Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Iowa State Fair

Ah, the Iowa State Fair! Books have been written, films and musicals have been made over this quintessential American institution. It started off as an agricultural celebration, so farmers from all over Iowa could show off their prize pigs (bulls, lambs, pumpkins...) and farmers’ wives could compete over who made the best cherry pie (chocolate cake, pickles, quilt...). Over the years the Iowa State Fair has grown quite a reputation for outstanding competitions and exhibits, midway rides, and dozens of food specialties that aren’t authentic unless served "deep-fried" or "on-a-stick" (preferably both!).

Tuesday morning I drove over to Des Moines on beautiful Interstate 80 (this is a joke... I-80 stretches 2900 miles from New Jersey to California, and the 300 miles across Iowa are a vast expanse of corn fields). About 40 miles outside of town I drove into this huge black cloud.

Of course, this meant that instead of 108 degrees Fahrenheit (41 degrees Celsius) which is normal for the fair, it was cloudy and rainy. But by mid-afternoon the rain stopped and it was comfortably cool. I parked at a high school and a yellow school bus took me to the fairgrounds. I include a photo here, because one of the first things my Austrian students asked me was "Is it true that in America children ride to school in yellow buses?" Yes, folks, and here’s your proof!

I have a confession... this was my first ever Iowa State Fair. I think I went to a concert on the fairgrounds once, but the fair itself was totally new to me. I met my best friend Robin and her family (Roger, Philip, Laura) who are seasoned professional fair-goers. They mapped out our day to maximize the total fair experience. We saw the big boar (1259 lbs = 572 kg), the big bull (a 3012 lb. Charolais nicknamed Tiny, below) and the butter cow (a life-size cow made entirely out of butter).

ON-A-STICK: Food at the Fair
We ate our way across the fairgrounds. I personally indulged in "Funtastic" Pork-On-A-Stick (pork ribs, the stick was the rib bone), a Dutch-Letter-On-A-Stick (puff pastry filled with marzipan), sweet potato fries (a Southern specialty), fried cheese curds, chocolate chip cookies and an ice cream sandwich made from Oreos, fudge and peppermint ice cream. Other foods consumed included a Cattleman’s Association triple-decker burger, a corndog, and eggroll.

4H is an organization for youngsters that focuses on Head, Heart, Hands and Health. The kids participate in livestock, crafts, and food competitions. They always look like they're having so much fun!The next level of competition is the Future Farmers of America (FFA) for participants 19-30 years old. Like the grown-ups, everyone competes for ribbons: a blue ribbon is first place, red is second place, and white is third place. A big purple ribbon is the highest honor (Grand Champion). Here is a Grand Champion miniature horse:
There’s also a talent competition.

The State Fair Queen likely has participated in beauty and talent pageants all her life, and won preliminary contests, like the Pork Queen and Pork Princesses from Bremer County (Thanks for the photo-op, girls!).

It is a tremendous honor to be selected State Fair Queen, but it does come with some unpleasant duties, such as presiding over the Outhouse Races. (Can't you just see the look of disdain on this poor girl's face!?)

The Midway has lots of food (popcorn, cotton candy, funnel cakes), carnival rides (growing up my favorite was the Tilt-A-Whirl... now I can’t even look at a ride without feeling queasy!), and games like Skee-Ball, Ring Toss, Hoop Shot, Milk Can, Pick A Duck, and the Air Rifle Gallery. Laura and Philip won plush dolphins in the Bust-A-Balloon game.

One of our last stops was the Learning Center, where we got to see all sorts of baby animals (we went specifically to see the baby ostriches!). One of the calves was born at 9:00 that very morning! There’s a hatchery where you can see baby chicks busting out of their shells, then resting exhausted on the wire floor for a few minutes before hopping up on their feet and continuing on their merry way. It’s also a sort of petting zoo, where you can pet piglets, lambs, kids, and ducklings – the baby goats were soooooo soft!

At the end of the day, we were all exhausted and mildly regretted our unhealthy food choices. After Philip found where they’d parked the Volvo, my friends drove me back to my car at the high school, and I headed back to Iowa City in another cloudburst. Thanks, everybody, for making my first State Fair a truly memorable event!


Cora said...

You are too much. You take the reader along with you and tell the most informative stories... Do the kids really find it funny that we ride to school in yellow busses? That's funny. Love the Fair... Kisses...

JKS said...

Students in Austria get to school by whatever means of transportation there is: bus, train, street car... they get a special pass to take public transportation, but there's really no bus system specifically to take them to school. Thus the novelty of industrial yellow school buses with windows that open, one entrance door at the front, emergency exit in the back, and a list of rules prominently posted above the driver's mirror!

Caitlin said...

Joey, this looks so awesome! Maybe America and Styria aren't so different. I got to meet a Pork Princess in DC once, which was pretty exciting, but you got to see her in her natural habitat! Hope you're having a great time!