-like stroller; there were Things To Be Seen). There's nothing like a small baby for positive female attention. The smiling, pointing and cooing were steady. I think I could have strolled through the women's restroom at the grandstand without much recrimination. I must note that I didn't use the kangaroo pouch. I guess I'm too old-fashioned, plus I have two arms but only one back.

Our strolling was limited by a desire to keep her out of the sun and small-animal-snatching wind, which turned our Saturday evening birthday-celebrating picnic into a merry game of Keep It on the Table. We considered tipping up some picnic tables to serve as a wind break, but potential balance issues nixed that. We had to use clamps to hold the tablecloths down. Nevertheless it was a fine gathering notable not just for my wife's birthday but for my stepdaughter's debut at the Women's Table, where maternal issues are discussed. My Dad, my brothers and I convened at the Men's Table, where the upcoming football season was a subject of much discourse. I know that all sounds terribly traditional, but hey, we went to a fair; what's more traditional than that?

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