I’ve been to the Hood River County Fair nearly every year since I was a kid; since back when I was too short to get on all the rides, too stubborn to give up trying and too excited to not spend three months of lawn mowing and hay bucking money on snowcones, cheap sunglasses and many of the very same carnival games that were there this year.
I’m amazed every year at how little things have changed with the fair over the last 10, even 20 years. A couple of my favorite old rides have been phased out — most notably the squirrel cages and the Ring of Fire — and probably for the better. Other than that, things have remained largely unchanged, both inside and out, for two decades, which is quite a feat in this day and age.
I can’t quite decide whether to be disappointed or comforted by this. But I look forward to going every year, so I guess it doesn’t matter much either way.
Something that changed this year, for me anyway, was the entertaining opportunity I had to attend with a first-time fairgoer; a complete rookie in the truest sense of the word.
“An elephant ear,” my wife, Katya, exclaimed, with an obvious question mark at the end.
People eat many kinds of meats around the world, but even to a Russian who loves meat, an elephant ear sounded absurd.
I’ve subjected Katya to all kinds of new experiences since she moved here last summer. We’ve known each other for nearly a decade, but only last year did we get hitched, which allowed her to relocate to Hood River from her hometown in central Russia.
“Yes, honey, it sounds strange but they’re really good,” I told her. “They’re soft and warm and chewy; you’ll love it.”
Slowly, reluctantly she bit into the sugar-coated dough; she chewed, swallowed and promptly followed with a backhand to my shoulder.
“Yes, yes, don’t make fun of your wife; I’m learning.”
In the spirit of trying new things, we decided to buy a few tickets and give one of the central attractions a whirl. Of all the things that have remained steadfast over the years, prices for rides have most definitely changed with the times. Nine dollars got us six tickets, which was enough for a whopping one ride apiece, and not on the big rides like Gravitron or Drop Zone; those were four tickets each.
So, to the Teacups; a ride that by look and name is slightly embarrassing for a 31-year-old man to wait in line for on a busy evening. But wait, I’m married now so it doesn’t matter; a concept I’m finding regular contentment in.
“We’re the only adults in this line; let’s just get another two tickets and ride the Gravitron,” I say to Katya.
“We’re kids,” she says. “You’re never too old to be a kid. Besides, this one looks fun.”
I’m tall enough this time to get on without being subjected the 48-inch sign test, so we’re aboard the ride and spinning in circles alongside a dozen screaming pre-teens.
It’s not long before the spinning gets the best of me. Thankful the ride is short and fairly benign, we exit facing straight at the Gravitron, whirling in circles faster than a cheetah chasing its tail.
The wife is always right; another lesson I’m quickly learning.