Monday, September 17, 2007

"Doing" the Puyallup: Leaping Llamas & Chainsaw Carvers

Today I "did" the Puyallup. No, it's not a new dance craze. Not a strange Chinese import food that "did" me in. It's not even an "Eats Shoots and Leaves" grammatical puzzle. Nor a tongue-twister (It's Pew-AL-up).

Just like thousands of Northwesterners, I look forwarding to "doing" the Puyallup every September. It's our state's biggest fair.

If you've been reading my blog, you know I'm hooked on these kinds of events. Craft fairs, community fairs, Jewish fairs...fair's fair, as they say. But this is the big one. This is where the 4-H kids exhibit their prize hogs. Where I watched youngsters with their trained llamas jump hurdles. Where table settings for two were judged on creativity, and the winner had a pair of sparkling Ruby Slippers and, down the miniscule spread, a diminutive yellow brick road. Where a hypnotist gave a show that had two thousand people on bleachers mesmerized. Where a man stood sculpting giant pumpkins into pirates and wolves. (above).

This is the show with the carney barkers, hooking passersby to pay $5 to toss a ring over a floating yellow duckie. Where walkways were shared with enormous stuffed devils and dragons toted by dared dates. This is the kind of fair where several pavillions-full of one-product booths sell innovations like cord retractors and chamois wipers and orthotics for your tired feet. Where rows of folding chairs hold captivated audiences for demonstrations of chopping machines, miracle
pots, bleed-together-colors crayons, and apple corer-peeler-slicers. That's the one that worked on me. I bought two.

There's plenty to grab the attention of fair-goers. That's the official title for those of us who paid our $10 admissions, as loudspeaker announcements proclaimed: "Fair-goers, see the cow milking demonstration in Pavillion A in just five minutes!" Instead, we watched chainsaw-wielding carvers create bears and eagles from log stumps. While watching a quilting club creating a complex coverlet, we heard, "Fair-goers, don't miss the cake-decorating demonstration in just five minutes!" Tempting, but I was ready to brave the noisy and chaotic world of the amusement rides.

Not to actually RIDE them--I can't fathom who'd pay $5 to scream till hoarse while thrust in a metal bleacher fifty feet back and forth, and then upside down. But young and old lined up to do it. The "Big Drop" was a pole at least ten stories tall that an open-air cylinder holding a dozen shrieking folk plummeted down at impossibly swift speeds. The tilt-a-whirl swished yelling patrons in dizzying circles and then horizontally on their sides. That whole area of the fair was so loud with screaming that my spouse couldn't take it.

The range of people who comprise the fair-goers is another attraction for me. Many more than I usually see are, um, generously proportioned. Wearing Bermuda shorts. In the rain. Yes, it was indeed raining today, and others of my fair-going ilk--many others, actually--sported those lovely umbrella-hats, the ones with wedges of contrasting colors that open out with metal spokes. The people who didn't bother to look up when leaving their houses bought Puyallup Fair ponchos, lavish blue plastic billows that could accommodate the most portly participant. Many people dressed in costume for the fair, painting neon colors in their hair, or bringing out their Halloween hats a little early. Lots
of them showed their approval of the famous Fair Food via slurps, drips and burps.

Fair food is justifiably adored. And this year, we can eat all that greasy delight--curly fries, onion flowers, sizzled candy bars--without fear of trans fats. Well, today, we Jews couldn't eat--or drink--anything because it was the Fast of Gedalia, one of six Jewish fast days during the year. This was especially difficult given that one of the most coveted of fair foods is the kosher Fischer Scone. This soft triangle filled with honey-butter and fresh berry jam, served warm, is a tradition that goes back fifty years. My son, who went to the fair last Sunday with his youth group, ate his fill and then brought back a dozen. His private stash. We got no fair scones. No fair.

But the distractions from our hunger were too delicious to ignore. It happened to be Hispanic Day at the fair, and an arch of red, white and green balloons led to the stadium, packed with eager fans of the celebrated Latino bands in the lineup. On the way to the seats were booths appealing to the audience--with come-ons in Spanish. Too "gordo"? Try their weight loss aid. Like musica? Three all-Spanish radio stations offered promotions and free pens, bumper stickers and prizes.

Our day at the fair was shortened as the rain pelted our umbrellas and we anticipated the long walk to our car (we saved $10 by finding a spot on the street) and the slow traffic home. But I'd snapped lots of photos and seen enough to feel fulfilled. We'd "done" the Puyallup...unless we can convince our daughter, who's home from college for the Jewish holidays, to return with us next week...


  1. Thanks for your comment, Erachet...the fair is mind-boggling. L'shana tova!