State Fair chases away summer doldrums — at least for a little while

Thursday, August 20, 2009 | 7:56 p.m. CDT

August in Missouri is never easy. Most years, I survive by focusing on its few positive qualities. Chief among those are the happy coincidences of peach and baseball seasons.

This year, though, I’ve found myself spending an unhealthy amount of time reading the pages that aren’t sports, watching the news and even occasionally — always by accident, I swear — hearing a snippet of talk radio. Not even Jon Stewart’s analysis has been able to lift my spirits more than momentarily.

Will Afghanistan turn into an Iraq-like killing ground? Will the Republicans’ naysaying and willful distortions deprive us, again, of health care reform? Will one of those gun-toting “patriots” decide the pull the trigger? If you share these concerns, and I suspect many of you do, you may want to follow my example.

Sick and tired of being sick and tired, I put on my John Deere cap and headed to the 107th annual Missouri State Fair. No, I’m not kidding. Once you’ve shared the highlights of my day, you may agree that it was $6 (that’s the senior citizen admission) well spent. And it runs through Sunday.

I bought my ticket and walked into the Coliseum, where the judging of the 4-H steers was well under way. You and I should be as carefully coiffed as those 1,000-pound beauties. Jean-clad teenagers nervously led their placid animals into the show ring, prodded them to stand at attention for the judges and then – some triumphant and some just relieved – led them away again. If you ever need to feel better about America’s youth, I give you the 4-Her at the fair.

Oh, there was the occasional mishap. I watched as one steer, perhaps more nervous than he appeared, relieved himself and then ignored the girl who wadded up paper towels and swabbed his hindquarters. A bit later, the announcer told us that a red steer was wandering unattended in the direction of the midway.  

I wandered that way myself, also unattended. It wasn’t noon yet, and the rides hadn’t opened for business, so I detoured to the Assembly Hall and spent a pleasant half-hour listening to gospel music by the Faith Singers, a middle-aged trio who introduced themselves as being from little towns nobody ever heard of. As far as I, at least, was concerned, they were right.

From there, it was through the ranks of gleaming farm machinery in search of the Log Home Senior Citizens Lounge. Very nice, I thought, with free ice water and glaucoma screening. But there was a jarring note. The place was plastered with signs warning, “No Public Restrooms.” A geezer getaway with no restrooms struck me as downright cruel.

I pressed on, past the tent where an artist was using a chainsaw to carve a bear from a log. Outside, he had fliers offering to carve your name into a log (not the one he’s made into a bear, I suppose) for $30 a letter, with a $150 minimum. It was tempting, but I couldn’t wait.

I didn’t want to be late to the pig races, which I have to say turned out to be not so exciting to anyone over the age of about 8. Fortunately, the track was lined with little people. One girl of maybe 4 volunteered to be a “cheerleader,” but dropped her pompom in the path of the pigs and required comforting by her mother.

Still, that was a small blemish on a delightful, nostalgia-filled day. I topped off the excursion with a corn dog, something even I would never eat anywhere else.

I found a country music station on the radio and smiled all the way home. For a little while, August was actually enjoyable.

George Kennedy is a former managing editor at the Missourian and professor emeritus at the Missouri School of Journalism.

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