It only lasted 4 hours but they were the best, most therapeutic 4 hours I had had in a long time. Last night, from about 5:30pm to 9:30pm, I got to escape to my Beloved Fair. Or the best approximation offered during the roller coastery waves of a global pandemic.
Amen and hallelujah!
My Fair should have started last Friday. I mean, it rained for the first time in 51 days and everything. It almost always at least sprinkles on Opening Day, as if the Fair wants there to be no mistaking that it is decidedly Pacific Northwestern.
But, depressingly, once again my Fair was cancelled this year. Stupid, unrelenting virus.
Gloriously, the Fine Fair Folks found a way to still offer a tiny slice of Summer’s Best Party by bringing in a few nightly events and the carnival. THANK YOU, FINE FAIR FOLKS!! So last night – for one night only – Rob and I got to go Fairing and pretend for a spell that the past 17 months never happened.
The event was the rodeo. Or, more specifically, “Hell on Hooves.” Bucking the trend of wearing a flirty skirt and cowgirl boots, I gleefully dug out my favorite lime green Clark County Fair t-shirt, bright pink Clark County Fair sweatshirt, and super durable Clark County Fair cinch sack backpack. I was so out of practice, I totally forgot to include my Clark County Fair baseball hat and one of my 11 adorable pairs of fair-themed novelty earrings. BOO!
Wanting to make sure we got Our Favorite Seats, we arrived a touch early. Like 90 minutes. We parked in a lot we’ve never started our Fairing from before and got all sorts of confused as we wandered through the carnival towards the Grandstands.
I never appreciated before how my Fair sets the carnival up the same way every year, allowing Rob and me efficient and familiar passage to more adulty entertainment like the demolition derby and humming llamas.
Last night, all our landmarks were shuffled around or gone altogether. The kiddie rides were in the wrong place, there was a second Ferris Wheel inexplicably plunked in the middle of the action, and I never did see the ping-pong-ball-fish-game or the unnaturally-bouncy-basketball-hoops-game that always lead to the west exit of the carnival.
With new rides on site and old rides in new spots and chain link fences in places God never intended, we added an extra half-mile to the pedometer trying to crack the code on finding the entrance to the Grandstands.
We had heard the food options were limited. I thought perhaps only a booth or two would be open in the Food Court. Instead, because the theme of Covid-19 is “Don’t Plan Too Much,” the food options were simple tents and tables and even simpler menus. Our choices were: cheeseburger, hot dog, kettle corn, chips, bottled soft drink, snow cone, and pizza. I was grateful I had thought to bring some candy from home. Clearly I was too focused on food to remember earrings.
|The receptionist at an assisted living|
facility where a friend lives turned
me on to this fun little snack item.
It's basically Nerd Rope in ball form!
Chewy and tangy and crunchy and
Hot dogs, kettle corn, and a Sparkling Fresca in hand, we got settled into Our Favorite Seats which were now oddly numbered. Apparently we like Sections 107-108. And apparently the average Clark County booty is thought to be 18 inches wide. That might be accurate when you factor tiny kiddos into the math, but I’m here to tell you, 4 moderately sized adults unapologetically and quite comfortably occupied Seats 1-5 in Row N for the duration of the rodeo.
|Not sure why the numbers were necessary since|
our tickets were General Admission. Also very
impressed how precisely those 4 slender folks
positioned themselves between the stickers.
I wasn’t quite sure how many fans would show up last night, especially since the tickets only got you the rodeo and not the entire Fair Experience like normal years. When we arrived at 5:30, lots of back-friendly seats at the top of the lower section were open. A half-hour later, I was glad we arrived when we did. By 7:00 – show time – the grandstands were packed and I was trying really hard not to be all twitchy about being in a such a big group of people for the first time in two years.
As things got underway, I soaked in the moment. It was so familiar and so desperately missed.
