The Michigan State Fair

I got the idea for this essay from the video for the song inserted at the end. So I will spare you the verbiage and get to it as soon as I can get there.

Yet, some words are indicated. "Bare" with me.

You know how as a grade school kid you probably looked forward to the summer recess? For me it was a time of exquisite longing. Just thinking about the coming THREE WHOLE MONTHS OFF! from classes filled me with giddy delight. And an aching longing of the most unendurable kind; when will it ever get here?
Capping the summers of fun was the State Fair. The Michigan State Fair is claimed to have been the first in the country, going back to 1849. In 1905 the State Fair got its permanent location in Detroit thanks to a group of citizens led by Mr. Joseph L. Hudson, the founder of that great and, alas, now disappeared eponymous J.L. Hudson Department Store. Hudson's rivaled Macy’s for size and was a wonderland for me. They had EVERYTHING. I could go on and on about my times in that store, but will save that for later. [Just a sneak peak... I had a big crush on Christmas Carol. I loved her from afar. She would arrive with Santa at the end of the Thanksgiving parade and climb onto the overhang platform at the store's main entrance. She was my Lady Gaga: the brightest red coat, white stockings, patent leather shoes and hair to match (the shoes, that is). Also, as pretty a thing that I had ever seen. She swept me off my feet. I had the experience one year after that parade of being swept along by a crowd. Not off my feet, thankfully. But close. Escaped, though.] Sadly, the flagship location in Downtown Detroit on Woodward Avenue was demolished in 1998.
The Michigan State Fair also ended, in 2009, due to spending cuts. But by then it was no longer the spectacle that I remember from my youth.
Being Michigan, and Detroit, the State Fair always saw a big show from the auto manufacturers. In my youth, that would be Ford, Chrysler, and General Motors. Any others, and imports, were strictly side shows. The difference from the annual Downtown Cobo Hall car show was that at the State Fair, it was a people’s show. The car models were all there to touch and sit it in. Hands on was the rule.
Of course, there was a lot of food. The two items that seemed to be regular staples for me were the French fries sprinkled with malt vinegar and the frozen custard. The fries were thin cut, crisp and the only time that I ever ate them with vinegar as a condiment. Delicious, but it didn’t fly in my parents’ home, so only once a year. The frozen custard is still something that I am always on the lookout for. Light and airy, rich and creamy; it was there before Dairy Queen and never equaled since; though DQ is still, as ever, a nice treat.
Also, there was the opportunity to look at all the farm animals up close and the farm equipment and all the displays of amazing new products. The slice it dice it Veg-O-Matic guy was always guaranteed to drop jaws at his speed and finesse. That, there, was a pitchman.
The State Fair was an important window on the world. I felt like some hick kid being exposed to the world of things outside the boundaries of my small town mentality. Not just the kind of exposure you get from books or watching television. At the State Fair you got hands on, direct contact. Up close with no adults hovering over to keep you in check. We crawled around the Michigan State Fair like the true explorers that we were.
If summer was the jewel of the year and the State Fair was the capstone of that season, then the midway was the ultimate experience, and a most indelible one. Besides the usual rides—no biggie, since we had the real deals all summer long at Jefferson Beach Park and Eastwood Park—there were the so-called attractions. Those money rakers each featuring a wise mouth barker on stage in front of hand painted signs promising the excellences and live oddities on view just on the other side of the curtain. Step right up, step right up! Tickets, please. But, as you may recall yourself, the reality never met up with the hype.
And, in the center of it all was the Girly Show. Live beautiful sexy ladies who will reveal for you all their secret charms. Also, just behind the curtain. For a price. For many years all’s I could do was stand there and listen to the barker and his tempting spiel and be filled with fantasy and nervous wonderment. Simultaneously full of Catholic-boy conflict between the fear that what would be just behind that curtain would guarantee me a swift trip straight to hell and the impossible to ignore delicious feelings of…of… all sorts. Sweaty palms. Does my nervous fidgeting show?

Well here it is. The Girly Show. The song, just wonderful. Step right up. Step right up! (It’s not over ‘til the fat lady smiles. Then, it ends unceremoniously. Let's go, folks. Make way for the next bunch (of suckers). Move along. That's right.)

No comments: