Monday, August 15, 2011

The Year of the.....what??

I knew that after the glorious conclusion of the exalted RAGBRAI, it would be too hard to go back to cold harsh reality in one fell swoop. So, forward-thinking person that I am, I made plans to go to the Indiana State Fair with some of the Cancerchicks, namely Cori and The Rack, Melindy, and Angela, who actually lives in Indy and on whose doorstep we’d be showing up.

Now, I knew that this year’s State Fair would have a tough time living up to the Glory Year, that is the Year of the Tomato, in 2009. Ah, I remember it as if it were yesterday – the world seemed a shinier, happier place, bright with optimism and hope. Yes, we can!

But then, tomatoes have that effect on people, being the fun, whimsical, even jaunty little fellows they are. Who doesn’t love a tomato, really? Other than Communists, that is. So clearly that year they had a lot to work with, the State Fair Decorating Committee. And decorate they did! Everywhere you looked, tomatoes! Tomato plants tucked into planters, tomato sculptures, tomato needlepoint, tomato souvenirs – I still cherish my tomato coin bank and tomato coaster.

Thus, you can imagine that I was a bit skeptical when I read that this year was going to be the Year of the Drab Soybean. What the heck can you do with a soybean?? But I thought, those Indianans are a crafty, wily bunch, and they’ve had years of experience with this. I’m sure they’ll come up with something.

So off Cori and I went in her Taylor-Swiftmobile, still cheekily decorated after she took her daughter to the concert the night before (aka “Honk if you love T-Swift!”), into the warp in the time-space continuum that is I-65 that goes from Chicago to Indianapolis. Consider yourselves warned when you too travel this route, that the actual miles driven twist and expand somehow so that 3 hours seems like 9, and every 50 miles seems like an eternity. If I’m ever told I have just a week to live, I’m going to spend that week driving back and forth on I-65….because it will seem like I’m living forever.

We do finally make it, lo after some 5 days of driving, and hie ourselves off to the fair, where my first mission is to find some kind of food-on-a-stick, the staple of all fair food. But first, pictures! There to greet us in all his soybean glory is Bennie the Bean, so of course we seize upon this photo opportunity, and Melinda posts the pic of the 2 of us on Facebook.

The reaction is immediate.

Kim: Umm, why are you guys posing with a boob?

Jan: I’m with Kim – that really does look like a boobie!

Me and Melinda, in unison: We know.

Things continue along in this vein, with us taking pictures and our worldwide fans exclaiming at how this year’s theme seems to be designed just for us! The only thing better than the beans are the beaver shots we’re taking for Angie. Apparently Montreal is the beaver capital of the world or something. Who knew?

It’s pretty obvious though that the poor State Fair Decorators became a little disheartened and discouraged by the task at hand. Again, tomatoes = jaunty and fun. Soybeans = staid and bean-like. Drab, even! The little rotunda in the middle of the fair that was so cheerfully festooned 2 years ago with tomato memorabilia is a mere shadow of its former self. We go into one of the buildings and the crowd is clustered around the – what else – Red Gold tomato booth, clamoring for a bit of cheer and extravaganza. I discuss the situation with the Red Gold guy behind their counter.

Me: Ah, tomatoes. No wonder you guys are being mobbed – not much competition there with the soybean, eh?

Red Gold Guy: Everyone does love a tomato.

Me: Yes, I fondly remember the glory days from 2 years ago, the Year of the Tomato at the fair.

RGG: Sigh, I was here for that. It was magnificent.

Me: It was, wasn’t it? I feel bad for the poor folks tasked with the soybean decorations. There’s not much there to work with, is there….

RGG, diplomatically: Soybeans are…..challenging.

The day continues in typical fashion. We make fun of Cori for buying salad on a stick, which consists of basically lettuce. I break a child’s heart by winning the squirt gun game, even after he has his mother whispering tips into his ear. “Aim high!” Alrighty then, lady. There are no whimsical soybean coin banks. No coasters. No tomato plants growing the Nipsy Russell. The best we can find are buttons that proclaim this the year of the soybean, and when I pin it to my shirt I look like I have a third boob. You can tell that even the can sculpture people were gripped by malaise, nay despair. For Tomato Year, the Canstruction exhibit had the most amazing things made out of cans: ferris wheels! The Starship Enterprise!

This year? A truck. A box. No really, a box. Not that I blame them.

Still, we do what we can, and head over to the Pioneer Farm area to see what kind of a ruckus we can stir up. This is the kind of place where I always get myself into trouble – and today is no exception.

Because of course the first thing I make a beeline to is a stand where two adorable urchins in gingham dresses are selling…..something. Turns out it’s sorghum. What the hell is sorghum, you ask? Even now, I have no idea.

Me, to genuine farmer standing there at the booth too: What do you use sorghum for?

Farmer, who starts channeling Forrest Gump: Oh, lots of things! You can put it on pancakes, or on cornbread, or on toast. Goes with apples, or bananas, or even pears. Peaches! Bananas, melon…, we’ve got a sheet that tells you all the things you can do with sorghum.

