To Mr. Tisdale and me, August means one thing in Louisville: the Kentucky State Fair. Starting in mid-August and running for two weeks, the fair is a Tisdale family tradition. Typically Mr. Tisdale and I go at least two times, preferring to go the first weekend to see the small animals and the baked goods and produce before it decays, and then toward the end of the fair, when the crowds are fewer.
Not all of our friends understand our obsession. Some decry the fried-food-on-a-stick, the rough-looking toughs from Appalachia, the Walmart shopper fashions, the Confederate flag-wearing teens. Others don’t understand the appeal of the fish tank competition, the cake decorating contest or the hucksters in the sales halls. And still others don’t understand the appeal of 4-H competitions and the animal exhibits.
But Mr. Tisdale and I have seen amazing things at the fair and had unrepeatable experiences. Here are some of our top experiences at the fair over the years:
- Anatomically correct baby on a cake: In the “baby shower cake decorating” competition, we saw a butt-naked baby made out of frosting. We knew it was a girl, because we saw labia. Yes, you read that right. labia made from frosting. She also had hair on her head. And it was real human hair. We chose not to photograph this specimen as we thought it might be considered a cyber crime.
- Half snake/half woman: For $3 a person, you can view this phenomenon in the freak booth at the midway. But being cheap Tisdales, we didn’t actually pay. Instead, we waited by the exit and asked a guy who came out what he thought. He was pretty shook up by what he saw. “It was just a woman in a snake suit, but it was disgusting,” he said, shaking his head as if trying to shake the image from his brain. We didn’t push him further.
- Giving a carnie a ride to the fair. A few years ago we gave a lost hitchhiker in our neighborhood a ride to the fair. He said he was the carnie “boss,” and if we went to the fair he’d give us the top prize for helping him out. Of course, when we showed up we found he was just a peon and was embarrassed when his boss yelled at him in front of us. He slinked away, and we never got our prize.
- Fool the Guesser. This is one of my favorite midway things to watch. The guy who runs this booth will guess your age within 2 years, your weight within 3 pounds or your birth month within 2 months. A few years ago Mr. Tisdale challenged him to guess his age. The Guesser was dead right. But Mr. Tisdale couldn’t stand the thought of being beat, so he lied about his age and won the booby prize.
- Heckling the barkers in the sales wing. I love seeing what the latest kitchen, household or health product is in the sales wing. The sales folks work their asses off and have their schtick down. I enjoy hearing their sales pitches for some crazy new products and then walking away.
- Kentucky Atheists booth. Bless these poor guys (except they don’t believe in blessings) for trying to do the impossible: have intelligent conversations with the bible thumpers. It’s so much fun to talk with them in their booth as angry fairgoers shout out “You’ll burn in hell! Jesus is real!”
- 4-H and FFA wings. I love the student competitions for best bale of hay and best tobacco plant (I swear I’m not making this up), as well as the best homemade clothing and insect collections. I have few regrets from childhood, but not joining 4-H is one of them.
- Jacks and Mules section. I freaking love Mules (crosses between horses and donkeys). I love everything about them: their size, their big strong heads, their intelligent eyes, their street smarts, their color, which ranges from sand to chocolate. Horses? Meh. Especially those freakish Saddlebreds, which look like neurotic, anorexic ballerinas. But Mules. That’s a different story.
- Dogs are welcome. Not many folks know this, but dogs are always tolerated on the state fairgrounds. The only area off limits are the exhibits in the South Wing. Our dogs went a few years ago and loved gently sniffed the air around the top country hams and meeting sheep and cows.
- Artwork. The variety in subject matter and quality is quite amazing. Some of it is pretty terrible, but all of it is earnest. With all the ironic and self-aware artwork out there, it’s nice sometimes to see a carefully executed drawing of somebody’s grandma or a replica log cabin made out of sticks.
So, what does any of that have to do with Louisville on the Cheap? Well, all that was to help convince those of you who haven’t been to the fair to give it a chance.
And here’s where the “cheap” comes in: This year we were thrilled to save $18 on entrance fees and parking by taking the TARC bus to the fairgrounds. TARC picked us up right outside our house and took us into the fairgrounds, then returned us at the end of the day. Much faster than if we had driven ourselves, and much cheaper.
It’s very easy to spend a crap-ton of money once you get to the fair. Food and booze is expensive. Some of the cheapest things we’ve found is the Pineapple Dole Whip cone (just $3 – or you can get regular soft serve ice cream for the same prize) right outside the South Wing. Also not too terribly expensive are the ribboned fried potatoes, at $6. Alcohol is quite expensive, so this year Mr. Tisdale brought a half bottle of his namesake (Tisdale wine) in a metal travel cup. We also brought in our own sandwiches, which saved us another $15 or so.
After all that, I think I’m ready for a Dole Whip…