The stuff of dreams and lazy fall afternoons...

If you grew up in rural America, chances are you spent some of your late summer or early fall at the local fair.  Fair season is here in New England and closing quickly.  The last few years I’ve been bringing my kids to the local and regional fairs and this year was no exception.  However, this was the year for me to finally let go of the hand of my eldest while she and her “BFF” shrieked away, partially due to the excitement and probably in some part due to the freedom from Dad, although I stealthily kept her in sight as dads are want to do.

Since I was going to be wandering the fair alone this year, I brought my black and white camera to see if there was a new perspective to be gained through the lens.  What is the charm of the rural fair? I wondered if the things I remembered growing up and the things I noticed as I grew older met anywhere in a middle of some sorts.  The starkness of the black and white was revealing.  Here are just a few of the over 200 pictures I took that one visit.  Click on any one to enlarge.  I hope you enjoy the images and can fill in your own memories from them.

Oh, and my apologies to Cary Grant for the lousy pun.

The midway is always a mix of people, sights sounds and smells.  For me, some experiences you don’t process until you’ve walked past them.

The Candy man....I walked quickly by....

I always find the people fascinating, and I do love greasy fair food.  I Can’t imagine missing a year without having at least one fried dough.  I was a little amused to see the  fried Oreos, fried Twinkies and even fried candy bars.

smell the heartburn...

Standing to the side, watching the traffic stroll by.

This one seemed a little empty all day long....

But our local fair seems to be old and tired and I think that they may have always seemed that way though I never noticed when I was younger.

that this attraction wasn't condemned is what's frightening.

I could see the excitement and joy on my daughters face as she and her friend chattered while queued for the various rides.  It was interesting that some of these rides were probably futuristic looking at one time, not so much now.  Did I notice if they were futuristic when I was 13?  Would she notice they were dated?

leaning out a little too far....

One bump too many?

What we imagined our future to look like?

Needless to say, I couldn't get the right shot from there...

As I looked closer, the wear and tear was everywhere, not even subtle, but masked nonetheless by the buzz of the experience.  How else could you overlook things that were so obvious, to the point where I started wondering if I should allow her to go on any of them?

No sparkle during the day, a slight gap in the blink at night...

Sun set over the midway. The lights not on yet....

Many seemed to pre-date me. From the carousel to the flying bobs, nothing seemed to escape the ravages of time, the dings and dents of a transient usage and levels of neglect.

Not to paint too bleak a picture, I wondered to myself if it was just this one fair, but I’m sure I had some of the same thoughts at other traveling midways.

Yet, not one of the rides failed while we were there, dutifully whirring and spinning as designed, even if not as sparkling and pretty as they once may have been.  I rode them all when I was younger, the Zipper my biggest nemesis.

Usually, the Ferris wheel is where I gravitate to, just to get out of the crowds and sit down for a while.

The animals held little appeal for me when I was younger, though friends I grew up with who were 4Her’s lived all year for this.  Now I find it rewarding to wind through the various barns to see who was breeding what.  Not having grown up on a farm, I actually find it fascinating.  Although, I wonder when the Alpacas and Llamas first made their appearances next to the pigs and goats.  I’m quite sure I never saw any in our small Maine town.

He was not amused....

yes, that's his bottom tooth..

I happened to see an Ox the size of a small pick up truck, his thunderous stamping causing the ground to shudder underneath the pen.  I came upon the draft horses during the pulling contest and again was amazed at the size of some of these animals.  One horse appeared to be the lead of his team and stood motionless with his head held high over the fence, oblivious to his team mates who were chewing furiously on the rail in front of them.  He wore the same expression of pride as his mud-covered handler.

he was very proud indeed...

A snack between events...

Just how does rural America live? I may not have grown up in an urban setting, but I wasn’t anywhere close to living on a functional farm.  The nearest I ever came were the part-time summer jobs baling hay and cleaning chicken barns (a job that would bleach my work clothes totally white in a week, boots included) that helped me pay for my summer activities.

Walking through the exhibit halls, one sees things that seem curious, but only to those outsiders.  A collection of over 100 different milk bottles.

What does one do, pray tell, with a 500 pound pumpkin, aside from winning the ribbon? Amusingly, I watched a 16-year-old girl kick the pants off a bunch of men trying to oust her from her log-rolling perch.  Is this a skill in demand? Or a pastime I am not privy to?  No judgment, just asking.  Of course, my favorite exhibit was the local woman selling her award-winning fudge…Well, second to the old tractors.

Big friggin' punkin....

Made by Aunt Bee.....

I want one....I don't know why.

Not too many brave souls wanted to be embarrassed...

I tried to analyze just who was playing those midway games of chance.

Some seemed to attract the very young families, the squirting water type games or ball toss.  Others seemed to be more obvious to betting, laying down a quarter on a color or a number while a ball rolled around the table, almost dropping into the depression that would make the bettor his money back.

I even chanced to see that 14-year-old boy, trying to win a prize for his crush, he all red-faced and embarrassed, she all proud and cheering him on while giggling to her friends.

It would seem that this is the only explanation for the appeal, the lure of these games.

Where else would you spend 5 or 6 dollars for a toy so cheap and gaudy that you wouldn’t give a quarter for it at a local yard sale?

Obvious: The cost of the prize is far outweighed by the value of the memory involved in attaining it.  And if my daughter had asked, I would have exhausted a pocket full of quarters to win the reggae banana, although no one could tell me what a reggae banana has to do with a fair in the middle of rural New Hampshire.

probably one of the cheapest games to run....

All this for a quarter!

Okay, now you're just being silly....

Reggae Banana? Why?

How does this look under the lights to a 3-year-old?

I asked several carnies if I could take their pictures and got indignant no’s from every one of them.  Some didn’t even bother to wait for the question, they either waved me off or turned quickly and walked away at the site of my camera, making sure their back was the only view I had.  A fertile imagination paints them as wanted by authorities, living on the lam, if you could only imagine someone so desperate.  There were some who were obviously local teens, working part-time yapping with friends, letting them cut line.  Still others seemed morose and distant, some old and grizzled, some lacking teeth, a few lacking in some faculties, most lacking in hygiene.  Not all though.  Several were bright and talkative, doing what they could to engage you as you walked by their game, imploring you to try a chance at the elusive reggae banana.  Where do these people come from, where do they go each night? Who do they go home to? What and where is home?

The daily grind....

Sometimes, even carnies get to ride....

He turned his back quickly, then walked away. I ruined his break.

Where does he go at the end of the day?

Boredom...

The grandstand was  close to full, folks watching the demolition derby.  As the sun started to throw long shadows from the exhibition buildings across the midway, every attraction  started to glow and twinkle to it’s own rhythm.  There seemed to be an endless stream of people still making their way from the dirt field parking lot into the midway.  The fair seemed to take on a whole different life at night, less like working, more like play.  As loud as the Midway was earlier, it seemed to increase in volume as the sun dropped away.  The black and white stills taken at night had their own charm, their own way of hiding the flaws and blemishes only visible if you sat long enough to watch the flickering pattern to discern where the gaps of missing lamps occurred.  And even though those flaws were still there, they didn’t seem to matter to anyone else, colored light or not, night-time or not, as people continued to wait in line for their fried dough’s, creaky rides or reggae bananas.  In all, I’d say worth the $10 admission for the whole day.  I’ll be back again next year.

The longest lines all day.....

My old favorite.....seems so small these days...

Still going at 11:00.....