A toast to the fairest of them all

Saturday was Day One of northwestern Vermont’s annual celebration of Famous Pork Boners, Bloomin’ Onions and the opportunity to view a pumpkin the size of a Volkswagen — aka, the 2010 Champlain Valley Fair.

I love the fair because it’s the only time of the year when I can use the expression “Famous Pork Boner” and not worry that I have offended someone. After all, a Famous Pork Boner is nothing more than a two-ounce piece of pork shank that is deep-fried and covered in barbecue sauce. It’s sold by Fat Daddy’s and comes with plenty of napkins and a coupon good for 10 percent off your second angioplasty at Fletcher Allen Health Care.

This year I am especially excited about the fair because my father was ill earlier this month and so I missed Addison County Fair and Field Days. That means it has been a full year since I ate a deep-fried Oreos or a slab of fried dough the size of a Frisbee. It’s been 12 long months since I got to watch my usually demure wife inhale a bouquet of maple cotton candy that would dwarf a poodle.

There are a variety of reasons why we love the Champlain Valley Fair, and not all of them revolve around food designed to kill us. It was during a visit to the fair back in the late 1980s that I first milked a cow. It was during a visit in the 1990s that I first took my young daughter on a roller coaster. And it was at the fair two years ago that I first met Batman. This was especially important to me because we had a score to settle: When I was a little boy, I jumped out a second story bedroom window while playing Batman. I was the Caped Crusader that day, and my friend Lonny Lafferty was Mr. Freeze. He had a broken leg and his crutch made a great freeze gun. I had left my utility belt in the living room that afternoon and Lonny was clomping up the stairs after me. And so I jumped. I was explaining all this to Batman when the mother behind me — who had a group of young Cub Scouts with her — thought I should dial down the lunatic-jumping-out-a-window vibe around them.

In any case, the fair remains one of the great “big tents” we have in Vermont, a massive festival that is multigenerational, appeals to both native Vermonters and flatlanders alike, and erases class lines. To wit: Where else can you find both Justin Bieber (Friday) and Bill Cosby (next Sunday)? Where else can you find a martini bar (new this year) within walking distance of a stand that sells Polish kielbasa and German bratwurst? Where else can you find draft horse driving classes and racing pigs?

Just for the record, the pigs are not racing away from Fat Daddy’s because they are afraid of becoming Famous Pork Boners. Sometimes, however, like me, they are racing after Oreos.

And where else in the Green Mountains can you find a ride like the Slingshot? The Slingshot is new this year, a pretty nifty alternative to the traditional twirl-and-hurls. The Slingshot is a tower that’s roughly 45 feet high. It uses compressed air to lift a person high above the fairgrounds and drops them unceremoniously back to earth. I have no idea if it’s pacemaker-friendly, but it sure does sound fun.

Yet the very best part of the fair? The people and the people-watching. Year-in and year-out, I find myself reconnecting with acquaintances I haven’t seen in — on occasion — a half-decade. It’s a sort of Facebook without Farmville. It’s a college reunion without the stressful one-upmanship.

And, of course, it is summer’s last gasp: It is our last chance to revel in the smell of sun block and the luxuriant, slothfulness of a long summer night.

So, bring on the fried dough and the onion rings. Once again this week I’ll raise my paper cup of soda — or maybe this year my martini — and toast to the fair.

(This column originally appeared in the Burlington Free Press on August 29, 2010.)

Chris Bohjalian

Chris Bohjalian is the author of nineteen books, including his forthcoming novel, The Sleepwalker. His other novels include the New York Times bestsellers Midwives, The Sandcastle Girls, The Guest Room, and The Double Bind.