Friday, September 16, 2011

Don't be chicken: Go to the fair

Yes, that's a giant chicken at the entrance to the Allegan County Fair. The chicken has been there for years and is one heck of a landmark. I remember laughing the first time I heard the announcer call over the public address: "Meet your party under the giant chicken. ..."

The fair wraps up its 159th year on Saturday.

Events include:

• 8:30 a.m.: Youth Western Horse Show (at the Flats arena)

• Noon: Midway rides open

• 4 p.m.: All Around Showmanship Contest (at the Weldon Rumery Arena)

• 6 p.m.: Allegan County Fair Idol Winners on the grandstand main stage

• 6:30 p.m.: State Championship  Demolition Derby

Admission is $5 for adults; $2 for children first through 12th grade. Parking is $5.

No exit

On Tuesday, I spent the morning at the fair talking with 4-H students and photographing their animals, then headed down to the Flats to watch some Cart Class events. The morning wrapped with some pictures at the petting zoo. A great day, but I was tired after more than 3 hours of hoofing it around the fairgrounds.

I pulled out of the parking lot and took the well-worn dirt road along the Kalamazoo River, passed the kids having sandwiches outside a their camper and headed to the gates on the hill. But the gates were locked!

I turned the Kia around and asked for the best way out: Down the hill, the same way I just came, and ask the attendants there, I was told. So I rattled back down the trail, along the Kalamazoo River and passed the kids having sandwiches outside their camper. They waved at me and I waved back. I ended up back where I started.

How do I get out? The attendant pointed back up the hill. No, I insisted: just came that way and the gates were locked.

She paused a moment then told me to go back across the field and take the dirt road to the left. That will take me to an attendant who will let me out.

I turned the Kia around, bounced across the field and turned left through a pile of soft sand that briefly stranded the car. A little gas, a spinning wheel, a tailwind and I was off to the attendant.

That attendant shot up out of her chair and frantically waved her red baton. You can't get out this way!!

But, but, but, I was told this was the way. I'm tired and hungry ... and I can see the booth and the giant chicken right there! Please, please, please let me out.

The attendant didn't budge and the baton twirled, pointing back to where I started.

That first attendant saw me coming again and waved me down the line -- she had had enough of me and sent me to another attendant. This time I stopped the car and got out. This attendant told me to go up the hill to the main gates. No, I said, the gates were locked.

Then take the dirt road to the left -- Been there, done that. No way.

We talked for a little while as we thought about our next moves. I showed him pictures of my wife and children, telling him I'd like to see them again.

A few minutes passed and nothing new came to mind, so I said thanks and that my oldest daughter was going to graduate in three years and I wanted to be there.

Off I went, up the dirt road along the Kalamazoo River, passing the kids having sandwiches outside a their camper. This time they pointed and laughed. I kept a firm grip on the wheel.

I stopped at a crossroads to let some horses and riders pass and decided to follow the road less traveled, weaving through the crowd to a row of barns. I shot through an alley and saw the light -- another attendant with an orange vest.

Sweet freedom!

I eased up to him and calmly whispered, "Help me!"

He smiled and waved me through the exit.

As I pulled away, I looked in my rear-view mirror and saw the giant chicken looking back at me. I swear he was grinning.

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