This week, I went to the Illinois State Fair. Among other things, I saw a cow sculpted out of 1000 pounds of butter.
When planning our first-ever family vacation, we considered a lot of exotic (to us) locales: Disneyworld! Vancouver! Los Angeles! New York!
And then we realized that, unless a hitherto unknown relative died and bequeathed an ungodly sum of money to us, the idea of a “big” family getaway was out of the question. The question then became, “how can we do something memorable while getting away from home, on the cheap?”
Easy enough to answer: ROAD TRIP!
Our road trip plans led us down Route 66 to our state’s capitol of Springfield for the annual State Fair. Lodging choices in Springfield are sparse, so we decided to go with the most trustworthy brand available. We stayed at the octagonal Hilton, which appeared to be the tallest building in Springfield:
The hotel was just a few blocks away from the Capitol building. Here’s the view from our window (that’s the Capitol on the right side of the pic below):
Dining options in the area were unattractive, to say nothing of the brightly-lit, sad-looking Bennigan’s on the hotel premises. For our first vacation meal, we opted to walk from the hotel to an Italian place called Saputo’s. The chairs were uncomfortable, the service took forever, and the food was basic, by-the-numbers, pasta. That said,after 4.5 hours of driving 65 on 55, a big bowl of baked ravioli hit the spot. Cheese makes everything better.
As for the fair, it was everything I’d expected: Goat barn. Carnival rides. Various foods on sticks:
is America, goddammit.
While it’s impossible to see everything at the State Fair in one day,we gave it a good try. We marched upstream from one side of the fair to the other, logging close to seven hours of activity in the process. The combination of heat and exercise was fatiguing; it turned my two children into slaphappy masses of ping-ponging emotion by day’s end. One second: Exuberantly happy. The next: Inconsolably sad. Bedtime: Early.
I tried to catalog the highlights as I went. In loose order of the way they were experienced:
Kettle Corn. Made with a real freaking kettle.They oiled that sumbitch up good, poured in the kernels, and let God and nature do the rest. The result was delicious. We washed it down with some homemade root beer from across the way, which was…less delicious.
There was a lot of fishing-related stuff to see and do. I don’t fish, but I can certainly appreciate large tubs of catfish.
We waited in line for 15 minutes to go on a canoe ride, which was well worth the wait. Slowly moving around the water on a hot day? No-brainer. Here’s the pond we paddled around:
The real highlight of the Fair? THE WHIP GUY. The. Whip. Guy. He does stuff with whips…and he’s funny…and he’s set world records with his hot whip action.
Sadly, we couldn’t stay for the Whip Guy’s entire show. Someone–and I’m not naming names, but she’s four years old and my daughter–got cranky and wanted to move on.
Having temporarily had enough with wholesome family entertainment, we moved on per my request to harness racing.
We all needed a chance to sit and catch our breath. I needed a chance to bet on the ponies. It was the proverbial win-win. And I did win-win. I gained $5 on a $15 bet on this horse:
Deciding to quit while I was ahead (I’m not much of a gambler), we decided to walk over to the carnival area. It wasn’t much of a decision, actually, the kids would allow no further diversion from their playtime goals.
Along the way, we caught a glimpse of a high dive act. It had a brutally cornball “Wild West” theme, but the dives were damn impressive.
The carnival rides and games (Whack-a-Mole, anyone?) quickly separated me from a sum of money I’m too ashamed to admit to here. To start, think “$25 ‘all-ride’ bracelets.” Then think about mommy and daddy having to go on multiple rides with the holders of said bracelets. That shit adds up, you know?
Once the kids had exhausted every possible ride, experience, and angle of the carnival, we happily discovered, tucked away in a remote outpost on the fairground, the HOLY GRAIL of the entire event.
I give you…BUTTERCOW.
If that’s not reason enough for a family of four to drive for hours to Central Illinois, then I’m afraid I don’t understand the idea of vacationing at all.