This week’s listmaker: Nora Spitznogle. Nora is the director of programs at Second Helpings by day, and slings whiskey and cheeseburgers at the Red Key Tavern on weekends. She likes you, seriously likes you.
I’m an Indiana State Fair geek. Not the awesome bite-the-head-off-a-chicken-Midway-carnie geek, but the sort of geek that can tell you where every single restroom at the fairgrounds is located, and which ones are air-conditioned. I’ve not missed a single day of the fair in almost ten years. Here are some of my favorite things.
1. The Tractor Parade. State Fair officials call it the Daily Parade, but it’s all about the antique tractors for me. The parade starts on Main Street and winds around Trackside Parkway (and you thought these streets had no names). The parade lineup changes daily, but it’s typically a mix of clowns, old automobiles, a police car, motorcycles, people in mascot costumes, horses, and tractors. One glorious time, the parade was full of Shriners: shriners on cars, bikes, golf carts, horses, and well, anything that could hold a Shriner. The parade was lousy with Shriners, I’m telling you. As a kid, my dream was to ride on a wagon in the State Fair parade. It is as thrilling as I imagined. The trick to hitching a ride is to hang around the starting point look fairly eager and responsible. Be ready to jump on a wagon at a nod of a farmer’s seed-hatted head. The parade happens every evening at 6:30.
2. Introduction to Royalty, County Fair Queens. Punchnel’s contributor Evan Finch turned me on to this amazing event. The 92 Indiana County Fair Queens parade down the runway in the Home and Family Arts Building in garb that is significant to them. There are a few who play it safe, choosing to wear their prom dresses by claiming that the evening was the highlight of high school or their cheerleading uniforms to show their love of, well, cheerleading. My favorites are the girls who show some moxie and county pride. One year, Miss Switzerland County dressed as a Swiss Miss (Swiss girl, not the hot chocolate) complete with blond braids, gingham dress, and an apron to celebrate her county’s heritage. My favorite was the girl who wore her waitressing uniform to show her appreciation of her part-time job. Make sure you check out the perfectly bee-hive haired woman playing the Wurlitzer Organ as the Queens walk the runway. Saturday, August 18, 3:00 p.m., Home and Family Arts Building.
3. Dick Reel. I love Dick Reel. In a very appropriate way, of course. I only see him at fair time and I’m always happy to spot him behind his bench in Pioneer Village on the first day. Each year I worry that he won’t be back and I’ll never know what happened to him. He’s one of the many volunteers who reenact old-timey ways of doing things. Dick has demonstrated woodworking and carving for almost 20 years. Better yet, he has worked on the fairgrounds every August since he was 14 and has wonderful stories about working at the grandstand and taking tickets at the entrance gates. Pioneer Village is open from 9:00 to 9:00 each day, but the real action is from the last morning to early evening.
4. Home and Family Arts Building. I’m still hooked on the rush of taking projects to the fair that I first experienced as a 12 year-old farm kid. I’m a better baker now, but I haven’t sewn more than a button since the 1973 second-year 4-H sewing incident when other kids’ moms complained that I didn’t put a zipper on my skirt – mine was a wrap-around. I’ve always been a little fashion forward, or at least that’s what I’m calling my fear of sewing my own fingers to the zipper together. Anyway, this is the building to find all of the adult projects entered in the open-show competition. You will see everything from pickled beets to painted gourds. Look for the antique tools and Baby Boomer toys on the main floor. The top floor houses the popular photography competition. You will find the pies and candies on the basement level. Stop and gawk at my first place snickerdoodles, please. The building is open from 9:00 to 9:00 each day.