You can’t dance around the issue of Fair prices

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By Steve Doyle

The sticker shock is stunning, something that makes you turn your head and look for a second time.

Then you hear the kicker: Every time you play, you have to pay.

We’re talking about the weekend admission to the Shelby County Fair.

$10. Not chump change, considering that rides, food and everything else cost extra.

And, yes, if you want to attend the fair in the afternoon and return when the weather cools, you have to pay again.

Take in a cattle show or a baby show, you have to pay another $10 to come back later and ride the rides.

I’d say someone is being taken for a ride.

Even volunteers working in booths to sell food for fund-raisers have to pay admission (I’d put half of that burden on the clubs, though).

Said one guy to a gate attendant when he forked out the admission cost: “And they don’t even have hoochie-coochie shows.”

We’re not sure if “hoochie” and “coochie” are spelled correctly. And their definitions are sort of pruritan and – you know – defined by the consumer.

Go back a few decades, and the Shelby County Fair had a reputation for its, uh, exotic shows.

They were right there next to the Rocko Planes and across from the Octopus ride.

A guy would bark into a microphone about the unimaginable treats that awaited men who dared go inside his door and to the tent behind. You couldn’t lean away from his inside pitch.

For a youngster, these shows were sort of strange and scary. For many they were the devil incarnate.

But you can believe they attracted crowds, particularly the older teens and young adult males from surrounding counties.

What went on in there is a mystery to me, but I’ve heard tales from boys who somehow sneaked in. They weren’t pretty.

Guess that’s why the Shelby News campaigned so loud and strong until this attraction was removed from the midway. That happened sometime in the early 1970s.

But the fair’s hoochie-coochie legacy remains.

Too bad the legacy for $1 entry and cheap rides didn’t hang around, too.

I know entertainment is more expensive these days, but I have trouble with how inaccessible our fair has become.

You shouldn’t need exotic dancers to attract a crowd, but you also shouldn’t require taxpayers to pony up – pun intended – so much to see their kids and grandkids perform.

And if you do have to pay such prices, you shouldn’t also have to purchase an expensive ride bracelet, too.

This stuff makes going to the movies seem cheap.

County fairs were built on sweat and romance, with the two sometimes intertwining.

They were created to allow local people to show off their best homegrown wears – we’re talking farmers, not dancers – to compete against one another for, say, best cow, pig, pie, cake, pickles, embroidery or artwork.

What kind of book would Charlotte’s Web have become without a good old county fair for Charlotte to spin her own legacy? (Good thing the rat didn’t find “hoochie” or “coochie” on some piece of paper!)

Some fairs in the old days included horse races, not just shows, and horse and mule team pulls gave way to tractors.

A farmer could take his strongest tractor and try to outpull the guy down the road for mostly bragging rights. Even that’s changed now to include souped-up vehicles that seem more appropriate for the drag strip than the pulling track.

And those old tractor pulls might have been a place where a boy first asked a girl to go on a date, because the fair was for many the casual gathering place for teenagers to intermingle nightly on the road to romance.

It was a place where you could meet someone at the gate, get in on your allowance and take a ride on the tilt-a-whirl or the scrambler, which tended to bring young people closer together.

It was a place where a reckless buddy could talk you into a ride on the rock-o-planes with a promise not to turn you upside down and then do it anyway.

It was a place where you rendezvoused after baseball or softball games and knew you would run into friends.

It was a place where guys would drive out from Louisville and throw their dollars away at games of chance, knowing with all their heart they could outsmart the carnie running the game.

That brings to mind a story about the son of a guy who used to fish on our farm. He drove over and asked my grandfather to loan him some money so he could go back and beat a game and collect his winnings.

My grandfather, a man who had seen much and knew which doors wouldn’t open, listened and then sort of gave his knowing chuckle.

“Here’s what I think you should do,” he said. “Go home and save your money.”

Or something like that. I remember after the guy left, Granddaddy had more colorful advice as he laughed about the request.

I was lucky. I didn’t have enough money to lose.

I’d take a chance on picking up a floating duck, but the best I ever did was win one of those things you could slip your fingers inside and it wouldn’t let you pull them out.

Of course, I did fling baseballs at stacks of loaded bottles and shoot overinflated basketballs at less-than-regulation rims.

And I sometimes succeeded. But I never invested more than a dollar’s worth.

I mean, you could take a date to the Shelby County Fair, ride most of the rides and then go out for a pizza afterward, and the whole thing wouldn’t cost more than $5.

But not anymore.

Yes, I’m thinking the fair has lost its romance.