John's Fair Maiden

It’s over, you know that. But it’s not. It’s never over. Year after year it comes back; and every goober, his brother, and his family will be there jamming traffic for miles on three freeways, choking the exit ramps, Jimmy Durante Boulevard, Via de la Valle, the MiraCosta College parking lot, one at those horse stables, and then Torrey Pines High School. That’s the one your wife picks. “It’s the biggest, hon. It’ll never fill up.”

Oh, but it does. A million and a quarter fun-seeking and (you think) remarkably heavy adults and their equally substantial offspring have gathered from San Diego County and (you’re sure) Orange County as well on Friday, this third of July, for a record attendance at the San Diego County Fair, once the Del Mar Fair. So many of them (you suspect) appear to be descendants of the extras in that movie Deliverance.

You’ve been in traffic from Vista for an hour, and you get to the end of a kilometer-long line to board a school-bus shuttle to the fairground entrance. After 50 minutes in line at the high school lot, you pick up an “Official Program and Family Fun Guide.” You will have only another 20 minutes in line in which to study it; but no worries (as you’ve come to say, like the kids), you have another full hour on the bus in traffic through Del Mar.

“We’ve got to decide now,” you announce to your wife and teenage son over the grinding of the bus’s transmission in low gear and horns sounding in the gridlocked traffic on Del Mar Heights Road, “The watermelon-seed-spitting contest or the corn-husking competition. Looks like they’re both at the same time.” You know this isn’t true, but you say nothing. You need to account for your whereabouts while your wife chases down the rumor of a Hee-Haw Tribute Comedy Troupe, featuring a live appearance from Roy Clark. Still alive? you think. Good for him. Roy’s gotta be your age.

It is 12:23 once you enter the main gate beneath the Day-Glo banner announcing the fair’s theme this year: Music Mania. “Okay, if we’re separated, we meet back here every hour on the hour under the Wonder Weiner sign.” Your son is checking out a girl with a hoop earring studded to her navel, hanging like a door-knocker over her baby-fat belly.

“You come with me, Dwayne,” your wife says to the heir to your throne.

“I’m not doing that hillbilly crap!” Dwayne’s calling over his shoulder, referring to watermelons and corn husks as he stalks away from his parents, the back of his mohawked skull merging into shaved ones and backward baseball caps. He walks toward a sound stage in the distance with a band’s name bannered above: Lipstick N Leather.

“Okay, I’m, uh, going to the garden show, hon.”

Smiling at your wife, you say, “Okay. I’ll get coffee and wait here.” She slips into the jostling flow of humanity. You know she’s really in search of Roy Clark. Meanwhile, you have scoped out the map in the program and spot the sign for the Tequila Bar. Moving toward it, you’re arrested by the pleasant strumming of an amplified acoustic guitar. In a moment you hear the soothing, reverberating voice of a young woman.

Turning your head, you see a solar-powered stage (another banner proclaims) to your left and a young, very pretty woman singing (what you later learn to be) an original composition, “Same Sad Story.” This moves you in ways you don’t quite understand, and you find yourself rooted before the stage, listening to this fetching, slim cherub. You are painfully aware that you could be her father, but the appeal of her music is hardly that of the lascivious. Same sad story, indeed. When she finishes to the applause of some 50 or 60 pacified audience members chomping sausage sandwiches or BBQ beef, you approach and ask the singer her name. You could have sworn she said Don Ameche, but no, it’s Dawn Mitschele, and she hands you her CD In the Moonlight.

Thanking her, you study the liner notes. She begins to perform the CD’s title song as you discover “Same Sad Story” was a collaboration between Mitschele and guitarist-pianist Jeremiah Chmielewski. You hear “Kiss You” and “Old Weathered Fences” and others not on the disc. You have forgotten about tequila — even coffee.

The hour comes round, and there is your spouse at your side but not Dwayne. “Ogling the young lady, hon? Make you feel young?”

You grunt and don’t answer. Here comes Dwayne with a new T-shirt, the band Republican Vomit featured on its front. Had you answered your wife, it would have been, “Young? No. Reminds me I’ve got hair in my ears.”

“Let’s catch the Camel Dairy Show,” she says.

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