In the loop and along for the ride

Chris Ashby, director of sales and marketing at Vermont’s Champlain Valley Exposition, is excited. The Champlain Valley Fair opened Saturday in Essex Junction and this year there is a brand new ride: It’s a specially designed vomitron called the Loop Fighter that was built in Europe and only arrived in the United States in late July. According to the manufacturer’s web site, it gives “passengers a strong negative and positive acceleration for incredible weight change sensations.” It also “delivers unbelievable G-force” and “the effects of a fly over spinning pendulum and the typical looping twirl of a roller coaster ride!”

In plain English this translates roughly to “you better be wearing a diaper on this bad boy.”

There are a thousand reasons why I love the Champlain Valley Fair, but the proximity of things named Loop Fighter — as well as Freak Out, Sling Shot, and Power Surge — to onion rings and fried sausages has to be one of the bigger ones. The only thing more terrifying than climbing aboard a gondola that does somersaults 60 feet in the air while traveling at warp speed is standing beneath a group of people in one who just polished off a paper plate of Fat Daddy’s “famous pork boners.” (Gosh, do I love my annual opportunity to string those three words together in a family newspaper! I really do have the maturity of a 5-year-old.)

I must confess, I have never eaten a “famous pork boner” because I’m a vegetarian and a pork boner is a two-ounce slice of deep-fried pork shank. Some of my friends think being a vegetarian makes it difficult to find fair food. Yeah, right. Last year at the fair I consumed French fries, fried dough, fried onion rings, a fried Oreo, maple cotton candy, a maple creemee, and a maple doughnut. Because, at mid-life, I need to watch my calories, I stayed with the diet sodas.

Ashby is confident that the Loop Fighter is going to be a popular addition to the fair’s thrill rides. Last year he rode Speed for the first time, one of the brilliantly terrifying monsters of the midway. Ashby and I are probably among the older patrons of what are called “inversion rides.” Usually by the time you hit 30, you have the common sense to steer clear of a ride that is designed to scare you silly or make you puke like a cat with a rodent-sized hairball — or, in some cases, both.


In all fairness, I appreciate these rides for the same reason I savor almost everything about the Champlain Valley Fair. The whole experience is one absolutely massive, moving, beautiful Proustian madeleine: A remembrance of things past, of childhood, of pleasures that remind us of what it was like to be young. Not only are we surrounded by children having a universally great time, we’re indulging in the sorts of pleasures that in theory we’ve outgrown. Things like petting zoos. Racing pigs. Eating muffins the size of softballs.

For a few days (except today, of course, when the fair is canceled because of Hurricane Irene), we are allowed to forget details like our cholesterol numbers and chow down on fried dough and barbecue. We can put aside the reality that we’re way too old or bald or paunchy to dance in the aisles to the music of Lynyrd Skynyrd. Suddenly, the federal deficit — the definition of a truly scary thrill ride — or global climate change or Syria or Afghanistan or North Korea seem very far away. When we’re at the fair, we’re kids in flip flops and T-shirts with snow cones. Or kids in mud boots in the dairy barn, savoring a blue ribbon beside a Holstein that positively dwarfs us. Or kids who are, finally, tall enough to ride the Loop Fighter.

Really, does it get any better than that?

(This column originally appeared in the Burlington Free Press on August 28, 2011. Chris’s next novel, “The Night Strangers,” arrives on October 4, 2011.)

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.

One thought on “In the loop and along for the ride

  1. Lisa Guidarini (@Bluestalking) says:

    HAHA! Having been a vegetarian I completely identified with your list of acceptable fair foods. I can rationalize anything. Potatoes are a vegetable. No cooking method can take away their vegetable-ness. Therefore, french fries ARE a legitimate vegetable.

    By the way, I’m reading an ARC of TNS for review. I was reading it last night, on my iPhone, IN THE DARK. My husband snorted an earth-shattering snore, I screamed and jumped a foot off the bed. I SWEAR. IT HAPPENED.

    Isn’t this great? I can tell the author that! I think this internet thing just may take off, after all.

    The. Door. The. Door. Why is a closed door so terrifying? I grew up in a Victorian and in the back of my closet was an attic door. I pushed a dresser and my toy box in front of it, so no monsters got out. Seemed to work pretty well. Never occurred to me to screw in bolts. Duh.

    Glad to see you’re coming to the Chicago area! I hope to make one of your signings here.

    All best,
    Lisa Guidarini

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