Elizabeth Barrette (ysabetwordsmith) wrote,
Elizabeth Barrette

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A Perfect Trip

For about three years now, my partner Doug has been hankering after Mister Softee, a soft-serve ice cream truck that he fondly remembers from his childhood. Mister Softee of Central Illinois has a Facebook page so you can find the truck. Today they were parked all day at the Warrensburg Corn Festival. So we went, and drove an hour to get ice cream ... and it was the best street fair we've been to. Tiny little thing -- no more than 5-6 vendors, maybe 6-8 food and beverage places, a midway with a handful of rides, and miscellaneous entertainment. But I give them 10 out of 10 points. Let me explain why...

The weather. Star of the show, by unanimous acclaim! It was about 79℉, sunny, and breezy. You couldn't have special-ordered a better day, as someone put it. Literally every person we spoke to mentioned the perfect weather, and none of us got tired of saying it or hearing it. I don't think I've ever been to a summer fair that was this cool and wasn't raining. Given global warming, I may never see one this nice again, but it was glorious to have experienced.

The food. In a rare feat of brilliance, all the food and beverages were both excellent and reasonably priced. Not a great deal of offerings in absolute terms, but proportional to the size of the event there were quite a lot. For lunch proper, I got a corn dog and Doug got a pulled brisket sandwich.

Mister Softee was totally worth driving an hour to get! I am rather a connoisseur of ice cream. This is among the best soft-serve I've had, well above Dairy Queen's nice level, and approaching Culver's which is custard and therefore generally outperforms ice cream. Chocolate and vanilla ice cream, plus an excellent range of toppings, dips, sprinkles, etc. In particular, if you like vanilla as a flavor rather than a neutral base, this is as good as I've had short of someone using actual vanilla beans to make it. We got a vanilla shake with lunch, and then later, a banana boat with pineapple on vanilla, chopped maraschino cherries on chocolate, and chocolate sauce over vanilla. If you are at all into maraschino cherries, definitely try them over chocolate ice cream, that was awesome. And the nice lady in the truck turned on the music for us -- it plays an adorable song. :D If you are in central Illinois and like soft-serve ice cream, look them up.

We also found -- finally! -- a deep-fried twinkie. This has been another quest item for several years. I tried the thing out of curiosity, because I don't like regular twinkies. It was amazingly good! Somehow the process of deep-frying magically turned an indestructible wad of artificial ingredients into a delicious dessert. If you're dubious, consider splitting one with friends to see what you think. It greatly exceeded my expectations. I have no idea if this is typical of such confections, or if we simply got a better-than-average one.

The vendors. Although few in number, they put on a good showing. I bought two tie-dye t-shirts, one pink-blue-purple and one yellow-orange-pink. I'm not a big fan of pink, but a little pf it with other colors is okay, and the rainbow options in bright or neon colors were things I already have. So I'm diversifying a bit. Drat it, I don't seem to have a business card from those guys. :( I also got a lovely little glass bottle on a beaded string to hang in the fairy window from Scrafts and L&L Studio. Lovely metalwork jewelry and glass art with beads and bottles. I got a sprig of cotton with its seed pods open from The Perfect Pair, an antique shop I'd really like to visit later. They did some very nice upcycling, like a coffee table display case made from an old window. This is the only area where I could think of any significant improvements: 10-15 vendors would've been a nicer size. But I deduct no points because I had no difficulty spending my budget on who was there.

The swag booths. First, allow me to lament the gravely diminished state of swag at most contemporary events. For comparison, the Coles County Fair has an entire barn devoted to such displays. In my youth it was full, and one could easily obtain a year's supply of pencils, emery boards, etc. by walking through it. Now it's down to the Republicans, Democrats. a couple of tractor salesmen, and a church whose propaganda is so creepy that even most other Christians avoid them. And most of those tables have very little in the way of useful goodies to pick up. :P Enter today's event. Now remember, this is a tiny little street fair in a quiet town, not a county seat's big fair. I had seen a few tidbits to pick up here and there. And then, while looking for something else altogether -- we wanted the event t-shirt we'd seen others wearing -- we stumbled across the public safety row. Swag! Swag as far as the eye could see! Several whole tables covered end to end with glorious loot. In addition to the usual pens and stickers, I found a number of rare and high-value items including a 6-inch ruler (fits in places a 12-inch will not), two chip clips one of which has a very strong plastic C-spring instead of the usual metal spiral, a miniature frisbee (can't have too many of those because it doesn't matter if you take one to the park and lose it), and one I'd never seen on a swag table before: a nylon ribbon lanyard with a reflective strip on it. I don't like wearing reflectors I can't fling off instantly if I need to hide, but that one is perfect. \o/ Seriously, whoever stocked these tables? Give that guy a raise!

