I had not yet found the Potato Lollipop, and my friends Amy and Betsy were clearly flagging in their enthusiasm for the 2007 Iowa State Fair. Time was running short. Would I find it before we had to board the shuttle bus back to my car?
I should note that, at this point, I was no longer hungry. I had already consumed most of an order of fried cheese curds, a corndog with mustard, a 32-ounce cup of lemonade, a pork chop on a stick, a Bauder’s peppermint bar, a bite of Betsy’s smoked turkey sandwich, and about a quarter of Amy’s cinnamon-sugar funnel cake. My Fair mantra?: “Are you going to throw that away? Because I’ll eat the rest if you’re done.”
In the Agricultural Building, we located one of the Holy Grails: an icy cold, garlicky dill pickle. As far as we were concerned, it was as good as a salad when you’re eating at the Fair. (And yes, for those of you who are purists, we did locate the salad stand, which was in the courtyard of the Fine Arts building, which, really, at an agricultural fair, is a truly out-of-the-way place to be. No actual salads, however, were injured in this eating endeavor.)
The only problem with this pickle? It was in a jar. Without a stick. “I wanted a pickle on a stick,” Betsy hissed.
“I don’t know if we’ll get another shot at a pickle, though,” I said. “Better buy it while we’re here.” I already sensed the disappointment I was planning to feel if I couldn’t find the elusive Potato Lollipop, and I didn’t want Betsy to experience the same pain. I’m friendly like that.
Betsy ordered her pickle first, her voice faint with disappointment over the whole lack-of-stick thing. Until, like the heavens were opening up on us, the man behind the stand asked, “Would you like that on a stick?” He whipped out a plastic stick and, upon Betsy’s frantic nodding, speared the fat dill and handed it to her.
“I want one, too!” I exclaimed, slapping down my $1.50. “Pickle on a stick! Pickle on a stick!”
There’s a way to behave in public, and then there’s a way to behave around Fair Food. I have both behaviors down, apparently, and am happy to throw out the former when in the presence of a funnel cake. Or a corn dog.
But we did not just eat. Oh, no. We also watched Queen Abby receive her 2007 State Fair crown (after, miraculously, also winning the Personality Plus award – when does THAT happen?), saw a girl do an acrobatic dance to “Werewolves in London” by Warren Zevon, and marveled as a boy tap danced to “Up Around the Bend” by CCR,
We checked out the Butter Cow and the Butter Harry Potter and the Butter Trunk of Harry Potter and the Butter Portrait of the Fat Lady (From Harry Potter). We marveled over portraits made entirely from rice and beans and a whole variety of vegetables, including this cabbage that was, as you can see, almost twice the size of my head.
I pet a day-old piglet, and a day-old baby goat. I would have pet the day-old calf, but it was lying in the middle of its pen looking as sullen, already, as a teenager.
And finally, as we trudged toward our plan to catch a few songs by Abbamania, followed by a ride on the shuttle back to our car, I saw something sticking up in a display of totally unappetizing food in a stand not far from the main gates into the Fairgrounds. A stick with three chunks of something fried. It looked more like a rock kebab than a potato lollipop, but it seemed worth investigating. Regardless, these people had meatballs on a stick, and I considered that a worthy fallback position. I could not leave, I had decided, without cramming one more thing down my gullet.
“What is that?” I asked the sales girl, pointing warily at the rock kebab.
“That,” she said, “is a potato lollipop.”
“Yes!” I exclaimed. “I’ve been looking for that all day!”
She served one up out of the metal tray under the heat lamp. She slapped it into a paper dish and handed it over.
“What about the dipping sauces?” I asked, forlornly. I had expected something exciting, something in a small plastic cup. Maybe a couple of somethings.
I sighed. I chose the ranch dressing. And I ate the whole potato lollipop, folks. But it was not good. Not nearly as good as I had expected.
There is always next year, though. There is always the meatball on a stick.