(This is student work submitted as part of the Youth Voices collaborative project.)
by Sebastian Bango
Woodstock Middle School
My heart races as I drum my fingers on the wooden desk. While the teacher drones on, I am focused like a hawk on the wall clock, counting the seconds until the start of one of the greatest nights of the year, a night of imminent illness from indulging in fried food feasting, spine shattering speeds, and impossible games. A night where children spend more on useless junk than celebrities in an upscale boutique. This is the night of the Tunbridge World’s Fair.
Ever since I moved to Vermont eight years ago, the fair has been an exciting escape, a place where I can evade the elements of everyday life. I have used this one night to soften the hard reality that is the beginning of school. But I have no claim to this idea, because this is an event that has history well before my lifetime. The fair began in 1867, meaning kids have used this night of fun and games as a diversion for over 100 years, even before the modern wonders of the fair. Before 1919, there were no bumper cars turning brother on brother. Prior to 1978, there were no high-powered deep fryers designed to transform any piece of food into a piece of decadence, nor any five-story rides that take your best friend and turn him into a screaming six year old. The fair was a different place.
Deep at its core The Tunbridge Fair has stayed true to its roots, although its focus has changed over the years. When the fair began, horseracing was the front and center of this carnival. The races became so popular, they soon had grandstands and judges’ booths built. As the fair grew and evolved, the focus changed. Game booths and “men’s tents” became the main attraction. In the mid-1900’s, the fair was a hotspot for heavy drinking and wild behavior. Unfortunately, that is some people’s idea of a good time. This is why a man of Tunbridge named Euclid Farnham stepped in and nurtured this fair into an amazing family event that we all can enjoy. Mr. Farnham was chairman of the Tunbridge Fair for over thirty years before he stepped down in 2009.
All this knowledge is swimming in my head as I arrive with my friends and stare across the immense sea of cars. Clumps of families and tractor-drawn wagons stream towards the ticket booths like spare change to a slot machine. The local young men and women of the US Armed Forces maintain order in the ranks of disorganized families. The mud is deep and squishy. I sink well past my ankles and have to fight to yank my sneakers out. “Thank God! Here comes another way through this muck,” I think to myself as the wagon rolls towards us. My friends and I squeeze in, and we’re off, joining the excited folks rushing to the fair.
As we pass through the gate, we are assaulted with the pomp and glamour of the immense rides’ spinning lights and swirling seats. The screaming is so deafening that you would think the Phillies just won the World Series. To your left is Tyfoon, the giant piston that raises you up to breathtaking heights only to plunge into a vertical fall stopping just feet from the ground. To your right, Airforce One, an immense arm that laughs as it hurls kids through the air. My favorite attraction used to be Starship because I loved to feel the centrifugal force rip my skin off as I whipped around and around. Unfortunately, after five years of riding it, last year my weak stomach couldn’t handle the extreme velocities any longer, and I let go of my lunch. Since then I have retired from Starship. We always send a good hour in this area jumping on Rock n’ Roll, a roller coaster, just to jump off and sprint to a bigger ride; racing round and round, until we are stock full of adrenaline. When our bodies are worn out, we try our luck on the games that are bound to get your heart racing in anticipation.
Walking down the midway at Tunbridge is a harder experience than trying to sail past the Sirens. But in Tunbridge, I am clearly not Odysseus. With no rope or wax on hand I quickly fall victim to these false promises. The carnies’ songs of tempting yells and the illusions of dangling irresistible prizes turn my eyes the size of saucers. Every time I stroll down the tent-lined lane, some game catches my eye. “Oh look, it’s so easy!” the carny exclaims. I stare at the expensive knives lining the wall. I could get those for only two dollars if I win? And, just like that, I’m caught. One try turns to two, two dollars to four, and just another loss. It takes me ten dollars to realize that this game is rigged. AHHH! I’m so MAD! My stomach rumbles, and I “sail” away to explore and indulge myself in the best part of the fair: fried food feasting.
When newcomers to our Tunbridge Fair arrive for the first time, they immediately see only the surface of the fair food experience. In the same section as the games there are countless food trucks trying to sell the same-old, same-old. Hamburgers that taste like lard, pizza so greasy that when you take a bite the cheese slides off, hot dogs so artificial you can bounce them on the ground. But if you want to know the unique eats, you must journey to the section of the fair away from the rides, away from the games, away from the screaming kids. If you want the real experience, you must venture towards the back of the fair, where the animal shows live, the place where you’ll find the true men and women of Vermont. On the edge of the fair you can find a small, secluded area that will bring you to heaven with decadent tastes and indulgent wafting aromas, and then, after about an hour, it will bring you to heaven with a food coma.
The growl of my stomach is the signal I’ve waited for all night. As I jog towards the horse barn my head whips from side to side. Crepes, oh the soft sweet goodness! Flatbread sandwiches smelling of cheese and fresh ham! Dumplings so savory that in one bite you’re in Oriental Wonderland! Artisan pizza fresh out the brick oven; the heat that it radiates makes me want to dive in! I try to decide, my head swimming with the different decisions. Beef or chicken? Chinese vs. American! I’ll have it all! So, after a flatbread sandwich, dumpling noodle soup, corn on the cob, and a smoothie made of mango and milk, I have experienced the greatness of Tunbridge to its fullest.
As the night carries on, we laugh, we scream, we spend, and we grin. The dark sets in, the slight chill turns to a harsher nighttime cold and the crowds thin. Soon the rides are closing and the booths are locked. I feel my phone vibrate in my pocket, and I know my dad is on the other end calling to bring me home. Reality sets in and I realize the night is over. I smile a big mourning grin and tread towards my waiting parent.
All these beautiful things only come once a year; this is the night when you can eat whatever, spend whatever, and have as much fun as you can before the fair closes. We know that the food will go to our hips, that for the money we spent we could buy a million times what we got, that the games were rigged, and the giant stuffed animals filled with confetti, but we don’t care. There is something about this night, this experience, that makes it all worth it. The thing that feeds the ecstasy, the binge eating, and the overspending, I can’t name this emotion but whatever it is, this feeling makes the Tunbridge Fair worthwhile. So, even though the late summer is still a time of brain cramps and hurtful gossip, I’m not sad when it’s time to go back to school, because when Labor Day comes I know that the Tunbridge Fair is right around the corner. To me this experience is the very pinnacle of late summer.
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