Central Illinois Fire Safety was raffling off excellent little emergency packages of a fire extinguisher and a first aid kit. They also advertised the most comprehensive, most elegant emergency alert system I've seen. Standard fire detector. Heat-only fire detector for the kitchen. Carbon monoxide detector. Flood detector for the basement. Freeze detector for the pipes. WiFi lets you reach barn, garage, etc. and receive alerts to your phone if the system triggers while you are away. It will not only tell you that your house is on fire, but which room is on fire and how much fire it is on. Similarly the water alarm indicates damp, wet, and so much water the device is floating. You can then call for appropriate help and give them details from the telemetry so they'll know how to respond. Oh, and it has a 20-year battery. We've had smoke detectors before but none that were worth the plastic they were printed with. I need to visit the website and examine this product in more detail, but if it actually does what it says, I waaaant one. On top of that, they had some handy flyers -- the home safety checklist is from there, haven't done one of those in a while. Fun conversation with folks who seemed to know their content and equipment quite well.

The police department also had a table full of awesome swag. Theirs were the ruler, frisbee, and lanyard. They also had a lot of useful handouts, mostly stuff I already know, but I picked up a few of the things that tend to change over time. The brochure about bullying is much more apt than average, with emphasis on teaching nonviolent problem-solving skills which I almost never see anyone acknowledge. CrimeStoppers now has online and text options for anonymous tips by crime witnesses, and a respectable list of statistics on crimes stopped by citizen efforts. Plus the big bucket of candy which I did not need after stuffing myself with fair food. I was pleased to note that the cops staffing the booth were cheerful and not making me feel like I needed to check my six. The city has spent its money well. I figure they get enough flack over the very real problem of police violence in America today, and need positive feedback on successes. That booth? You're Doing It Right.

Public health had a booth. Pencils, pens, several different magnets of which I got the mosquito one. I already know all about mosquitoes, but I do collect business-card-type magnets for the fridge. I probably have between one and two dozen of those things. Lots of flyers, most of which I also knew. But then there was the "I Love It When..." coloring book. Its primary audience is children, as it has cute illustrations of parents and children doing things together. The secondary audience is parents, though; the inside of the front and back covers are full of basic parenting advice, safety tips, some excellent EFA, and other goodies. It's adorable and it should work. This table was staffed by a lady with very up-to-date and flexible ideas on how to solve problems; we had quite a nice chat about harm reduction that started when she mentioned their fluent quit-smoking program.

And that's the three main branches of emergency care -- fire, police, medical -- all represented together in one strip of the street fair. People could stop and get a lot of concrete, useful information for free. My one quibble is that it was a bit out of the way and we nearly missed it, having seen it but not realized what a haul they had; so a large "Public Safety -- Free Treats" sign for next year would be helpful. They had signs on each booth but I didn't really spot anything from the distance that identified it as a practical resources cluster, and I do watch for those. This is exactly the kind of thing I like to see at public events, especially in terms of giving out free information and swag with emergency contact info on it. You want people to have that stuff when they need it. You want them to see the staff acting as part of the community and chatting with folks. You want everyone to know what the logos look like and be able to recognize them in a crisis. It used to be ubiquitous and is now rare, which is sad. So seeing it like this, as functional as it was decades ago but with new!improved! information really made me happy. I made a point of saying so and encouraging them to do it again next year.

In general, many of the booths around the fair -- swag, some vendors and some food too -- were from local businesses. They had employees out there making sure folks knew what resources they offered at work. It's not just about advertising. It's about interacting with each other, being neighborly. Warrensburg is doing stuff to knit the community together that most places just don't do anymore, and suffer for it. This is heartening to see.

Last but not least, the event t-shirts were swag. Apparently they were giving those out at the parade early in the day. We got there midday, saw the shirts on people, and looked all over for them being sold. I wouldn't usually go for a souvenir shirt from a street fair, but you don't have a perfect-10 day and not try to get a souvenir with the event name on it. At the very last minute, we saw a guy carrying several of the shirts and flagged him down. He had, in fact, the last three, two already claimed. The third we got for free, a 3X that is a tent on Doug and a nightgown on me, but we're not picky and can share. It's a bright grass-green with an ear of corn on it and the participating organizations. They did have signs for those all around, so you could see who sponsored the event. I cannot overestimate the awesomeness of free t-shirts! Usually you only see that at the really high-end, expensive trade conventions. Even science fiction cons, you have to buy the shirt if you want it.

