Tuesday, October 16, 2007

Fear and Loathing at The Fryburg Fair

Nothing sits in the hearts of Americans, both your rural hayseed hick and your most jaded urbanite than the country fair. Something about the air, the animals, the crowds, the cotton candy and candy apples makes a collective of Americans jostle about with smiles pasted to faces as if we're all standing in the Free Hand Job Line behind the Denny's in Portland.

I wake up early and make myself breakfast, and then take to the road towards the hamlet of Fryeburg, Maine, it's only claim to fame is this fucking fair. But this isn't just a run of the mill, country-of-Maine-country fair, this is THE fair. This fair makes all other fairs in this state look like the cheap asbestos-stuffed stuffed animals hanging from the overhead displays of the crooked games that line the midway. The Fryeburg Fair is the gem of fairs in an otherwise mud puddle of competition.

Shortly after 930 Sunday morning I arrive in town, navigated by a Garmen computerized GPS device that I borrowed from a friend. I name the voice Meredith for some reason, and on my trip through rural backroads lined with red and orange foliage, the occassional wild turkey, banjo-plucking inbred, I'm instructed on distances before turns, direction of turns, all while a helpful orange citrus-colored display scrolls by, at center a red arrow indicating my presence in the all seeing eye that is the satellite looking down. I follow the directions as Meredith speaks them to me, and soon I'm paying five dollars to a rough-looking biker type in a leather vest and kahki-colored cargo shorts.

"Oh man," he starts in after we exchange early morning pleasantries. He smells like Parliment tobacco and after shave. "Yesterday was awful, what a mess. You picked a good day to come. People were getting pissed and trying to leave all at the same time. What a mess," he continues on. I watch his mouth move from behind my sunglasses and nod along in the right places. I turn my head to the side a little and fish-eye him, yet he still keeps talking. I wait for my change from the 20 dollar bill I gave him.

He guides me to a spot up front, right at the access point. I can't believe how great of a spot it is. No one blocking my egress, should I have to leave in a hurry.

I stash my pistol in the center console and shut down the GPS.

The walk to the fair grounds is short, five minutes tops. I find that traffic is snarled closer to the fair, obviously, as people are sacrificing a few extra dollars more for a spot two hundred yards closer, and five hours longer to get out of. I smirk, knowing the game ahead of the curve. Soon I'm in a parade of converging fair-goers, tourists, leafers, children in crocs with shiny plastic backpacks and juice boxes. Mothers pushing strollers, an inordinate amount of woodland camoflauge sweatshirts and Dale Jr. baseball caps. A man to my front and right spits a jet of black from his mouth into the woods.

Overhead comes the chopping of whirring blades. Jesus Christ! We're under attack! I think to myself. I look skyward and watch an old Sikorski Schweizer fly slow and lazy over head. A sign by the entrance advertizes "helicopter rides" with an arrow pointing to where to go. Throughout the day I would watch this helicopter encircle the fair grounds as if hunting VC amidst the tractor pulls and merry-go-rounds.

I pay my eight dollar entrance fee and instantly hand the ticket off to a sentry manning a gate. Literally the ticket stays in my hands for thirty-seven seconds, and brings to mind the point of even buying these tickets in the first place. Seems like an inefficient waste of money and time. I let it go when I see the gluttonous exhibition of hasheries circled literally like wagons defending an indian attack. Cotton Candy, Giant Turkey Legs, Blooming Onions, Soups in Bread Bowls, you name it, they have it. I approach a vendor, wallet in hand.

"What can I get you?" Says the man behind the glass. I look at the menu and exclaim aloud:

"Good god! Three dollars for a corn dog!" My shock is not wasted on the man behind the glass. He rolls his eyes a little and glances back.

"You want one?" I slowly step away, feeling eyes on me, burning holes into my back.

I spend the next few hours drifting from food vendors to animal exhibits. My mother gave me ten dollars to find a catnip pillow for her cats, but I find nothing that is worth spending the money on, so I pocket it for food later.

Nothing really excites me at the fair. There's a menagerie of wares and crafts that are extremely over priced. I can appriciate the artisanship and craftwork that went into a cabinet, but there's no way I can justify spending seventy-five dollars on a "knife caddy" painted in Hydromorphone-induced puke green. There's crystal balls that hang from leather teathers that spin to the slightest touch, intricate designs painted on them. There's wine bottles with Christmas lights in them. Vibrating pillows and super absorbant mops. Men with microphones affixed to their faces harken back to carnivale barkers, pitching their wares to the throngs that slowly shuffle by gawking like rubberneckers at a fatal car accident.

