Out and About: Skowhegan State Fair


A place of whimsy. And stomach bugs.
A place of whimsy. And fried stuffs.

So as it turns out, I can predict the future via this very blog.

Bear with me – I haven’t gone completely insane (I think). My last entry, last Thursday, was basically one great big “I hope I don’t get any sicker than your average head cold” prayer.

And sure enough, what happened sometime over the weekend? Stomach bug. NICE.

That rendered me too useless to put the proverbial pen to paper over the last couple of days, which caused a logjam in stuff I actually wanted to post.

Also, tune in later this week (or perhaps early next week) for some particularly introspective stuff that I wasn’t going to post here – it was book-exclusive content, but I’m using a little bit of it. OOH, EXCLUSIVE STUFF.

Anyway here’s a look back at my latest trip to the fair. There’s a slideshow below, too!

As I mentioned a couple of weeks ago, Maine is in the midst of fair season. The Pittston Fair was the one geographically the closest to Augusta, but Skowhegan was widely touted as the biggest in central Maine.

I’d suggested the fair to Bonnie in our every-Thursday “what fun shit is happening in Maine this weekend” conversation, with the thought that I could probably turn it into column material of some sort, given Skowhegan is in the Morning Sentinel coverage area.

In the same breath, Bonnie asked me if I was interested in a foodie-type event in Portland and, upon reviewing the link she sent me, I agreed that it looked good and that we should attend the evening session. This was solely for financial purposes, given we have a tendency to go big then go home (big) when we’re eating in Portland, and doing the afternoon session would mean we’d probably stick around for dinner too.

I figured that put paid to the fair idea – wasn’t heartbroken, honestly – and that it gave me basically the entire day Saturday to lay around being slightly hungover and do little to nothing. When I surfaced at midday and asked Bonnie what time I should pick her up for the thing in Portland, given it was my turn to drive, she had no idea what I was talking about.

Evidently I can’t read: the event in question isn’t until October. Duh.

So that put us back at square one: the Skowhegan State Fair. We hit the road around 4:00 p.m. and it wasn’t a tough drive by any stretch. Half of it was Interstate 95 to Waterville, then the rest was a winding country drive on Route 104. True to Maine form – or just AT&T prepaid form – I didn’t have any signal for essentially the entire time we were out of Augusta, but it’s kinda nice to be unplugged very once in a while.

It took us about 50 minutes, one missed left turn and one U-turn to find the fairgrounds. Entry was a solid $10 per person, plus $4 for parking. Judging by this year’s Ekka pricing, I think we got a steal.

Background for those readers who aren’t in Brisbane: The Ekka, short for “the Brisbane Exhibition,” is the Royal Queensland Show – a state fair on steroids. It’s held annually in August – yeah, the dead of winter – and grew from agricultural exhibits in the old days to now include rides, sideshow alley (or the midway, if you like), food, booze, live music and wood chop. Love the wood chop.

As a kid, it’s just about the best time of the year, save for Christmas. The list of showbags is published in the paper a couple of weeks in advance, and it’s pored over and read to death so as to maximize your haul from whatever showbag allowance your folks allocate. I think my parents always forked over $20 each, and the challenge is to balance quality and quantity.

Obviously the novelty wears off as you grow older, not to mention when dad stops paying your entry (which is $29 now…Jesus). I went back as an adult one year to show around my American ex, and it cost us (me) an absolute fortune. Entry must have been $50 between us, then there’s food, the odd showbag or two, a ride…it adds up. I don’t know how my parents aren’t flat broke after all the Ekka trips we did.

ANYWAY. Australian cultural history lesson over.

The Skowhegan fair was very similar to the Ekka, just scaled down obviously. Bonnie and I were both hungry, and I’d been craving fried chicken for days, so that’s what my sluggish, cholesterol-laden heart was set on. We wandered through the midway, checking out the food options and doing a bit of people-watching. That was a treat, let me tell you.

If you’ve ever been to an event like this, you’ll know what the culinary choices are like: fried. That pretty much sums it up. Fish and chips, corn dogs, fried chicken, fried clams, fried calamari. If you could batter it and cook it in hot oil, you could find it there.

In the end we both opted for Lawrie’s Famous Fried Chicken (you’ve heard of it, right? Duh) and sat at a picnic table in the shade to eat, taking in the soothing sounds of heavy techno music pounding from the laser-tag tent. Good for the digestion.

