Daily Archives: August 8, 2006

Fair is Excellent

*Some of my most palpable memories of growing up in Berks County are reminiscences of the old Reading Fairgrounds and the old Reading Fair. I recall the boisterous midway – the cacophonous main street of a surrealistic world where carnival sounds intermingled with evocative aromas and a thousand garish lights and sights. Glaring game booths lured my friends and me into trading quarters for opportunities to win toys, trinkets, and live goldfish. We played hard for the possibility of taking home a big copper-plated model horse (the best ones held circular clocks) or an oversize stuffed animal.The whole environment seemed to me to be enormous, overwhelming, phantasmagoric. The fairgrounds also held the highly attended stock car race venue, spectacular rides, farm animals, agriculture displays, and food stands galore. A left turn off the midway would take you down a descending route to exhibitions of exotica – shows of bizarre humans, animal freaks of nature, and death-defying motorcyclists speeding around the inner walls of a cylindrical track. During their circular orbits, these leather-clad antiheroes negated gravity. They staved off cruel crashes and stayed alive only by dint of the centrifugal force of awesome velocity. The nadir of that dusty alternative walkway was the place we only murmured about – the raunchy stages where tipsy men ogled undressed women. Except for the moral absences of these freak shows, we still long for the way it was.After it’s final run in 1978, our dear old Reading Fair was was torn away from us by the rapacious Mall Monster. And many of us have never really accepted that a soulless mall is a worthy replacement for a much loved local landmark, a county-wide meeting place, and the venue for one of the few events that held us together across diverse boundaries of age, class, culture, heritage, and language.Yes, the old Reading Fair is nonpareil in the memories of those of us who are fortunate enough to have been there. Conversely, we who can compare the more recent versions of the fair to the classic ones have judged the new against the old quite harshly. The new Reading Fair in its last couple of incarnations has held no good comparison to recollections of fairs that passed long ago.This year, however, I can sense the classic coming back and exhibiting better family values at that. What is so significant about the 2006 version of the Reading Fair? For one thing dirt car races are back in full force! Even better, “The World’s Largest Demolition Derby,” offers the thrill of smashing, mashing, auto crashes as a spectator sport! What could be better than that? In addition to the traditional rides, agricultural and domestic animal exhibits, rows of food stands, and dirt track events, there are stage shows – wild animal presentations, historical re-enactments of the men, vehicles, and animals that advanced civilization before the age of machines, a wild-west village, and a fine magic show. These events offer a plenitude of experience and they add inestimably to the experience of fairgoers.Sharon and Michael Sandlofer’s Windham Mountain Ranch Great American Frontier & Wildlife Show adds significant experience and meaning to this year’s event. The wild animal show, with bears, mountain lions, and wolves brings viewers closer to the beasts than do most zoos. The environmental message that informs the entire show is important for all to hear. The Sandlofer’s frontier show is absolutely enchanting, and the cowboy-era village is a whole 3-dimensional world where viewers may enter and in which they may participate and interact.Lance Gifford’s Magic Show is another instance of top-notch family entertainment. Both adults and children are mesmerized by uncanny onstage trickery and classic perceptual mystery. Gifford’s recreation of Harry Houdini’s “Metamorphosis Illusion” is a must see.The Reading Fair has always been a popular venue here but it has not always been as great as it was in the past. This year’s 152nd version of the Reading Fair, nestled in its verdant location on County Welfare Road and Hill Top Road evinces a nascent renaissance of the way things used to be. We need more of that today.*images:Windham Mountain Ranch Great American Frontier & Wildlife ShowSlingshot RacingLance Gifford’s Magic Show

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