Thursday, August 17, 2006

REWIND: PC '96 - A Day at the Fair.

Each year at the Kentucky State Fair, the LAGERS home brewing club (Louisville) runs the fair’s home brew competition, and it sponsors the home brewing information booth. The FOSSILS (Southern Indiana) club helps staff the booth.

I’m stunned to note that the following was written in 1996. On several occasions since, I’ve taken time to pull a shift at the booth, and they always seem to play out the same way.


On the morning of the gorgeous summer Wednesday that I had chosen to man the LAGERS information booth at the Kentucky State Fair, I awoke to that irritable feeling of discomfort that many people describe as a hangover.

I was shocked and appalled. As a trained, professional drinker of fine ales, I have "hangovers" about as often as I find Beluga caviar next to the Star-Kist tuna at the Dairy Mart down the street.

Anyway, what had I done the previous evening to even merit the mention of a hangover? I’d only had one Old Rasputin Imperial Stout ... followed by an abbey dubbel ... and a couple of Sierra Nevada drafts to ease my aching feet ... and a nightcap of Old Foghorn to chase down an evening meal of one and a half cold breadsticks and thoroughly coagulated garlic butter.

It must have been some kinda allergy, ‘coz it simply couldn’t have been a hangover.

To prepare for the rigors of the day, I ate two doughnuts and drained three cups of black coffee. Thusly fortified with sugar and caffeine, I was off to greet the fair going public.

I was driven to the fairgrounds and deposited at the first Crittenden Drive gate near the I-65 exit ramp. I stepped from the gasping car into a cloud of sweat-laden dust raised by the University of Louisville football players who were practicing nearby in the shadow of the former Mt. Schnellenberger, which has been reduced to the status of mere knob in the collective memory of University of Louisville football fans. It was a little after 10:00 a.m. when I paid the admission fee at one of the auto booths, and then produced my ticket for the next bored employee a few yards further on, who looked at me incredulously and said, "a walk-in?"

I headed for the third base side of Cardinal Stadium, took advantage of the pedestrian crosswalk through the horse promenade, joyously filled my lungs with the accompanying Bluegrass ambiance, navigated the east concourse of Freedom Hall, and emerged on the South Lawn, to be greeted by Freddy Farm Bureau. Freddy was too busy ogling the scantily clad young schoolgirls to bother with me, but I had spotted a Courier Journal booth and decided to ask if I could buy a newspaper to keep me company.

"No, we don’t have any newspapers," yawned the woman on duty, turning grudgingly away from her telephone conversation about the dating habits of fellow office inhabitants. "But there’s plenty of free maps of the fair! You want one of those?"

Sure. It had a nice recipe for pie, and a reminder that our one metropolitan newspaper was always there when it’s needed.

I turned toward my destination, only to be jarringly confronted by a beer tent that trumpeted the availability of Budweiser beers, those fine premium products from the House of Busch -- in this case, the Outhouse of Busch, where carbonated urine enriches the Busch family as it impoverishes the collective palate of the nation, which in turn worships the swill barons like medieval peasants groveling in the presence of the local nobility.

To conquer swill, you only have to think ...

The LAGERS booth was right where it was supposed to be. I assembled the free handouts (LAGERS, FOSSILS, BBC, Silo, Tucker Brewing, Nuts ‘n’ Stuff, Winemakers Supply) on the long table, surveying the sparse crowd wandering through the exhibits in the South Hall. It occurred to me to keep a log of sorts. Here are a few hours of it.

10:30 First of the very accurately billed "heartburn" specials -- loaded Chicago-style hot dogs from the stand out front of Freedom Hall on the South Lawn.

10:35 First "hey, you givin’ out samples?" question from a passer by.

10:47 First "I remember my dad’s/granddad’s/uncle’s bottles of homebrew blowing up" story, this one from a woman who now lives in Pittsburgh.

10:53 I quit trying to count the number of Kentucky Wildcats ball caps bobbing past.

11:45 Sincere man about my age (36) asks me "do you think there are any places at the Fair where I can get a specialty beer to drink?" My answer: "Do you think Auggie Busch drinks his own swill?"

12:00 (noon) Lengthy country music cerebral torture begins emanating from a stage somewhere in the distance. One Patsy Cline number was tolerable, but the remainder utterly inane.

12:05 Ball cap on ambling, tank-topped redneck reads "tell me now before I spend $20.00 on drinks."

12:10 Pleasant older gentleman asks me if I know the best way to filter red wine vinegar.

12:15 Sudden burst of energy has me out of the chair, trying to work the crowd.

12:20 Energy subsides.

12:30 First hot fudge sundae at booth on the South Lawn.

12:40 "My granny used to make it. My daddy used to make it. We’d just sit on the front porch and listen to it explode."

12:50 A teenager asks me a question. His country accent is so thick that I’m unable to understand him. I tell him I’m sorry, but I just moved here from France and I haven’t picked up the language yet.

13:15 An older man tells me stories about his late father, a rural physician in a dry county, who’d send him out for soft drink bottles to use for the homebrew, which "he’d make out of anything he could."

13:35 Mark, one of the owners of the Liquor Barn in Lexington, stops by to chat.

13:55 Idle speculation: Why do old men dress the way they do -- dress shoes and socks, knee-length shorts, golf and polo shirts? It’s like some sort of AARP-mandated public uniform, which I presume they can purchase at a discount at Wal-Mart.

14:00 Wanderlust. Off in search of TARC schedules, having concluded that I could take a bus to get to Bluegrass Brewing Company after my shift, and meet my friend Buddy Sandbach there.

14:15 First ostrich burger.

14:26 Back to work.

14:35 First gyro from booth on the South Lawn.

14:51 Fifteenth request for samples. Make that sixteen.

14:53 Seventeen.

15:10 The band in the South Hall lobby tears into an inspired rendition of the theme from "The Brady Bunch." People actually sing along. Women with babies in strollers go past me again. A cooking demonstration gets under way. Men in town for the Veterans of Foreign Wars convention wear political buttons, some Gore/Clinton, many more Dole/Kemp. I find that I’m very thirsty, but although there are leftover homebrew entries hiding in the back of the booth, one wrong move could yield a smoked spruce. So I wait.

At some point before 17:00 (notice how fond I am of the 24-hour clock?), FOSSILS Supreme Brewmaster Dennis Barry arrived to commence the night shift. I headed off in the direction of Crittenden Drive with the aim of finding the bus stop, but there was a taxi stand by the side of the Redbirds (remember, that’s the local baseball club that lied to the world about its intention to have good beer at ball games -- you don’t think the Curmudgeon would forget such a slight, do you Dale Owens?) ticket office. What the hell, I thought. I’m thirsty.

The efficient, professional cabby regaled me with stories of convention traffic, noting that religious conventions are particularly good for business, with numerous fares requesting to be picked up a block or two away from the convention hall, to be taken to "whiskey stores and tittie bars." The best of all, according to my driver, were the visitors to the annual farm implement show.

"Man, those farmers raise hell!" he exclaimed.

As we pulled into the BBC lot, I was telling my driver about ways of hailing cabs in the old Soviet Union, when you could stand on the street corner and hold up a pack of western smokes or toothpaste, and then watch the competition for your patronage. He was extremely amused by these anecdotes, and he vowed to tell his fellow drivers.

I slipped him a twenty, went inside, ordered a Dark Star Porter, clipped the end off a Punch Diademas, and relaxed, finally among my own.

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