After eating our fill of chicken (which was sensational, for the record), we took a wander through the animal stalls to see where dinner came from. Man, I’m such a sap when it comes to animals. I just want to hug ’em all. Even listening to the sheep yelling at each other made me laugh. The prize turkeys and chickens looked like works of art, and I tried to talk Bonnie into buying a rabbit just to disguise how badly I wanted to go home with one.

We also checked out the petting zoo, where I got a very informative lesson on what communicable diseases each creature carries, from goats to Shetland ponies to camels and everything in between. It pays to hang out with an epidemiologist, you guys.

Similar to the Ekka, and the Pittston Fair of course, there were large exhibits of arts and crafts, paintings and photographs, all of which had already been pored over and awarded ribbons by judges, even though it was only a couple of days into the fair. They don’t mess around in Skowhegan I guess.

After another lap of the midway, seeing no attractions that screamed “ride me on a full stomach,” we joined the crowd piling into the grandstand to watch a little slice of fair entertainment: the tractor pull. HELL YES.

I’d never watched a tractor pull live (like I said, I’m a city boy born and raised), but it was a fun time. It took me a few runs to realize they were measuring by distance and not how long it took each tractor to get the weighted sled past the post, but as this blog makes very clear, I’m none too smart. Bonnie and I were surrounded by some bona fide tractor pull experts, and there was a woman behind us telling another spectator, from California, that “this is what we do in Maine for fun.” INDEED.

It was also one of those reflective moments for me, that I’ve had a few times since I’ve been in Maine, where it dawns on me that this is something I never thought my life would encompass. If you’d told me 10 years, or five years ago, or even last year, that I’d be spending an early August evening watching a tractor pull in small-town central Maine, unironically, I’d probably have laughed and said “yeah, okay pal.”

It’s not even something that, at any stage of my adult life, I’d have actively sought out as “something I want to accomplish before I die,” yet here we are. And that’s okay. It’s just mind-boggling that through all the twists and turns, this is where I’ve ended up for now. It’s pretty cool.

Back to the action. There were only half a dozen or so tractors, but don’t worry – there were 30 million pickup trucks ready to also take the challenge. Some of them even had the balls to drag the sled near where the overpowered tractors got to, which was pretty impressive. But like all good things, it had to come to an end…although we didn’t see it because we’d left the grandstand in search of dessert.

Bonnie wanted ice cream, but I’d decided long before we arrived in Skowhegan what I wanted for sweets: fried Oreos. Oh yes.

Now, I’m not so naive about state fairs that I wasn’t aware that there were going to be some remarkable and ridiculous deep-fried options on offer. The fairs in the Midwest seem to know no bounds – the Iowa State Fair has a whole list of foods you can buy on a stick. Go look, I’ll wait here.

Okay. Now that you’ve finished booking your flights to Iowa, I’ll continue. I’d seen fried Oreos at the Maine Lobster Festival the previous weekend in Rockland (did I forget to write about that? SHIT.), but I wasn’t feeling like dessert that day. But at Skowhegan, I was ready to meet my maker.

A nice lady in a McDonald’s visor – probably not company-endorsed – took my order and then offered me a cardboard tray with four golden-brown blobs of batter, covered in powdered sugar. She recommended a drizzle of chocolate syrup over the top, because Jesus Christ I was going to die anyway right?

I let them cool while Bonnie got ice cream, and then we both dug in. They were…extremely rich. And sweet. And thick. I was glad I’d bought a bottle of water. They were extremely tasty, that’s for sure, but I don’t think I could face them again with a clear conscience. I hated myself by the last couple of bites…but hell no I wasn’t going to let them go to waste!

At that point, I was on a raging sugar high, it was nearly 8:00 p.m., and we had an hour’s drive home ahead of us. Since we’d almost definitely seen the winning truck-pull earlier in the evening, we didn’t feel like we were missing much in taking off.

All in all, I’m glad I got to check it out, given the Skowhegan fair is one of the bigger ones around. It certainly invoked a lot of those old childhood memories I mentioned when I wrote about the Pittston Fair, but in part that was because the two were no different to the ones I grew up with. And once you’ve seen one, you’ve basically seen them all.

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