Growing up in Columbus, the State Fair was an inevitable part of summer. It descended upon the fairgrounds annually and brought with it scads of sweaty ruralists and a determination to deep fry something more outrageous than the year before.
I was never a fair type-of-kid. It might have been because I went to a high school of mostly suburban students and lived in a neighborhood just a few miles north of downtown. I desperately wanted to be considered an urban kid, and, to me, the fair was for farmhands who dreamed of butter cows and looked forward to the last week in July like Christmas morning.
And the cliche that you get out what you put in rings true. The few times I actually attended the fair, it was begrudgingly, and my experience was less than ideal. The July sun scorched my sensitive Irish skin, and the underlying stench of manure turned my whining nasal through my plugged nose.
Still, with age comes new perspective, and I now realize that the fair can be the perfect equalizer for the very polarized residents of our state.
Outside of the State Fair, the two (general) types of Ohioans seem to stand at opposite ends of the spectrum of beliefs and values. People who reside in Columbus, Cincinnati or Cleveland resent the fact that many outsiders consider the Buckeye State to be just one big heart shaped patch of pasture. And while Ohio may have six cities with more than 100,000 residents, those locals of more rural areas aren’t much concerned with the goings-on in those metropolises.
The types of people who farm for a living differ from those who live in cities in more ways than just the color of their political affiliation.
But in some strange way, those differences seemed to fade away when Ohioans from all corners of the state arrive at those grounds in North Columbus. Unless you are a bratty young kid, anyone can find something that they can enjoy about the fair.
The food is the most notorious and discussed aspect of the yearly celebration — most are either thrilled or horrified at the prospect of a Krispy Kreme burger or deep fried s’mores.
The level of excitement is probably also indirectly related to how much gravity is pulling on the fairgoer.
Musical performances in the fairground’s Celeste Center are the events most likely to draw in those who are uninterested in pig races or the dog show. Full disclosure, the fair was not always undesirable to my childhood self — I attended my first concert there, a show for the ages put on by none other than the great “Weird Al” Yankovic.
Though everyone might not be so lucky to see a genius like I did, there are still some intriguing options for music fans at this year’s event. John Stamos will join The Beach Boys in their co-headlining slot with America. Come for “A Horse With No Name,” stay if you can keep from getting embarrassed for the 70-year-old men playing “California Girls.”
The other marquee show features Joan Jett and The Blackhearts with Heart, and if you don’t have any desire to rock along with “I Love Rock ‘n’ Roll” or “Barracuda,” I’m not convinced you have a soul.
The Ohio State Fair is set to run July 23 through Aug. 3 at the Ohio Expo Center, 717 E. 17th Ave. You can find me riding the giant slide, because I was too scared to ride it as a kid.
I have many regrets.