Turn right for all the fun of the fair

Share
Related Topics

Looking for Middle America in New York? Good luck. Everyone knows that this town stands apart from the rest of the country.

Looking for Middle America in New York? Good luck. Everyone knows that this town stands apart from the rest of the country. There's not a cornstalk in sight, unless you count the organic cobs on display at the farmers' market in Union Square. It is 30 miles to the nearest Wal-Mart, which dresses most of the nation, and pick-up trucks are as common a sight on Park Avenue as bumper stickers for George Bush.

Even its ubiquitous street fairs give little hint of Uncle Sam. From spring until autumn, long sections of the avenues in Manhattan are sealed off each Saturday and Sunday to accommodate stalls selling everything from hippie pendants to Lebanese kebabs and five-minute Chinese massages. True, there is usually a popcorn vendor or two, but the atmosphere is more souk than Stars and Stripes.

For that other America that is Mom and apple pie - which I know must exist somewhere - I will have to venture beyond the boundaries of Gotham. Take me, please, to a small-town rodeo where spectators sit on bails of straw, or - if that is too difficult this side of the Rocky Mountains - a country fair with wagon rides, tug-of-war contests and tables piled with homemade brownies and oatmeal cookies.

Finally, the Labor Day holiday arrives and my wish is granted. Staying for the weekend in Hudson, a historic town two hours north of the city, my daughter and I make haste to the annual Columbia County Fair in nearby Chatham. It's meant to be big, but, other than that, we don't know what to expect.

We arrive and, for certain, we're not in Manhattan any more. Perhaps it isn't quite Kansas either, but the hundred miles we have driven from the city seems even further. There is big hair, and there are big waists and, yes, big Wal-Mart wardrobes up here. Not a Starbucks in sight. Not even a brownie stand. But, in a snackish mood, we feel obliged to try what seems to be everyone's favourite, Oreo Fritters.

If you are wondering, they take the little twin-layer biscuits and deep-fry them in batter. Foul? Well, actually, they're really, really good. The biscuit inside becomes a melted mush. We decide it's almost on a par with another American delicacy we discovered earlier this summer, called the Fluffernutter. This is a sandwich of crackers with peanut butter and marshmallow spread inside.

For Polly, who is 11, the priority is the rides. They are like those at any fair from Iowa to St Ives; three Ferris wheels, bumper cars and a centrifugal torture ride called the Wipeout that turns my stomach. The soaring Ali Baba carpet has turned someone else's for real. We wait five extra minutes to get on while they sluice it down.

My curiosity is taken by the large grandstand on the fair's edge. By 6pm, it is crammed with perhaps 5,000 spectators. So we find a space on the benches and wait for whatever is coming. Horse-racing, I speculate, looking out at the stretch of dirt track before us. Or perhaps that tug-of-war.

Not quite. Polly and I are about to be introduced to the gentle sport of tractor-pulling. This, I now learn, is big business in America, even earning occasional television coverage. It has its followers in Britain, too. What we see involves the competing tractors and their drivers attempting to haul a huge rig on wheels as far as possible down the track until they can haul no more. As the tractors pull, a massive weight moves forward down the rig, making it progressively harder to drag.

My money is on a souped-up International Harvester clad in a sort of silver armour, christened "White Lightning". The driver seems to have a better grasp than his rivals of pumping his monster engine to maximum power before engaging the gears and lurching forward. More smoke comes out of its vertical exhaust than most power stations would produce in a whole winter. Flames shoot out, too.

When each tractor grinds to a halt, teams of officials rush out to mark the spot. This is a sort of Massey-Ferguson long jump, although I can't see it ever taking its place in the Olympics. Too much pollution, for one thing, as clouds of grey diesel smoke waft in our direction.

The deafening roar of the engines is not Polly's thing, so we soon head back into the fair attractions and eventually back to the car back and Hudson. I am not sure whether I have found what I was looking for in Columbia County. This is America all right, but it was less apple pie and more Oreo Fritters.

Stickers spell bad news for Kerry

I have seen the occasional Bush-Cheney bumper sticker in the city, and plenty of variations that appeal more to Democrats. Most common are "No More Bushit" and the less elegant "The only Bush I trust is my own". But if you can judge which way an election is going by the numbers of car stickers favouring each candidate, the outlook for John Kerry seems poor.

