© 2010 Aaron Atkinson

Fried Fair on a Stick

People in Iowa are nuts about their State Fair. Really, really nuts.

Picture this… we pay our $5 to park on LeRoy’s front lawn. He’s seduced us, and three dozen other vehicles, by waving a cane with a red and white handkerchief tied to the end.

After a short walk, and another $10 each, Agnes gives us a wrinkled, welcoming smile and we’re allowed to pass through the turnstile and enter the storied Iowa State Fair.

It’s 103 degrees. It’s Saturday afternoon. And it’s a mass of humanity. To this blogger’s delight, all around us Midwestern Fair-goer stereotypes are reinforced:

Mom’s are pushing dually strollers. Herds of pierced and tattooed teenage boys walk by, sweat shining off their bare chests and arms. Old men with dirty pony tales wear Sturgis shirts, and hold the hands of their sunburned girlfriends.

We move with the crowd down the Midway and a shirtless man in overalls walks by holding a half-eaten turkey drumstick. He looks like Fred Flintstone gnawing on the leg of a mastodon.

It strikes me that the Fair is really about two things. People-watching and the cascade of unimaginable olfactory stimulations.

My people watching eyes take a break and my nose picks up the kaleidoscope of aromas:

Oily exhaust from a passing golf cart. Thick, musty grease from the aforementioned turkey leg. A burnt, yeasty smell coming from the foot-long corndog station. A stale cigarette pinched between the index and middle finger of the bleached blond next to me. Hardly able to keep up with the wafting breeze, I whiff the salty sweetness of kettlecorn, a zesty citrus blast from the lemonade stand and a sharp, thick waft of fermented cheddar from the cheese-on-a-stick vendor.

From the smells alone, Laura and I gain seven pounds apiece.

Sweat runs down our backs. Laura’s not impressed. After 75 minutes we head for the exit.

The lady at the gate offers to stamp our hands so that we can re-enter.

Laura: (to lady) No thank you.

Laura: (quietly, to me) Never again.

I take one more breath, gain another pound. A trickle of sweat slides down my brow. A woman with green hair, a bull-style nose piercing and a triple wide stroller wheels by.

Really, really nuts.


  1. auntie
    Posted August 19, 2010 at 2:51 pm | #

    I heard on the radio this morning that a “new” delight being offered at the CNE this year is “deep-fried butter”!

    There, you’ve just gained another pound 🙂

  2. Aaron Atkinson
    Posted August 19, 2010 at 3:08 pm | #

    It’s true. They freeze cubes of butter, coat them in cinnamon and sugar, dip them in doughnut batter, and give them a bath in hot oil. We looked for this newest Fair treat, but came up empty.
    Another pound indeed!

  3. Fairgoer
    Posted August 19, 2010 at 3:17 pm | #


  4. Aaron Atkinson
    Posted August 19, 2010 at 4:01 pm | #

    Snobs?!? Eddie, Eddie, Eddie. Spoken like a true Iowan. How was your bucket o’ cookies by the way?

  5. sara
    Posted August 21, 2010 at 4:34 am | #

    Perfect! What a great deception of the Iowa State Fair. However you did forget to mention the HUGE bull and boar exhibit, a state fair experience that should not be missed!

  6. Aaron Atkinson
    Posted August 21, 2010 at 1:08 pm | #

    Thanks Sara! We did in fact see the giant bull. It was the size of a conversion van. Yikes!

  7. Skyla Mann
    Posted August 23, 2010 at 1:34 pm | #

    Frankly, I’m speechless. I will compose my thougths and deliver them in a thesis-like style to you & yours. Clearly, you did the fair like a “tourist” and not like a native. There’s a difference, believe it or not. I would love to give you a guided tour next year…. if Laura would be so kind to give the fair a second chance. Perhaps State Fair tickets will be attached to your wedding gift!

  8. Aaron Atkinson
    Posted August 24, 2010 at 3:06 am | #

    Skyla, while we may have been tourists we didn’t altogether not enjoy ourselves. If it came across otherwise, that was my mistake. How about this for a deal, you work on Ma & Pa and I’ll work on Laura and next year we’ll all take an evening stroll around the Fair, guided, of course by the Mann clan. My last stipulation is that we HAVE to stop and see the butter cow. If all of this sounds agreeable, you can count us in. I can almost smell those fried twinkies again!

  9. sellers
    Posted August 26, 2010 at 1:16 am | #

    I think instead of closing with “really, really nuts” you meant to type “really, really FREAKING AWESOME” because that’s pretty much the only way the Iowa State Fair should be described. 😉

  10. Aaron Atkinson
    Posted August 26, 2010 at 2:13 am | #

    I’m buying what you’re selling as this is my point exactly. The “nuts” isn’t referring to the Fair, or even the people at it – it’s referring to the fact that people in Iowa love the Fair so much that they go nuts about it. People spend the whole week in their camper in 100 degree heat, they go to the Fair every day for nine days straight, they eat every fried Fair fare from every vendor. You’re totally right, the Iowa State Fair is FREAKING AWESOME… especially for Iowans.

  11. Skyla Mann
    Posted August 27, 2010 at 1:42 pm | #

    You’ve got yourself a deal, Mr Atkinson!

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