there i was. surrounded by a people that i must call my own, but denying it all along. it seems odd that i would find myself in a situation as i did tonight because growing up in delaware, ohio, i have taken to the town’s activities like a fish to water. generally.
growing up, the county fair has been the pinnacle of almost every one of my septembers, and even though i have since outgrown the fair rides (either because of my size or the lack of control over my stomach), there is something very reminiscent about the smell of the fried “everything-you-could-ever-think-of”s, the dusty touch of the ground, and the hypnotic flash of the neon lights that draw anxious pre-teens closer to the carnies who run the nauseating swirly whirls. so when my roommates asked me if i would go again this year, i politely agreed.
we set out from our apartment in the early evening on a quiet friday, walking through the quaint delaware neighborhoods that lead up to the fair grounds, throwing a few harmless jokes at each other as boys do from time to time. it always seems of necessity that, in the company of men, one has to establish his “alpha male” status among the others. so we amused ourselves with doing just that until we arrived at the gates of the fair. i would be lying if i told you that i was beginning to get excited. but nonetheless, i was at least pleased to be there.
the ticket man charged us five dollars a piece in admission, proudly handing me a ticket that i was to hand to the woman who was standing right next to him. it seemed odd to me that they didn’t just take the five dollars and let me in. it might save the fair a few cents by not having to buy tickets, but there was probably a good reason for the waste of paper. there usually is.
we marched onward, taking in the scene around us and searching for our friends who were planning on meeting us there. after a little roaming around, trying to decide what delectable fried food we would purchase later, up arose an (apparently) ingenious idea among the group. “why don’t we go to the bus races?” now, excuse me for my inexperience, but i had never been to a bus race before, and from my previous experience at a monster truck rally (which, coincidentally, is the closest thing to a bus race–that i had witnessed–that i could think of), i wasn’t necessarily expecting anything spectacular. my fellow delawarians were sure to be there, and i was anticipating some interaction with (my intentions were–and still are–quite respectful) the kind residents who might be identified as fitting into the “redneck” people group. we entered into the gate that led to the seating area surrounding the bus racing arena, and i made sure to check the color of my neck as well. i thought that i felt a little blush ripple up from my spine.
we ventured along, trying to find a seat among the sea of folding chairs that seemed already occupied, eventually settling down about halfway deep into the crowd. i was still a little cautious of the whole thing, and it was incredibly obvious how many white people were concentrated in the relatively small area that we were sitting in. still, i felt a little out of place because i wasn’t wearing my white muscle shirt or a pair of overalls. i guess i missed the memo. and my attempt at facial hair seemed so insignificant compared to the number of beards that i saw around me. but what i lacked in facial hair i made up for in teeth, at least respectively. if nothing else, america was represented well with a cigarette and a bottle of beer in the hands of the toothless crowd, complete with the singing of the national anthem. how patriotic.
the bus races started shortly after the announcer man introduced the bus drivers and their respective vehicles, and i must say, i was a bit entertained. i was still marveling over how “redneck”-ish of an event i was at, but i was surprised at the intensity of the races. the crowd roared around me (or maybe that was just my stomach wanting fair food) as the buses crashed into each other on the dirt race track. it was thrilling at times. the buses emitted more exhaust than i had seen in one area ever before, and i thought to myself that it is events like these that are killing the polar bears up north. the epa would be appalled.
there was a particular moment (the apex, in my opinion) during the races where a bus crashed into the cement barriers that surrounded the track. i didn’t really see it happen because i was preoccupied with the two buses behind it who were ferociously battling for second place. nonetheless, the announcer called for everything to stop, and the crowd became quiet. in a particularly brave moment, i spoke up, feeling as if i was addressing the crowd as a whole, saying “they don’t stop in nascar!” apparently, a few more people heard me than i had expected, because i got laughs from three rows behind me. and much to my surprise, a woman directly in front of me (two rows forward) turned around, removed her cigarette from her mouth for just a second, and informed me that “yes they do! they wave the yellow flag sometimes!” this received an uproar of laughter from my friends next to me, and jordan defiantly turned to me and proclaimed “yeah ben! you aren’t in your element here, so you should keep quiet!”
i couldn’t have agreed with him more. and so i remained silent for the rest of the races.
eventually, we left the races and we headed back to the food stands. i ate some fried cheese (which was a tad disappointing, but good nonetheless) and then ventured to try a funnel cake. somewhere in there we all gathered around a machine that told us how hard we punched. all for the reasonable price of 50 cents. we punched a punching bag (that was attached to a machine device) as hard as we could, and it gave us a number between 100 and 900. the number was certainly meaningless, but we had a good time practicing our punch power in competition with each other. i couldn’t help but think why people like us would be so intent on trying something so violent out, and i came to the conclusion that it might be beneficial in case we got in fight with some of the friendly toothless grins around us.
and that was my night, in brief. i was anxious to leave, but there was something a bit romantic about the fair rides (particularly the ferris wheel) that all of the junior high and high schoolers were flocking around on our way out. in a strange way, the fair kept a piece of modernity in the center of the ride area as we heard the current top pop music songs being played for the pre-teens and teens to hide behind as they tried to talk to that special boy or girl that they had been eyeing in school for the past two weeks. whether they actually do it or not is not of significant importance. it’s the thought that they could if they actually intended to that counts, right?
oh, to be young again.