Majestic bovines: The North Carolina Mountain State Fair

To be fair, I went to the North Carolina Mountain State Fair on Friday, which meant that I went on the one day all week that it rained from morning to evening. So, yes, my experience has been colored every-so-slightly by the miserable weather, but I think I got just enough of a taste to tell a decent story.The fair is held in Fletcher, which is really just another word for “the field across from the Asheville airport.” The idea, I suppose, is that everyone in the area with a vintage tractor, particularly attractive cow or enough time to sit on a stool at the Republican Party booth and preach against the evil of gun control comes together for a week and competes for ribbons or, you know, does the sitting on a booth preaching about things thing. Oh, and of course there’s carnival folk and various state officials with boring booths about not lighting matches and tossing them out of the window into the forest from your car window at random intervals as you drive along the highway at eighty seven miles per hour and vendors that sell little whittled figurines or chainsaw-carved bears or confederate flags and plastic gun combination packages. There must be some sort of carnival package you can invest in somewhere to be sure that you have a minimum of two rusting tea cup rides with broken safety bars and a Ferris wheel that runs on either sorcery or lightning strikes or some combination of the two. But I digress.There were two or three barns that housed vendors and life insurance agencies for the self-employed nestled between the aforementioned underwhelming menagerie of fair vendors. My companion (hereafter referred to as my assistant to protect her identity and to make it sound like I’m important enough to have an assistant) and I took a couple of hours to get a feel for the place, but found nothing of particular interest aside from a blacksmith hammering bits of scrap into overpriced key chains and a booth by whoever runs prisons that had a really interesting shank display case. There was a beer bottle on display. It takes a dedicated creature to smuggle a beer bottle into prison.The trick, of course, is if you want to get from the vendors to the competitive livestock you have to run a gauntlet of carnival games and freak shows. And, being the only two people within a half mile radius meant that there was blood in the water. Or dollar bills in the water, I suppose. Lazy-eyed carnival folk shouted and waved and heckled and offered to just “give you the damn bear if you play.” It was a tempting offer, but my assistant insisted that she had no where to put a life-sized Scooby-Doo knock-off anyway, so we moved on. Past dunking booths and ring tosses and basketball game with nets too small to fit the ball through and shooting games and dart games and throw-the-ball-into-the-bucket-you-sissy games. If you’ve ever wondered what it’s like to be called names by a guy who sleeps inside the trailer where you throw corks into goldfish bowls because you didn’t try to win your assistant a framed Spider-man poster, go to the fair on a rainy Friday. You might just get lucky.Unfortunately, teachers (at least my teachers) don’t consider attending a cow beauty pageant to be an excuse for absence, so I wasn’t able to actually attend any of the contests that bring farmers and livestock-enthusiasts out in droves earlier in the week. Still, the cows and horses and weird variations of cows and horses were in their cramped stalls on display; their ribbons proudly stapled to posters with their names scrawled in blue sharpie. It’s kind of difficult to describe the unrivalled splendor of a fully-groomed milk cow and chicken. Probably because once I’ve described one, you’ve pretty much got the idea. No offense to anyone that raises show pigs, I’m sure it’s a very competitive field. I swear some of them were wearing mascara.On our way back around my assistant and I took a detour through the traveling animal exhibits and petting zoos, which was fairly average in terms of the hint of animal cruelty and jerk llamas that wouldn’t let you feed the smaller animals in the petting zoo. We stopped at what was billed as a traveling circus that had four fully grown tigers, which they did, but the show was cut short due to the three inches of standing water that had engulfed everything in the tent. Apparently tigers don’t like to get their toes wet. So we had to settle with a couple of Dalmatians that jumped through hoops and a Jack Russell Terrier that traversed a tight rope; although the tight rope thing was pretty impressive for a dog.In fact, the standing water was a pretty constant presence at the fair on Friday, which brings up an element of carnivals that I would normally overlook. You see, all of the lights and rides and food preparation devices and everything else run on electricity (mostly), which is supplied to the rides and such through thick black cords on the ground. And, when it rains, these huge, black electrical cords are blanketed in an inch or two of water. I didn’t see anyone die horribly with my own eyes or anything, I just thought that was an interesting bit of trivia. Going to the fair on a rainy day isn’t entirely unlike walking through a live minefield.By far the best bits of the North Carolina Mountain State Fair were found in the animal areas. Twenty dollars was a bit much to have a Polaroid picture taken of you feeding a tiger cub, but they were fun to watch and seemed healthy enough to keep things from breeching depressing territory. There was one odd fellow under a tiny white tent with a small cage and a sign that read, “Sugar Gliders, buy 1 for $225 and get the 2nd for $200!” There didn’t appear to be anything in the cage, so I asked him what a Sugar Glider was and he reached into the breast pocket of his shirt and withdrew what looked like a scrawny, huge-eyed squirrel. The man had a miniature squirrel in his pocket. Just one of the colorful folks to be found at the Mountain State Fair this year.There was a lot of effort and focus put on the “Full Throttle” aspect of the fair this year, which really just consisted of a fifteen dollar wrist bracelet that let you ride anything in the park from nine o’clock until one, followed by a concert. I’m pleased to say that things did pick up as the evening went on and by the time the concert started in earnest things were nice and lively.I knew I had had enough, however, when the first or second cover of “Sweet Home Alabama” had finished and the realization that people weren’t howling “Free Bird!” ironically struck home. So my assistant and I finally beat a hasty retreat. Overall, the fair really was a lot of fun and, given better weather conditions, is worth an hour drive and the humble admission. Sure, the rides may be questionable and the food will almost undoubtedly make you sick beyond any sort of food poisoning you’ve ever had, but isn’t that half the fun of a fair? The North Carolina Mountain State Fair is completely unsafe, morally questionable and littered with some of the strangest people I have ever met and I’m genuinely looking forward to going again next year.