This was just a super functional part of the street fair that I haven't seen done this well in years and really miss. People could get stuff they need, even a piece of clothing, without needing money to get in or having to buy everything. In a society this broke, we need more free stuff. People need to see that their community cares.

By the way, if you're ever buying swag for an event, put some thought into it. You can't go wrong with pencils or pens, but for god's sake don't just hawk the cheap stuff. Everyone has that. People remember the one booth that had the fans, the frisbees, the flashlights, or bothered to offer them a bag to carry it all. You don't actually have to lard it as much as the cops did :D but do try to have at least one unusual item. Plus your business card or flyer, of course, so folks can find you easily if the swag just has the name and logo but not contact info. Some does, some doesn't.

The people. Everyone was happy today. Everyone was enjoying the heck out of the great weather and fun opportunities. A lot of folks struck up conversations at random, some short, some long. It was nice to be out in public and just keep running into nice people who were fun to talk with. The lady with the Cheshire cat tattoo. The kids in the park. The retired farmer couple showing off their collection of corn memorabilia. (Yes, really. That's a thing.) The food vendors yakking about what was good to eat. The local librarian I was in line with. <3

I saw a lot of folks in passing who just made me smile being who they are. Tween girls in unicorn t-shirts. High school girls in cutoff jeans and hankie tops. Small children shrieking and playing in the water, and nobody telling them to quit. Old folks sitting on benches and people-watching. There was a really good mix of ages, some variation in ability level, and about as much racial mix as this part of Illinois gets, with nobody seeming to argue over any of it. Heck, I didn't even argue with the t-shirt dudes and they had conservative stuff over half the booth. We just talked about the interests we had in common.

The entertainment:
Again, surprisingly good for a tiny event and very prosocial. The live singer at the cafeteria pavilion was 1) a good musician, 2) a beautiful singer, and 3) not playing so loud it hurt our ears. Also every song he played was one I knew and liked -- classic rock, homey Christian stuff, environmental folk. <3 We looked for a tip jar but he didn't have one. Dude, you need a tip jar. There was also a live band in another area, but I didn't pay as much attention to them.

I was intrigued by the density of communal activities. They had a barbecue competition going with a good 6-8 people who hauled out their smokers and grills to produce masterpieces. They had a cornhole competition going on, which is a type of beanbag toss, this version with just one hole per targetboard. (There are many versions, and some have several holes with different values.) There was a dunking booth, which I suspect was quite chilly for the people in it, but nobody seemed to complain. It was mobbed by a couple dozen high school kids. They had forgotten to put down boards around the thing, which meant water had gone everywhere, and that corner of the ballfield was complete pigpen of mud and puddles. They had dealt with this by taking off their shoes and playing barefoot in the mud. I haven't seen that in ages either. Sometimes it's nice just to get grubby and have fun. Those kids will probably remember today for the rest of their lives, as a highlight of their youth.

Another water source was the fire hydrant. Someone took a wrench to it and cracked it just enough to spritz water out. I suspect this was done as a way for people to cool off if they got overheated, which is a public service I've seen occasionally but not nearly as often as it should be. (Doug says they used to do this in his neighborhood once a week in summers, which is awesome.) I wasn't hot, so I didn't need to play in the water, but I did it anyway just because it's fun. I did not jump in the puddle as some people did, because wet shoes are not fun and I hadn't brought a spare pair. So thanks, firefighters, for making a fabulous fair even more magical.