As I step out into the sun, a display catches my eye, and like that I become zombie-bitten like the rest of the horde in the craft house. A man is selling varying types of jerkies. Salted, marinated, sweetened, toughened, bits of chewy-dried meat displayed behind glass. It's in ropes and in sheets. I push my tongue into the corner of my mouth just as a salesperson approaches.

"Would you like to try a sample, sir?" He speaks to me. I pop an eyebrow over my sunglasses and I must grin because he's already got the tub of shredded sample pieces in hand, cover off. I dig in and take out a chip and chew. It tastes like the sole of a used boot fished out of a river. I manage a smile and tell him that it has a "kick," which makes me laugh inwardly, referencing the boot-like taste. He agrees, telling me it's blah-blah-blah marinated and that a rope would cost me three dollars.

"Man, three dollars gets me a whole corn dog," and he looks confused at my statement. I bid him farewell, still gnawing down on the chip of jerky and enter the sunlight.

The bit of jerky sparked my appetite and I find a wagon that sells french fries. A whole tub of fries with cheese costs eight dollars. I nearly choke the carney when I read that a medium soda is three dollars. I get nine dollars in change, take what I would believe would equate to five dollars in napkins and go enjoy my cheesey fries and coke.

After my snack I wander to the Alpaca section. Alpacas are not Llamas, as people often confuse them. There's a difference, and any Alpaca farmer will tell you what those are. But I am not an Alpaca farmer, so they basically look like Llamas, but you'll have to believe me when I tell you they were Alpacas and not Llamas.

I lean over and take a picture of one and a man approaches me.

"They sure are a precious beast," he says. He's about 40ish and in over alls. He picks at his teeth with, no joke, a toothpick that he has parked between his lip and gum.

"Are you the owner of these fine pack animals?" I ask.

"Sure as shit am," he responds with a nod. I nod along as well, feeling the fine Alpaca fur as the beast eats hay from a dispenser.

"How much," I say.

"How much for what? The wool? Well, a sweater's about 50-" he starts.

"No, no. How much for the Alpaca."

"The Alpaca?" He asks. I affirm. "Well, he's not... not for sale, sir" The man says somewhat bewilderedly.

"I know he's not for sale! How much does one cost!"

"Oh, well ok, um, a kid will cost between 1000 and 1500 depending on their genes and the quality of the mother's wool, you see-"

"Do they make good jerky?"


"Alpaca jerky. I want to grow and sell Alpaca Jerky." He stares into my black sunglasses for a long time.

"You're a nutty shit, huh?" He says finally.

"Which way to the helicopter rides?" And I'm off on my way.

It's twenty-five dollars for what appears to be a five minute trip around the fair grounds from about five thousand feet. I wait my turn in line and watch as the Sikorski drops in low and fast, never shutting down it's rotors as it drops off and picks up new passengers. There's a minimal ground crew, and it seems to be a purely cash operation. While I wait in line I start to budget out the money made at the Fryeburg Fair for some of these people. This is what I come up with in a round about way of factoring:

If you charge some dickweed local three dollars for a corn dog that costs one dollar, you're making two dollars on every deep friend piece of styrofoam you sell. Plus you're selling soda at 1000% profit. Rental space is probably 1000 bucks for a week, costs for supplies are probably another two grand.

By my estimates these vendors have paid for their rental and supplies in the first day. More so if the weather cooperates.

But by now I've reached the front of the line and the chopper is coming in for a landing. The rotor wash is enough to rock me back in my tennis shoes and an attendant opens the gate and motions me through after taking my money. We duck walk over to the chopper as it sits running' the departing passengers egress from the opposite side, a very efficient operation indeed.

I sit in next to the pilot and put headphones on with a mic attatched.

"You it?" He says in a cowboy-twangy kinda way. I nod and he shuts the door. "We're gonna go up to about 7500, and I'ma swing around the whole grounds, let you see things from up above, ok?" The voice crackles in my ear. I give the thumbs up and we're off into the air.

It's jerky and you can feel the wind against the air-lite frame. Soon we're over trees and there's another jerk as we come out of the verticle climb and move forward. I lean over a bit and look through the glass floor down below.

"It's real nice up here, huh?" The crackle comes back. I nod.

"Good for hunting the VC?" I say back. The pilot is facing forward, stock still. His aviator sunglasses reflecting sunlight in a sunburst against my own dark sunglasses.

"Yeah" comes the delayed response, and suddenly my asshole clenches because I think he's flipped some switch and gone back to the jungle. The rest of the ride is very quiet and full of tension.

We land and I decide to call it a day. I have a turkey dinner and a piece of a friend dough before walking back to my truck. Meredith greets me and I ride home conversing with the robot steering my car.

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