After hearing all the hard news of the past summer, I’ve decided that the Prime Beef Festival couldn’t have come at a better time. Autumn is nearly upon us, and we need to remind ourselves that we are a people of the land, a people of endurance, and a people who can celebrate the smallest things in sublime -- and ridiculous -- ways. No matter what the year throws at us, we can pitch a few tents and bake a few pies, and the world seems better for the company of each other.
I write this in anticipation of the events, leaving my keyboard, once again, unused after Wednesday, mid-afternoon. I do not intend to miss a single feature of the long weekend’s schedule. Like so many others, I need this fair. Amid all the transient carnies and the hustlers and the flashing marquees, there is a sense of reunion, repetition, and even reliability, all of which seem sorely lacking at the end of a hot, dry summer.
Some things are guaranteed to come each year, come rain or shine, and we take them almost for granted. On Wednesday afternoon, the cars will begin to roll in, blocking my driveway and crowding the curbs of all the cross-streets from “C” to Eleventh, from Second Avenue to Boston Avenue, and up and down First and Archer. As we all settle in to line Broadway, some on the curb, some in the grass, some having brought their own chairs, I will eye the folks sitting where I first watched this parade, on the brick wall at the corner of Sixth and Broadway. I scraped my knees trying to climb up there from the sidewalk (instead of being sensible and taking the stairs), nearly forty years ago, and I still feel the burn of anticipation, even in my middle-aged state. But I sit in a chair a block away, today.
And then the parade begins, every year the same way. The ka-boom, the fly-over, the police cars, the sirens, the Grand Marshall comes riding grandly down the street, followed by the schools’ marching bands and the floats folks spent hours dreaming up and weeks trying to assemble. Children dart out to catch sweets tossed from the fire engine and the many floats. The Prime Beef Princess rides in style and luxury -- with her court -- all dressed up in her satiny sequined gown , hiding her comfy sneakers below. Candy vendors and veterans -- selling poppies -- pace the street, and the loose-meat sandwich stand wafts its aroma past me. The horses and the requisite street sweeper mark the end of the parade. And then we make our way out to the fairgrounds at the park.
This year, again, there will be animals shown and animals raced and animals eagerly smooching while their parents are busy trying to defeat the ring-toss or the claw for prizes, in the long run, they probably could have bought cheaper at Tiffany’s (but then they couldn’t have bragged about winning).
This year, again, there will be artisans displaying their crafts, or the results of them. Some will sell jewelry, some will sell leather and dolls and toys, one will be carving wood with his chainsaw.
This year, again, there will be a Prime Beef Cook-off, in which my friend Marsha will have a steak... er... stake... um, entry or two. I predict that, if she wins, it will be in a fair battle, and if she doesn’t win, the one who gets the prize is a ringer from the Culinary Institute of America.
This year, again, there will be carnival rides. I’m too old and infirm (read: whiny) to go on any of those, any more, but I love to listen to the young kids squeal and scream as they get tossed about on the Tilt-a-Whirl .
And, of course, this year they will have, again, the stands selling all those treats for which I save up my apologies to the diet gods. I will partake of lemonade shake-ups, Shirley Temple margaritas in oversized plastic cups, greasy egg rolls, toxic hot dogs, lemon ices, and, of course, funnel cakes. I anticipate strolling until my knees cease to scream at me and instead turn to jelly. At that time, I will sit down beneath the shade of a tree or under a tent canopy, where I will finish off my lemonade shake-up and my funnel cake, and swap stories of long ago childhood with my best friends, to the embarrassment of their children. I’m hoping I’ll see you in passing, as you head for all the fun and games, or, better, that you will be sitting there with me. Good company is always the greater part of good times. Even if we are not in the midst of good times, I intend to make some, with your help. We can shoot some bull until the cows come home. And then we can talk some more.