In 1854, Richmond hosted the first State Fair of Virginia, and over 150 years later, Virginians from all walks of life still flock to the capital city for the fair. Last week, I joined their ranks to participate in the event.
Despite all the fun ways to blow cash at the fair, for me the random, humorous and passionate fairgoers were by far the most entertaining attraction. Fairs are not just about the fried food and pig races – the colorful people who are drawn to the fairgrounds serve as a reminder that some of life’s most enjoyable moments often require us to step out of our comfort zones.
After downing one of those oh-so-delicious foot-long corn dogs, and washing it down with some home-style sweet tea, I stepped off the midway and into Exhibition Hall, a large barn like structure where you can buy the latest miracle elixir, sign up for mail order Bible lessons, and save Virginia from gay marriage all under one roof.
No sooner had I entered the building, than I heard:
“If you were to die today, would you go to heaven?” I swung around to see an elderly man in a trucker’s hat, who asked me again, “You goin’ to heaven when you die?”
“Yes, sir,” I said, in the best Texas drawl I could muster.
Unconvinced that a Methodist like me was truly bound for the pearly gates, the anxious disciple handed me a business card that read, “Jim Steed, Ambassador for Christ to the Fairs of America.” Brandishing the promise of salvation, Steed, is devoting his twilight years to “saving” the unsaved at flea markets, county fairs, and state fairs across America.
Catty corner to the Ambassador and across the political spectrum, I met Elizabeth Prescott, a brave soul fighting in the uphill battle to convince Virginians to vote no to the proposed state constitutional ban on same sex marriage.
“We wanted to branch out to all kinds of folks, and get beyond our base,” said Prescott, as she explained why she volunteered for combat duty at the fair. Just across no-man’s-land and a few booths down, Prescott faced stiff competition from the vote-yes camp, whose big haired volunteers cajoled fair goers to sign the “Victory for God” petition.
I continued browsing the booths as I enjoyed some penuche nut fudge, until I arrived at the equally entertaining Sons of the Confederate Veterans booth, whose volunteers seem to walk write out of a King of Hill episode.
“They have covered up the truth of the war,” exclaimed one volunteer upon learning that I too hail from the South.
“We were invaded, and now they are acting like we should be ashamed,” said Kenneth Morris, referring to the south’s controversial history, “they have lied about what being Southern is all about.”
After cursing the Yankees and proudly slapping my “I support Confederate History month” sticker on my shirt, I ran into Sen. George Allen.
“I would have to say my favorite part of the fair would be the animals and the technology,” said Allen as he scrolled through a computer database of the sex offenders that live in his neighborhood, “but if there was a demolition derby, you couldn’t pull me away from it.”
On the way out of the Exhibition Hall, my hungry eyes spotted a sign advertising “German Nuts.” Intrigued by the emphasis on the German-ness of the nuts, I strolled up to the booth, approached the saleswoman, and asked “Sprechen Sie Deutsch?”
Her blank stare told me that she did not speak German, so I prompted her, “Oh, I was just curious if you were really German.”
“Nope, but we use a German recipe, and cook in German pots.”
Close enough for me – I walked away eating some very delicious almonds.
Originally started by farmers, state fairs now attract everyone from senators to gay rights activists to gutter guard salesmen, and that is the beauty of the fair. Nobody is too sophisticated to enjoy a pig race between Clay Aiken the Bacon, and Britney Spareribs. Regardless of whether you prefer Diesel or Wrangler jeans, everyone can enjoy a fried Twinkie, or better yet, a fried Oreo.
Instead of dismissing the Fair as a podunk farm convention, I looked passed the beer bellies and mullets to see a dynamic and colorful parade of people, whose values, while different from mine, make the world all the more interesting.
The State Fair and its diverse cast of characters reminds us that it does indeed take all kinds of people to make this world go ’round, and for that we should be so thankful.
Life is a fair, check your ego at the gate and simply enjoy.