Monday, August 5, 2013

Aliens at the Fair

Abraham Lincoln was known as a storyteller, something you could get away with in the politics of 19th-century America, back before social media made it a liability.  Almost every one of the personal reminiscences of people who knew him comment on this trait one way or another.  It was one of the things that made him who he was. 

One of this favorite stories was that of a man being run out of town on a rail.  “If it weren’t for the honor of the thing,” the man says at the end, “I’d just as soon walk.”

I thought about this story a lot yesterday, as we walked around the Wisconsin State Fair.

For those of you unfamiliar with the Wisconsin State Fair, it is pretty much what you would expect to happen when you take far too many residents of a state famous for beer consumption and concentrate them into a square-mile plot of land full of carnival rides, fried food, and livestock.

Feeding time at the human zoo, in other words.

But it was an honor to be going, because this was the State Fair debut of our 4H Drama production from May.  And in the end, a good time was had by all. 

Even me.  Go figure!

When we won the Drama Festival in May it came with an invitation to perform at the State Fair.  On the one hand, this is in fact a nice honor and very exciting for the kids.  They worked very hard to achieve this and it is good to see them recognized for it.  On the other hand, it meant corralling nearly two-dozen kids and their families – by definition rather high-involvement people and therefore folks with limited time to spare – into several pick-up rehearsals (because who remembers lines from three months earlier?) and then the State Fair itself.  And since the tech stuff that was integral to the play could not be transferred to the stage at the State Fair, it also meant a certain amount of both re-writing the play and rejiggering what tech could be done.

So Addison and Jamie rewrote the play to accommodate the bits we couldn’t do, and Tabitha and Kim downloaded sound cues onto the iPod to take care of the bits we could, and it was good.

We showed up to the Fair at about 8:15 on Sunday morning, which is apparently what you have to do if you want to get a parking spot anywhere near the actual Fairgrounds.  They had given us an Access Pass so we could drop off our props and costumes at the Youth Center – they would be transported by golf cart to the stage later – but this didn’t come with parking privileges, so we eventually found a nice spot in the lot near the north entrance to the Fairgrounds.

We made our way onto the grounds and immediately saw this:

Whether this was a typo, as I thought, or a sign that the sugar had been caffeinated, as Lauren suggested, we never found out.

We found the stage fairly quickly and set about getting ready.  We worked out the sound cues with the crew there, did a quick read-through of lines, and then got into costume.

The kids actually performed three times, but for the sake of simplicity I’m going to lump the photos together here. 

Once the morning performance was over we pretty much had the day to run about the Fair.  Our first show was about midmorning and the last two weren’t until late afternoon, which gave us about five hours to wander about the place.

Sweet dancing monkeys on a stick, but it was packed with both people and stuff.

If an alien (ha!  I kill me…) were beamed down into the Wisconsin State Fair and told to report back to her superiors as to what the culture was like, the first word in the report would probably be “hungry.”  Followed shortly after by “deep-fried.”  If it can be dipped in batter, wrapped in bacon, skewered onto a stick, and then deep-fried, you can find it at the Fair.  And you can find it fairly easily – by my guess the longest you could walk in a straight line without running into a place trying to sell you food was about ten yards, not counting the livestock barns or the midway.  There were some really great things for sale and some really awful ones, and we spent much of the day grazing our way through both.

By the way – State Fair Creampuffs?  Not as good as the ones here in Our Little Town.  This is considered heresy here in Wisconsin, but so be it.  I’ve done the experiment.  Science!  It works!

Eventually Grandma and Grandpa joined us, along with our nephew and niece.  This took some doing, since the arrived pretty much at exactly the wrong time, play-performance-wise, and for some reason our cell phones would not actually make calls on the Fairgrounds despite having a plethora of those little bar things that supposedly tell you that you can make calls.  But we got it worked out after a while, and they got to see the last of the performances.

The other memorable thing we did there was watch the horse pulling contests. 

This is more interesting than you would think.

Basically about half the population of the Fairgrounds gathers into a building right near our stage, where they sit in the bleachers and are repeatedly admonished to be silent by an announcer speaking over a loudspeaker, an announcer who is apparently impervious to irony.  The crowd takes this very seriously, however.  You get the distinct impression that any yahoo who decides to whoop and holler during the pull would be folded into a small box and mailed home by the slowest available option.  Once you watch the event you understand why – spooking the horses would very likely lead to either horses or handlers getting seriously hurt – but it is a strange thing to see unfold before you.

There is a refurbished truck in the middle of the ring with a set of ponderously heavy weights attached to it.  And the job of the horses is to lift those weights and pull that truck backwards as far as they can.  If they get the truck to the magic line of 27’6”, they are done until the next round.  Where this number came from I do not know.

So you sit there.  Eventually out comes a man who would be the biggest living thing you have ever seen except for the fact that he is driving two horses who could throw him over the railing without even noticing.  The man and the rest of his team maneuver the team to the back of the truck and hook them onto the tow rig (a complicated and dicey process, since the horses are so eager to be pulling that they often bolt), and then off they go.  And then the process repeats for another man and another team of horses.

You’d be surprised at how absorbing this is.

Eventually our day came to an end and we drove home and went straight to bed.

It was a good day.


Unknown said...

And if you can't get enough horsepull info from that description, you can watch it all at horsepull,com which is a national clearinghouse for all things related to horses and pulling. What a fascinating subculture!

John the Scientist said...

If they get the truck to the magic line of 27’6”, they are done until the next round. Where this number came from I do not know.

I guessed it was a medieval plowing distance, but the rod is 16.5 feet and a furlong is 660 feet (is it wrong that I once had the speed of light meorized in various units, including furlongs / fortnight: 1.8026E12)?

A little Googling revealed it has to do with the first use of a dynamometer to test a horse's power cycle:

When testing horsepower in the early 1900's....many tests were done including the fitting of the harness, feeding the horse, time and speed in pulling. The short of it is when a horse pulled the distance of 27'06" he lost his maximum power. That is why we still use the 27'06 distance in the midwest yet today! There are other parts of the Country that choose to use a different distance, but most pulls are 27'06!

KimK said...

John, thanks for doing research on that question. And how exciting, it has to do with physics and horse kinesiology! Science. It's everywhere.

And I think it's brilliant that you have memorized the speed of light in many different unit sets. One never knows when that would come in handy.

John the Scientist said...

It was kind of a joke on the part of my Analytical Chem professor on unit conversions. I had tested out of Gen Chem via AP credit, so they dumped us Freshmen in that boat into Analytical Chem I as as our first Chem class, and we did a lot of goofy stuff like that.

Then I went insane and took O-Chem and P-Chem concurrently as a sophomore. o.O