The first Saturday before the first full day of school, the Cool Springs (Franklin) Target was packed with supply-shopping parents and children. My oldest daughter, Aly, had her list organized and made short work of steering her own red shopping cart and finding exactly what we needed while her younger sister Olivia and I toured the rest of the big box retailer. We also made a pit stop at Barnes & Noble, where 15-year-old Aly impressed me by selecting a volume by Voltaire (required reading by AP English), and we also needed to pull up to Staples so she could run in and get some gigantic paper clips.
However, the Cool Springs back-to-school scene couldn’t hold a candle to the traffic congestion surrounding the first full day of the annual Williamson County Fair. I picked up Olivia from a birthday party at 6 p.m., thinking we’d just hop onto I-65 South and scoot a few miles to the fairgrounds. What I didn’t expect was that every other resident of the greater Nashville area and the state of Tennessee had the same idea. We crawled along the interstate for a total of–wait for it–90 minutes, before finally finding a spot in the fair parking lot.
By then dusk had settled in, and a beautiful sunset stained the western horizon over the trees and hills. The fair property was massive, the crowd was NFL football game-caliber ginormous, and I noticed that people looked like they were in good moods and having fun. Olivia took me from one stuffed animal gambling spot to another as cash flew out of my wallet faster than a spinning ferris wheel packed with screaming teens and tweens, and she was delighted to capture two small stuffed prizes before the night was over. I consumed a giant turkey leg, and Olivia ate cotton candy and Dippin’ Dots in between dozens of gymnastics moves along the sparse grassy areas.
The midway workers weren’t too obnoxious. A few even had full sets of teeth. The older man who really impressed me, though, was the one who gave Olivia some extra turns at throwing darts at balloons without charging us. Suddenly she caught fire, and was popping every balloon she attacked. I guess she was too much to resist, with her big brown eyes, cute glasses, and endearing smile coupled with trying so hard to win.
The best part about going to the fair is leaving the fair. We got home after 10 p.m., and my bed never felt so good.
A fair experience can span a range of emotions; in some ways, it’s a microcosm of life. You’re surrounded by people, but you could still be lonely (check out a lyric in Neil Young’s song “Sugar Mountain”) if the dynamics aren’t right. It’s sensory overload, with so much to see and consume and take a chance at winning. It’s life on steroids, full of noise and sound and fury, and signifying many things all at once.
Unlike life, the event itself supposedly happens only once a year. Like life, the emotions, desires, and sensations felt by a massive cross-section of the public are both universal and individualized.