Me: Do you make all of it yourself?

Farmer: Ayup.

Me: Well, I...

Farmer: Got lot of vitamins and minerals too, nothing better for your health....

Sigh. How can I look at these jars with the little homemade labels on them proudly pronouncing that this is sorghum from Pumphrey’s Farm, and not buy some? I can’t, of course, so off goes a jar of sorghum into my bag, to add to the whipped honey and all the other homemade stuff I’ve bought. Which is one of the reasons I love the IN State Fair so much – they have actual vendors like this, rather than the WI State Fair which just seems to have a lot of people selling sham-wows and the like.

(Though it’s perhaps a bit telling that later, back in Huntley, when I try to pawn the sorghum off on my mom by acting as if I was all generous and such in buying it for her, she’s having none of it: “Sorghum? What the heck is that?” Again, sigh.)

We manage to leave the fair having partaken of an inadequate amount of fried food, though all were in agreement that the fried green tomatoes (of course!) were the best. That evening at Angela’s, we have tomato sandwiches (of course!), which are delicious, and then sadly, Cori and start heading back to IL the next day.

Where we see for ourselves just how cursed I-65 is. Because I glance over at one point, and see what appears to be a burned out truck, over on the far

shoulder. Then we see two police cars blocking off the road. Then we see a backup of cars. Which turns out to be…….Twelve. Miles. Long. And there’s an exit right before the accident where cars are being funneled off, but the next exit isn’t until 10 miles away, and there’s no one there telling these poor people that they should get off NOW before they get stuck for hours.

Because I look this up on Cori’s iPad…….and that road has been closed since 3:45AM. And it’s now 1PM. Nine. Fucking. Hours.

Oh my god.

And it’s still closed.

And I’m getting confused trying to find THIS story because there’s a story about another accident on

I-65 that happened on Wednedsay, aka the day we were headed down to Indianapolis – and that one shut down I-65 for about 11 hours.

And we missed that by about 15 minutes.

Oh. My. God.

Both of those accidents happened at a point where traffic was slowing down due to construction, or where traffic was moving down to one lane, and a

truck plowed into those who had slowed down so heed these words – if you’re ever traveling on I-65 and

traffic slows, be looking into your rearview mirror and be prepared to bolt off the road, just in case. Apparently there’s something about the stupor of driving on I-65 that makes people forget that oh yeah, I might have to slow down or stop at some point. Then of course Saturday night was the horrible and tragic stage collapse at the IN State Fair – so I’m kind of feeling like Cori and I somehow left a trail of calamity in our wake.

We did manage to bring joy and happiness to one small corner of Indiana, however – this was when we stopped at the Fair Oaks Dairy, to break up our 10-hour car ride back home. This place is known for its homemade ice cream and cheese, though I’ve never seen the actual making of the cheese. This time though there was an actual convict-looking person behind the glass in the dairy-making section, so I guess that’s a start.

Anyway! We’re perusing the cheeses, and a chipper young man is peddling cheese samples: “Try some cheese! Gouda! Gouda is known to help fight cancer, so get some cheese and prevent cancer!”

Cori and I look at each other, grinning.

Me: Sorry, it’s too late.

Cori: We both have had cancer. What can cheese do for us?

He looks stumped for a moment. But then:

“Get your cheese here! Help prevent a second round of cancer!”

We then suggest that they should wrap the cheese up in pink and pink ribbons and really push the cancer-fighting thing, and the girl behind the cheese counter loves this idea.

“Hey, that’s a great idea! Especially in October or whatever month it is, we can do a whole display of pink! Really push the cheese and the cancer thing! Omg, that’s brilliant! I should SO get a raise for thinking of this! Where’s our manager? Hey, I should get a raise for this great idea I came up with!”

Thankfully the deliciousness of the cheese and subsequent ice cream makes Cori and I forget the fact that our idea has been stolen and we’ve been shuttled off to the side, like chopped liver. But if you stop at the Fair Oaks Dairy in October and it’s a vision in pink, well, you’ll know why….


Robyn said...

Oh noes. The salad on a stick looks tragic. Shame on Cori.

Rummy said...

Please tell me that for $3 the salad on a stick was more than one cherry tomato, one cucumber slice, and a couple squares of lettuce.

I think I'm going to rip off - er - market this to people in this part of the country

Tasha the Triathlon Goddess said...

Well, the salad-on-a-stick did have a few more lettuce squares, and perhaps another tomato and cucumber slice. But yeah, that was it. I know, quite the racket, huh?

Anonymous said...

Who's looking at the "salad on the stick" when you have "the rack" in the picture

Suerae Stein said...

Hysterical post, Tasha! I loved the part about one week to live driving up and down the highway! I need you to come here during the Cheshire Fair. Not quite the spectacle of the Indiana State Fair but a spectacle just the same. I actually hate this fair and need someone like you to make me see the hidden gems! ~ Suerae