Lessons from the Puyallup Fair

The kitschy charm of fairs are pleasant for some but less so for others. As a booth worker at the annual Puyallup Fair in Washington, keen observer Caitlin Boersma judges her surroundings.

I’ve attended the Puyallup Fair three times. Normally, I wouldn’t choose a fair as my destination for a fun day out. There’s something nauseating about the deep-fried foods that clog your arteries with a single whiff, the rides of questionable safety which you survive only to vomit all over the place, and the high percentage of mullets.

Despite my aversion, I had to attend the Puyallup Fair for my promotions job. There, I’ve learned a couple of things: (1) my disdain for fairs has less to do with food and hairstyles and more to do with the contradicting elements that constitute the modern day fair, and (2) that labeling people, no matter how fun, is not very nice.

The Puyallup Fair tries to balance the old-timey feel of the 4-H club and caramel apples with the modern additions of car insurance booths and hip-hop concerts. Why is Bow Wow in Puyallup? These are the kinds of questions I’ve been wrestling with.

I think the fair is overwhelming because it’s packed with events, but disappointing because the events themselves are underwhelming. Since I was working in a booth, it was hard for me to catch a lot of acts. I did witness those on the stage nearest my station. The names “Karen Quest: Cowgirl Trick” and “Roberto the Magnificent: Comedy Juggling” should offer a pretty good idea of what I experienced.

I didn’t actually see Karen Quest, but I certainly heard her. She whipped the stage frequently and emitted a cacophony of cowgirl-esque noises. Roberto the Magnificent, who I actually watched, was hilarious. Not because his jokes were funny, but because his act resembled that of failed magician Gob from television’s Arrested Development. Roberto played over-the-top classic rock loudly while juggling various items. He often clapped for himself and reminded the crowd to do the same. “Doesn’t that deserve a big clap?”

The thing about juggling is that it’s impressive for about three minutes. My awe is not going to rise exponentially as you juggle more things. If you begin by juggling three clubs and graduate to five coconuts, it doesn’t look all that different.

Working at promo booths for a liberal talk radio station has taught me to anticipate confrontation. At the Puyallup Fair, for example, I was more than prepared for enthusiastic conservatives to approach and tell me how much I suck. In addition to promoting the station, I also offer an outlet for fairgoers to vent their political frustrations. I guess the “Staff” shirt makes me look official enough to solve everyone’s problems.

I’ll be honest – I expected harassment because of all the cowboy boots. I mean, our president is a cowboy, right? I judged too quickly. One couple, especially, proved me wrong. They were both decked out in matching cowboy outfits, and I clenched my teeth as they approached. I had already been asked three times if “Progressive” meant “Christian,” and I was tired of explaining the difference. As it happened, they were the sweetest people ever. They were avid listeners of the station, and they informed me that they were dressed as members of a performing dance group. Man, I’m a jerk.

Even though I still haven’t warmed up to the fair, I learned that it’s important not to categorize people by what activities they enjoy or what events they attend. Everyone is aware of this moral, but it’s worth reiterating. It’s easy to fall into stereotyping without even realizing it. I may be right 95% of the time, but I might miss a small percentage of people who are really terrific.

They just happen to like cowboy boots.

Caitlin Boersma is studying political science and English, but spends most of her time analyzing pop culture. Her premise for a new reality TV show, Killing Andy Milonakis, has yet to be picked up by VH1. She is notorious for spending a week’s wages on a ticket to see Morrissey live.