The park. Sure, lots of places have parks, but this one was special. They had some of the newfangled, crappy plastic equipment that has to be no more than six feet high and is therefore boring to everyone but toddlers. But they hadn't torn out the good old stuff. A merry-go-round. Springers. Two swingsets with at least three different seat types. A sandbox with a couple of cranes. A jungle gym. A short metal slide ... and the crowning glory, a ripple slide that must have been ten or twelve feet high. We were looking for a place to sit and eat our banana boat when I laid eyes on that thing, but I said, "They have a tall slide. I haven't seen one of those in years. Soon as I'm done eating, I'm going on it." :D So I did. There were several kids of varying colors playing on it. They gave me a funny look. I said, "You're never too old to play," and climbed up after them. Now this was a tall slide. It had a nearly vertical ladder and quite a steep pitch and not a whole lot to hold onto at the top. But that's what makes it awesome. You can't get these things anymore, most places have banned them because people are stupid, so the remaining ones are precious. It's tall enough to be a little scary even for me. You need to get a little scared sometimes, so you remember what it's like and how to deal with it. Short slides are for learning how to climb. Tall slides are for learning how not to panic and how not to fall off and break your arm. These are lessons that oversimplified equipment fails to offer, and thus after kids get out of kindergarten or thereabouts, most modern parks are boring so they climb on completely inappropriate things instead. Or worse, they lounge on the couch instead of going outside at all. 0_o We need the tall slides, we need merry-go-rounds and other stuff where you have to pay attention to what you're doing and not, for example, put your hand on the hot metal in full sun. Classic playgrounds offered a range of age-appropriate risks and delights that let kids develop skills gradually. And when it comes to safety warnings that people actually heed, parent and teacher lectures are a lot less effective than knowing about one kid a year in your school who horsed around on the high slide like they'd been told not to do, and fell off and broke their arm. This park has both modern and classic equipment, and I hope they keep it that way. <3

This whole fair was super nostalgic. I expected that for Doug, since he was chasing Mister Softee, but it worked for me too. I saw a ton of stuff that I adore and rarely get anymore. It was like a little glimpse of the past, or a little slice of Terramagne. And that reminded me that I'm not jaded, misanthropic, or coming down with PTSD. It's just that most of the social events SUCK now. When the context changes -- when the event has good food, charming entertainment, interesting loot, and nice people -- I perk right up and have lots of fun. The only way to check that divergence is to attend events that are actually good, and those are sadly scarce right now. But today was perfect, and I was fully functional and sociable even with random ordinary people. I'm not antisocial. I just don't like jerks, or most of what passes for entertainment now. To see this again was very sweet. I hope they do as well next year on the planning side, even if the weather cannot be expected to repeat its stellar performance.

One of the most precious gifts about farmemory is the counterpoint to one of its worst drawbacks. I don't just remember the highest highs and the lowest lows. I can recognize them as they're happening. It didn't take me long to clock this as a perfect day, which meant I could spend most of the trip deliberately making memories for eternity, being glad to spend the day with someone I love. Because this day is one I'll be holding onto when I'm trying to stuff the core back into a galaxy before it explodes, or whatever challenges crop up in later lives. You need to know what you're fighting for. One of mine has always been these sleepy little harvest fairs -- and it doesn't much matter which society -- full of good food and song and laughter and community. Doesn't even have to be my town. I just like knowing it's out there.

Some things are precious because they are brief and rare, like a perfect summer day.

Plans for next year:

* Go back!

* Wear sunscreen and probably a hat. I didn't sufficiently account for the low temperature meaning not only that I could stay longer, but that I'd get more sun as a result. Normally I don't bother with sunscreen because I don't go out in the sun if I can avoid it; I stay in the shade. I'm just barely pink enough to see where my watchband was; I'm not taking off points because it's not all the way to sunburn, but sunscreen would've been a good idea. Also I want to wear sandals and bring a change of clothes/shoes so I can play in the fire hydrant if they crack it again. This is plausible as it will almost certainly be much hotter next year, with more need for coolant, if it is cool enough to go at all. (We aim for several events and hope to catch at least one of them on a cool-enough day.)

* Visit the park and play on the equipment before eating so much I can barely move. Granted I can't stuff myself in really hot weather, but in any case, I shouldn't play while stuffed. I would've been fine if I'd spotted the slide after getting just the corn dog and milkshake, but then we had the twinkie and the banana boat, so I only went down the slide once.

* Explore the flavors more thoroughly on the Mister Softee menu, which Doug says has expanded. :D Since this was his quest, I let him pick what we got. Next time I might try something else, or then again, go for that chocolate-and-cherry combination again. Who knows. It's ice cream, it's almost all good.

Today I am perfectly happy. I'm grateful that I can, occasionally, go out and have a really great time. It doesn't happen as often as I'd like, because suitable opportunities are just plain rare, but I appreciate it when I get the chance.

I hope everyone else's summer includes at least one perfect day. <3
Tags: a little slice of terramagne, community, event, event report, family skills, food, holiday, illinois, life lessons, personal, review
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