20 things that even an Iowa State Fair fanatic can miss
Here was the list of new Iowa State Fair foods for 2017. Wochit
My first memory of the Iowa State Fair is the view from my stroller as I gazed up at the outline of the stately brick Grandstand set against a clear blue sky.
Yet even after a lifetime of attending the fair — whether hauled there by my parents as a toddler or now chasing stories and deadlines as an adult journalist — there’s a long list of quintessential fair things I've missed. (And some I'm perfectly happy to keep missing.)
Don't get me wrong. I haven't been idle. I’ve exhibited livestock (okay, chickens) and won ribbons. I’ve stomped grapes, raised my voice in the old hymn sing and toured the private quarters of the State Fair Board and Fair Queen. I've sponsored food contests. As a 4-H teenager I even walked the runway in a fashion show (don’t ask).
But if the contention is that the fair is too massive, sprawling and rambunctious for any one person to claim to have conquered it all, here are 20 reasons I believe that to be true. I have yet to do these fair things:
1. Eat a turkey leg
Of all portable fair food, this greasy classic is the menu item that makes me cringe. I don't need to feel like a character from "Game of Thrones" with a fistful of meat as I stroll the fairgrounds. The pork chop on a stick is dainty by comparison.
2. Watch a truck or tractor pull
My time in the Grandstand has been dominated by dozens of concerts (I used to be a music critic), whether it be an impressive Eric Church as a humble opening act, or a Clay Aiken show with former Sen. Tom Harkin in attendance. But I’ve never sat there to watch the dirt fly and hear engines whine.
3. Enter even more quirky contests
I’ve written plenty about the glory and agony (mostly the latter) of my competition in the annual cow-chip toss. But I’ve neglected most other goofball contests, whether it be “Mr. Legs,” bubble-gum blowing, pie-eating, hog calling or hosts of other match-ups that were all the rage generations before reality-TV became the new pathway to the presidency.
4. Touch the butter cow
I’ve seen, smelled and described the sculpted butter bovine in the refrigerator case in the Agriculture Building, which might as well be the holy altar of the fair. But I’ve never dared touch it. I leave that in the capable artistic hands of Sarah Pratt.
5. Play in a chess or checkers tournament
The front porch of the Administration Building is both the literal and figurative front porch of the fair itself. I’ve watched an array of life play out from that vantage point, whether couples snuggling on benches or the occasional drunken derelict late at night who urinates in the bushes below. But I’ve never entered the quaint chess or checkers tournaments conducted there each year.
6. Sleep in the campgrounds
I’ve visited friends’ campsites, but I’ve never slept overnight in the fair's 160-acre RV city that can be as entertaining as a stroll through the animal barns.
7. Milk a cow
Why haven't milking lessons in the Cattle Barn become one of those ritual stops for politicians in need of a folksy photo opp? Then again, photos of presidential candidates grabbing glands might be more perilous than all those compromising images of them gnawing corn dogs
8. Win anything in the Midway
What can I say? I'm no good at ring toss. I'm sure my life has been incomplete without winning an inflatable SpongeBob SquarePants or stuffed minion. The fair debuts a new Midway this year; perhaps my chances will improve.
9. Hang out at East Side Night
I've been in the vicinity of East Side Night, the first Friday night of the fair that doubles as a family reunion for those who would remind Jordan Creek Town Center shoppers that there really is life and culture east of the Iowa State Capitol. But I've never given myself over to the experience just to mingle, grab a cold Bud and reminisce about the bygone days of the mullet.
10. Watch the fireworks
As a journalist at the fair, I’ve often been on deadline at the end of the night and missed the show. But I also tend to get my fill of fireworks around the Fourth of July – especially this hazy, thunderous summer of newly legal fireworks in Iowa.
11. Visit a first aid station
I’m happy to miss this corner of the fair.
12. Drain the keg at the Iowa Craft Beer Tent
If your cup is the final pour for any keg, bartenders blare a siren and give you a free T-shirt. It's the blue ribbon among beer snobs.
13. Drag race across the fairgrounds in golf carts
This isn’t sanctioned practice, but doesn’t it sound like a blast? I'm willing to bet that rascal volunteers have done this at some point in the wee hours, without pedestrians in the way.
14. Eat more than one corn dog per fair
No, I don't keep a journal of my fair food, but I'm reasonably certain this is true. I’ve eaten lots of veggie corn dogs, but never more than one standard dog per fair. That alone may pass for a healthy fair diet.
15. Bid at the Sale of Champions
I try to keep my fair expense reports below $10,000. The top 4-H and FFA animals now routinely draw tens of thousands of dollars
per head in the prestigious auction that also helps fund scholarships.
16. Frolic in the water fountains
True, I’m not 5 years old. But it has been hot enough some years that I probably should have shed my inhibitions and unleashed my inner child to soak myself in the fountains at Pella Plaza or Legacy Terrace.
17. Make a major purchase in the Varied Industries Building
If I ever buy a hot tub, it probably won't be at the fair. I also pass by my fellow fairgoers as they sit jiggling away in the automatic massage chairs.
18. Flip chops at the Iowa Pork Tent
The pig farmers and politicians flock to this hallowed hub of seared flesh. I've conducted interviews over the grills but never wielded the spatula.
19. Spill food while riding the Sky Glider
If you feel a gloppy substance splatter onto your head while walking the fairgrounds, the culprit may not be a bird. It may have been ice cream from a fellow fairgoer dangling far above.
20. Lose my car
I've parked in nearly every fair lot and many nearby lawns whose owners guide you into a snug space with the expert wave of a yard stick. At the end of a long day I've almost forgotten where I parked. Many more years of fair fanaticism and I'm sure I will.
Kyle Munson can be reached at 515-284-8124 or email@example.com. See more of his columns and video at DesMoinesRegister.com/KyleMunson. Connect with him on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram (@KyleMunson).