I was wearing my Fair Swag, eating junk food, sitting on my inflatable camp cushion in Our Favorite Seats in the Grandstands with Rob and friends, gazing ahead as the sun lit up the carnival in front of the clearing Pacific Northwest rain clouds.
I had removed my hat for the National Anthem and was surrounded by rural and city folk sharing the experience of arm-dancing to “YMCA.” The Fair Court had ridden out on their horses – FINALLY having something to do since being crowned in August 2019 – and the same old-guy announcer with the twangy voice had once again made everyone uncomfortable when he described Mutton Bustin’ as “the only legalized form of child abuse.” Once upon a time that got a sincere laugh.
I absolutely loved being back home. And I might have wiped away a couple tears of gratitude when nobody was looking.
|At 21, these two Fair Court Women are the |
oldest I have ever heard announced. They
are also the only Court to have served two
years in a row.
|This view is one of the reasons I|
love Our Favorite Seats.
|Sheep dragging a toddler around|
the dirt arena. Such fun!
But things were also so different, too.
The smell wasn’t right. There was a whole mess of sheep and horses and cows and bulls within sight. Yet somehow, they weren’t enough to infuse the air with that distinct, heady mix of hay and poop and mammal sweat that just screams FAIR.
The numbered seats were odd, as if trying to bring some unnecessary order to a gathering process that already happens perfectly in its organicness.
The security was mystifyingly wimpy. We were astounded as we watched a local mom pop out of the section next to us and trot down the metal steps to the dirt arena. Once there, she hopped over the cement barrier and sauntered over to the metal gates comprising the boundary of the rodeo ring. Without asking permission or forgiveness, Mom climbed up on a gate, whipped out her cell phone, and proceeded to video her bronco-bucking son take an 8-second ride on a feisty horse. Without a word or a stern look from anyone in authority, she scampered back to her seat and her beer, toasting her boldness with the rest of the proud family.
Soon after, with nothing other than common sense to suggest otherwise, more parents started relocating to the arena’s fence barrier. Toddlers, kids in strollers, grade schoolers – all joined their parents around the ring of the rodeo with only 6 horizontal pipes of metal separating them from really big, really mad livestock. Eventually things like hospital bills and lawyers occurred to someone in charge. Security folks magically appeared to wrangle folks back to their seats without the use of lassos.
|Crowd gathered on the left, guy in green shirt|
fearlessly smoking next to the No Smoking sign,
security nowhere to be seen.
Anarchy at the rodeo!
Other than the two friends we arranged beforehand to sit with, Rob and I did not see anyone we know last night. So much of what I love about Fairing at my Fair is running into friends. It reminds me I still live in a small community and am part of something bigger than myself. With few places to wander…and still a little wigged out about being in big crowds even outdoors…there was not much opportunity to happen upon familiar faces last night. Distinctly not Fair.
We ended the night with one of our favorite Fair traditions, albeit without the precursor elephant ear. Gratefully, the one carnival ride that Rob and I go on was there, in its rightful spot at the north edge of the midway. The sun having set, Rob and I enjoyed a nighttime ride on the big Ferris Wheel, happily snuggling against the breeze, enjoying the bright lights of the other rides below us and the Portland metro beyond. But even that view was different, as the rest of the Fairgrounds was painfully dark and quiet. No animal sounds, no line for milkshakes, no lights from barns or tents, no screams from the slingshot ride. I was both gleefully happy and profoundly sad.
Despite the confusing mix of emotions, I am so grateful I got to Fair just a little bit last night. In the midst of the differences and the “not quite rights” and the reminders and awareness of still being in the throes of a global pandemic, there was still a desperately needed familiarity that fed my spirit.
As we took our last lap on the Ferris Wheel, I stared down at the Grandstands and the big American Flag and the lights of the carnival. I wondered what life will be like the next time I have that view. While I don’t dare presume an answer (insert Covid-19 theme here), I do know that life will be changed, I will be different, and that view will once again soothe my soul.