Back at the County Fair, I notice that, at a guess, almost one car in four parked outside has been decorated not with stickers from either of the campaigns, but rather yellow decals shaped like ribbons. They are looped in a circle with their two ends crossing over one another and words written along them declare "Support Our Troops". A scarier version is in patriotic colours of red and blue, and the message is "One Nation Under God". Millions of these must now be on American fenders all across the land.

This is hardly empirical science, but it seems somehow that most of these folk cheering America's soldiers in Iraq and Afghanistan are unlikely to be Kerry supporters. Are the ribbons giving us the political forecast: the Bush-Cheney duo for four more years?

React Now

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Data Analyst

£30000 per annum: Ashdown Group: A highly reputable software house is looking ...

Application Support Analyst / Junior SQL Server DBA

£40000 - £45000 per annum: Ashdown Group: An established professional services...

Commercial Litigation

Highly Attractive Salary: Austen Lloyd: CITY - SENIOR COMMERCIAL LITIGATION SO...

BI Developer - Sheffield - £35,000 ~ £40,000 DOE

£35000 - £40000 per annum + competitive: Progressive Recruitment: My client is...

Day In a Page

Read Next
 

Letter from the Assistant Editor: Domestic violence is no petty matter

Siobhan Norton
 

There’s nothing wrong with GM

Steve Connor
A new Russian revolution: Cracks start to appear in Putin’s Kremlin power bloc

A new Russian revolution

Cracks start to appear in Putin’s Kremlin power bloc
Eugene de Kock: Apartheid’s sadistic killer that his country cannot forgive

Apartheid’s sadistic killer that his country cannot forgive

The debate rages in South Africa over whether Eugene de Kock should ever be released from jail
Standing my ground: If sitting is bad for your health, what happens when you stay on your feet for a whole month?

Standing my ground

If sitting is bad for your health, what happens when you stay on your feet for a whole month?
Commonwealth Games 2014: Dai Greene prays for chance to rebuild after injury agony

Greene prays for chance to rebuild after injury agony

Welsh hurdler was World, European and Commonwealth champion, but then the injuries crept in
Israel-Gaza conflict: Secret report helps Israelis to hide facts

Patrick Cockburn: Secret report helps Israel to hide facts

The slickness of Israel's spokesmen is rooted in directions set down by pollster Frank Luntz
The man who dared to go on holiday

The man who dared to go on holiday

New York's mayor has taken a vacation - in a nation that has still to enforce paid leave, it caused quite a stir, reports Rupert Cornwell
Best comedians: How the professionals go about their funny business, from Sarah Millican to Marcus Brigstocke

Best comedians: How the professionals go about their funny business

For all those wanting to know how stand-ups keep standing, here are some of the best moments
The Guest List 2014: Forget the Man Booker longlist, Literary Editor Katy Guest offers her alternative picks

The Guest List 2014

Forget the Man Booker longlist, Literary Editor Katy Guest offers her alternative picks
Jokes on Hollywood: 'With comedy film audiences shrinking, it’s time to move on'

Jokes on Hollywood

With comedy film audiences shrinking, it’s time to move on
It's the best of British art... but not all is on display

It's the best of British art... but not all is on display

Voted for by the British public, the artworks on Art Everywhere posters may be the only place where they can be seen
Critic claims 'I was the inspiration for Blanche DuBois'

Critic claims 'I was the inspiration for Blanche DuBois'

Blanche Marvin reveals how Tennessee Williams used her name and an off-the-cuff remark to create an iconic character
Sometimes it's hard to be a literary novelist

Sometimes it's hard to be a literary novelist

Websites offering your ebooks for nothing is only the latest disrespect the modern writer is subjected to, says DJ Taylor
Edinburgh Fringe 2014: The comedy highlights, from Bridget Christie to Jack Dee

Edinburgh Fringe 2014

The comedy highlights, from Bridget Christie to Jack Dee
Dame Jenny Abramsky: 'We have to rethink. If not, museums and parks will close'

Dame Jenny Abramsky: 'We have to rethink. If not, museums and parks will close'

The woman stepping down as chair of the Heritage Lottery Fund is worried