Sunday, October 31, 2010

Rally to Restore Sanity

I’m a big fan of both Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert. I watch their shows whenever they’re on, or as long as I can keep my eyes open. So I was excited about their “Rally to Restore Sanity and/or Fear” coming to D.C. Ordinarily, I would stay away from something that promised to be a logistical nightmare: the traffic tie-ups, the lack of parking, the overcrowded Metro, the hordes of people. But when I had the opportunity to join a chartered bus of Fredericksburgers, I decided I couldn’t pass up the adventure.

I wasn’t sure what to expect. There wasn’t much advance publicity about what the show would actually entail. I wasn’t sure if the crowd would be so big that I wouldn’t be able to see or hear much. But as it turns out, I had a fantastic time. The ride up was easy, we were dropped off within a short walk of the mall, and from the outset, the crowd was in good spirits, with plenty of creative signs and funny costumes on display. We maneuvered our way within one Jumbotron of the stage, where we could hear and see perfectly well. And the show was a lot of fun: doing the wave with a couple hundred thousand people, jumping in unison, listening to some good music, and enjoying a solid Stewart/Colbert comedy show. Best of all, everyone around us seemed to be very relaxed, just there to enjoy a good time--no stress, no problems.

I don’t think this rally is going to change the tenor of political discourse in our country (but wouldn’t that be nice?). But I was happy to go and be counted, to enjoy the laughs and the camaraderie of friends and strangers, to meet and chat with some new people, and to enjoy the experience of the peaceable gathering.

In his closing words, Jon sums up the point of the rally very eloquently.

Our bus arrives near the Mall:

Gathering before showtime:

The trees were the perfect perch, even for Santa:

Just a couple of typical rally-goers:

My favorite sign:

Thursday, October 7, 2010

Virginia State Fair

I’ve been in love with the Fredericksburg Fair since I moved to the area (and by “in love,” I mean in the way you love your goofy, embarrassing yet ultimately endearing uncle), but I’d never been to the state fair. But a couple of years ago, the fair moved from Richmond to Doswell, conveniently located about a 45 min. drive from home, so I decided the time was right for a visit.

The state fair was actually smaller than I expected. Larger than the local fair, but somehow I was expecting some huge, ten-times-as-big extravaganza like I’ve seen in movies. Maybe that’s true of the state fairs in places like Minnesota, Texas and Iowa, but Virginia’s is definitely a more modest event. Still, it was worth the trip for the agricultural area alone, definitely my favorite part. Here the animal exhibits were more varied than what I see at the Fredericksburg fair, with the usual cows, chickens, rabbits and goats, but also pigeons, guinea pigs, and alpacas, plus baby animals of all kinds, including calves, piglets, lambs, goslings, and freshly-hatched chicks. The exhibit halls were much more spacious and less smelly than the local fair. And there was plenty of educational information on animal husbandry, a variety of crops, and produced-in-Virginia products.

The sheep judging:

Mama and baby cow:

Mama pig gets no rest:

We watched baby chicks hatching:

A lot of pumpkin:

With the exception of a fairly nice quilt show (nothing ground-breaking, though), the arts & crafts hall was the same exact collection of frankly amateurish stuff you see at the local fair. Somehow I figured if a fair draws from a much larger area, the quality would be much better, but not really. And fairs have so many different categories (not just “photography” but “adult black & white photography, floral” not to be confused with “adult black & white photography, garden”), with first, second, third place and honorable mentions awarded, that the craft hall is littered with ribbons.

Lots of mediocre crafts, with plenty of ribbons:

Some very nice chainsaw carving:

The commercial vendors were the usual assortment of products I’m unlikely to purchase at all, let alone from a pitchman hawking his wares from a booth at the fair. Does anyone really make a high-priced purchase or choose a contractor this way? We saw demos for the same “waterless cookware” in at least 3 places, plus vendors of replacement windows, shower liners, hot tubs, sunglasses, footwear, gutter guards, cleaning products, Tupperware, jewelry...all the usual suspects. My favorite was probably the candy corner, where for a few dollars a pound, you could buy every kind of penny candy you wanted, including stuff I hadn’t seen since my childhood (wax soda bottle candy, anyone?).

We didn’t spend the money on a ride ticket (a fairly hefty price tag), but enjoyed strolling the midway, a kaleidoscope of colors, smells and sounds. All of the classic rides were there: Ferris wheels, Tilt-a-Whirl, Scrambler, carousel, tea cups, plus enough newer, more extreme rides to keep everyone happy. I was amazed at the number of “freak show” tents, which seem like such a throwback to an earlier time (and all guaranteed to disappoint) that I’m surprised people are still willing to pay for this type of thing. Plus so much fair food (and not a bite of anything healthy to be found). Maybe years of relatively healthy eating and an appreciation for well-prepared foods has spoiled me, but I don’t find fair food really all that appealing. It smells great, and seems like it would be such a treat, but a few bites into that candy apple or funnel cake or deep-fried whatever, and the thrill is gone. Next year, I think I’ll pack a lunch.

Funky food vendors:

I doubt this show actually features a terrifying gorilla girl by any stretch of the imagination:

Pig racing, definitely not PETA-approved:

We spent some time in the Heritage Village, with its emphasis on Virginia history, checked out the lumberjack show, and watched the Chincoteague pony demonstration in one of several large equestrian rings. There were a couple of concert venues with entertainment scheduled throughout the day, and we finished out our fair visit enjoying the Kings of Swing on the festival stage. All in all, we had a lovely day. We may not go every year, but I think we’ll be return visitors.