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MARALINE KUBIK I've watched, and people are nothing to crow about



Published: Tue, September 4, 2001 @ 12:00 a.m.



People-watching is one of my favorite pastimes. There's nothing as entertaining as watching what they do when they don't realize they're being scrutinized. It's even better when you can hear what they say.

Here's what I've concluded after six days of watching and listening to fairgoers:

One word: First, people are cheap. If there's anything to be had for free, they will wait in line -- for hours -- grumbling.

Some of the freebies, such as medical screenings, are well worth the wait. But you wouldn't catch me sitting on the ground in my shorts holding a place in line. I've seen what that looks like.

The good thing about realizing that people are cheap is that you can control the flow of walking traffic simply by shouting the word free. It doesn't matter what follows; it could be anything from free stickers to free cash, people will swarm like a hive of honeybees knocked from their nest.

Some fairgoers take this to the extreme. After a week, the barns where horses, cattle and the vast array of other animals took up residence really need a cleaning. I can only imagine how much shoveling takes place when area gardeners show up to collect all of the natural fertilizer they can heap into the backs of their pickup trucks. After all, it's free.

Cheating hearts: Second, given the opportunity, people will cheat. I overheard one mother telling her son that next year, he's going to color a picture for the annual Vindicator coloring contest and put his little sister's name on it. This idea occurred to her after viewing winning entries this year. "No 4-year-old could have colored that," she exclaimed.

I don't know. Maybe the kid who colored that picture is more artistic than her kid. Or, maybe that kid has an older brother who likes to color and put his younger sibling's name it.

I guess it's only natural for mothers to want their children to win. I overheard another one instructing her brood to stuff a drawing box full of multiple entries for a contest. When her young son protested because he didn't want to write so much, she curtly informed him, "That's how you win."

At the gate: Third, parking attendants and gatekeepers really take their jobs seriously. If you don't follow the exact path they wanted you to take, they will run behind your car flailing their arms in the air. Anyone who witnesses this exertion of energy surely must think that the car being chased just mowed over someone in an orange vest.

Parking attendants also will do this if the appropriate parking sticker isn't stuck to your windshield and you try to enter a sticker-only gate. It doesn't matter if you have the sticker, or that the fair only lasts six days and the sticker glue is guaranteed to remain stuck on the glass until the end of eternity. Rules are rules, and that sticker is supposed to be stuck. Keeping it prominently displayed on the dash simply won't do.

Gatekeepers are just as adamant about checking the name tags that those who work at the fair are supposed to wear around their necks.

You may pass by the same gatekeeper every morning dressed in the same unofficial uniform -- khaki-colored pants and denim shirt emblazoned with the company name -- and dragging so much stuff that it could break a mule's back, but if you have no tag, you no enter.

When you gotta go: Fourth, restroom signs all look alike to those who have to go, especially if they are in a hurry. Women's restrooms are especially appealing to men if it is closer than the men's room. Men's restrooms are especially appealing to women because there is no line.

Hiding out? Fifth, not everyone comes to the fair with someone they want to be seen with. I discovered this when I was looking for couples to interview for a story about love at the fair.

Show up with a photographer and a notepad to take names and fireworks fly. Could it be that people involved in extramarital affairs and teen-agers dating friends their parents don't approve of find the fair an especially attractive place to stroll hand-in-hand?

I can only guess. But approaching these folks provided excitement I didn't expect. And, like many of the shows and attractions at the fair, all of this people-watching entertainment was free. I volunteer to do it again next year.

kubik@vindy.com




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