Sonoma County Fair

I hadn’t been to one of these county fairs in ages. The hay. The greasy food. The livestock. The crafts pavilion. The garishly painted booths. It was all true to form. I kept thinking about how quaint and old fashioned are these county fairs, in the Age of the Internet. People wander around, looking for something to distract or entertain themselves. None of it is high tech or ‘hot’ (in McLuhan’s terms). The fair is a throwback to an earlier era, where entertainments (especially for rural folk) were harder to come by.

But it often felt like people were there only halfway there, merely semi-engaged. The wandering around seemed… well… aimless. The gorging on really bad food had become the central activity and form of entertainment. Folks were partaking in a diet-busting “bad food” event in a self-aware, postmodern way. Matt said he thought just one healthy-food vendor could make a killing at such a fair. But healthier food options would break the Fair’s spell. It would highlight (through contrast) all the bad food, bad art, and dull entertainments. It would remind them of the outside world and all its encumbent responsibilities. People come to county fairs, nowadays, to revel in a kind of consumerist anti-modernity. There’s no place for contemporary values like healthy food in these revels.

The other notable aspect was demographic. Darryl pointed out that Obama’s political agenda has to fly with these kinds of people (mostly white, suburban, nonprofessionals). The five of us stood out as queer in this Fair. Our funny hats, odd glasses, lack of arm/leg tattoos, missing any pro-sport team affiliated clothing. We urbanites easily forget there are throngs of people very unlike ourselves but making up a large swath of the American quilt. This county fair was a reminder of our exceptionalism.

The final shots in the gallery are at a Petaluma ice cream parlor. And then later, at Lee’s garage where he shows us his custom made haunted doll house, complete with hidden doors behind bookcases, trap doors, elevator, secret switches. The doll house was hand crafted by his aunt and uncle as a Christmas gift when he was 11 years old. Amazingly, it’s survived to make it to Lee’s garage 35 years later. Of course, it’s a big renovation project but I can’t think of anyone better suited to that task than Lee.