Having been to our state capital several times, I could never in good conscience wholeheartedly encourage anybody to actually travel downstate to the sleepy little slice of perdition known as Springfield.
The Illinois State Fair opens tonight, and if ever there were a reason for someone to trek down to the lower realms without actually being paid to do so, the state fair is that reason, with its honey judging and baton twirling and life size butter cow. There is something pure, noble, sweet and unassailable about the fair. If you ever go—and you must, at least once—all you need to do is see those teens in their white 4-H Club polo shirts solemnly and with great tenderness guiding their goats, or sheep, or pigs, or cows, past the scowling judges to realize there is a whole world of straw and pre-dawn mornings and obscure diseases that we city folk hardly think about. If you hate the fair, you also hate America and likely hate yourself too, though you probably do not know it.
It's too easy to go to the fair and scoff, just as it has become a cliche to sneer at Disney World. Far more of a challenge—with the greater reward that challenges bring—to go and let yourself appreciate what you find there, even love it. The picking apart has already been done by keener wits than our own—no lesser literary light than the late novelist David Foster Wallace took a scalpel to the Illinois State Fair in Harper's magazine years ago with such bottomless smugness that the entire effort became self-serving and dull. Yes, there are deep fried pickles and funnel cakes and enormous fat families baking in the relentless sun. Yes, there are bad rock bands and bad hairdos and Pat Quinn, spending the day staggering around, awkward and harried and sweating. But there is also great skill, and pride, and much hard work, with countless gorgeous animals, with many farmers and their families going solemnly about their otherwise unheralded business. Plus, you can milk a cow for a buck, if you are so inclined and, really, who is not inclined to try their hand at milking a cow, at least once? It's fun. Once.