You shouldn’t be able to find yourself at a pig race unexpectedly. Not in a major metropolitan area like Chicago. Pig racing seems something a person should see coming, a long way off. It shouldn’t come as a surprise.
But when Sunday morning dawned, I had no idea that a few hours later I’d be cheering trotters tearing around a track. All I knew was, my older son and his girlfriend had come to town, and as Manhattan sophisticates finding themselves in the Midwest, naturally wanted to visit a pumpkin patch. Ever the amiable host, I plugged “pumpkin patch” into my phone, and the closest green dot was Richardson Adventure Farm, 45 minutes away. That seemed doable.
Had you asked me, during the drive, what I expected, I would have imaged some kind of large roadside stand, with many pumpkins, set out on pallets. There would be a faux rustic building of some sort, offering apple butter and corn husk dolls and a cafe, where we would repair to celebrate our new pumpkin with hot cider and cinnamon donuts.
Just trying to park at Richardson told me that image was woefully inadequate — hundreds of cars and pick-ups arrayed across a field, with mobs working their way toward an admission booth that hearkened to the Bristol Renaissance Faire, if not Disney World. We waited in line. The clerk informed me admission is $24 for adults, but my wife and I, being over 60, we could slip in for only $18 apiece.
I was confused. We were paying $84 for the opportunity to buy a pumpkin? There were pumpkins for sale at Sunset Foods. My initial instinct — flee — was impossible, given the presence of the couple who had just flown in from New York. “I thought I was coming to a pumpkin patch...” I muttered, handing over my credit card.
“Oh, we’re much more than that,” chuckled the clerk, and we joined a whirling commotion. Richardson’s claims to have the world’s largest corn maze, and soon we were tramping among the dried 7-foot-high stalks. I marveled at how quickly we shifted from trying to navigate around what seemed the entire population of Waukegan, to being utterly alone, listening to the wind rattle the dry stalks. We spent maybe 45-minutes traversing the maze — they give you a map, and checkpoints where you can punch a number on the map, giving the experience more of a scavenger hunt progression of small successes than the usual “How do I get out of this thing?” maze frustration.
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