Every year I venture back to my roots to visit the Geauga County Fair where it often seems that time has almost stood still. Hoover's fudge has been selling the best fudge in the world to locals since the beginning of time; the corn dogs are hand dipped; the fries greasy and skinny and drenched with vinegar. The 4-H animal husbandry competition is always robust, the draft horses huge and wonderfully tricked out (the agricultural version of Harleys), the Amish kids are almost always found by the grandstand sneaking cigarettes. This year there seemed to be a few more veteran tents, the Dems still had a lousy location, the GOPers had prime real estate but both tents seemed a little empty (maybe everyone was getting corn dogs and fries and too sugary lemonade).

This year did bring some changes, though.

First, a couple of new Walmarts opened in Geauga County, one smack dab in the middle of Amish country and another at the other end of the county. I expected long faces but the locals appeared happy about it. The feeling seemed to be that existing clothing shops such as Peebles would sell more discount "upscale" goods (Woolrich, Tommy Hilfiger, et al.) and let Walmart have the very low end; Giant Eagle might feel it but since their produce is not so hot and their prices are not all that cheap maybe they deserve to go out of business, and Heinen's, the upscale grocery store, would be fine. Meanwhile, everyone was tickled about the low prices. Johan and I ventured into one of the Walmarts, my first visit to the establishment, and I have to say I loved it! I loved the greeter, loved the merchandise, and really loved the prices. It was bright and while not hip in the manner of Target, the goods were nicely displayed. The stores seemed to be doing decent business though it was a bit slow on Labor Day but that was because nearly the entire county was at the fair or stuck in traffic trying to get to the fair (we hit the fair early and took the secret back way, figuring that the wet weather earlier in the weekend would lead to high attendance).

The second change took place at the fair. This year we were fortunate to see the new coon hound races whereby three coon hounds chase a fake raccoon across a large pond and up a tree. It was a crowd pleaser and also offered some interesting lessons. In the first race the hound that seemed to have the greatest lead gave it up because his front legs were too high in the water and he was not properly using his back legs. He was fast, but not using all his equipment led to loss. In the final heat where the three previous winners faced off, two of the hounds were neck and neck the length of the pond. As they neared shore they started snipping at each other. Meanwhile, the dog that everyone had given up for loser and that appeared to be swimming in the wrong direction materialized out of nowhere to beat the other two to the tree. While the "neck and neck" hounds were busy snipping at each other, the apparently really smart hound swam the shorter distance to shore and then ran the rest of the way. Lesson: taking the shortest distance to the prize will not necessarily get you the win; it's important to play to your strengths (dogs run faster than they swim); and, finally, while you are busy looking at your closest competition someone else is bearing down out of left field. The crowd loved it and roared.

Ohio now has two of the poorest 10 big cities in the country (Cleveland and Cincy) but life in Geauga looked to be on an upward trajectory. A fair bit of building, some of it still in the planning stages, more businesses in most towns (though not all). Real estate prices not out of control. You can get a nice farm house, updated, with 6-12 acres in Middlefield for under $400k, and a sizeable ranch or colonial in a very desirable village in Cuyahoga County for $300k or less. One local realtor informed us that it is a buyer's market at the moment, softer than it has been since 9/11, but she is still selling homes. Over on the northwestern side of the state the fields were flush with nearly ready to harvest crops.

Folks looked to be happy and enjoying life. Maybe it was the $2.29/gallon gasoline in Chesterland or the agricultural subsidies. Maybe they are just too fat and happy to know otherwise. Or maybe more rural folks are naturally optimistic or see that life outside an urbanized view of things is not so bad. Anyway, it was nice to go home again and see that the standard of living continues to rise for most.

John Kuhn mentions:

Talk about memory lane: I caught my first calf in a calf scramble at the Idaho State Fair when i was around 11. 1953. Named him "Sir Cumference." Sold at .33/lb. An outstanding price as he weighed over 1000 lbs by the end of the summer a year later. Pretty good ROI, (small rope burn) for an 11 yr old. He had a nasty disposition however, even before the hideous heel flies began to emerge (the 2" long grubs migrate from eggs laid on heel up and out thru the back which ugly emergence irritated even the most docile beast. We would paint the stock in creosote but did not always get 'em soon enough). I got to show him and talk to the folks on the Sheriff Spud TV program too that year. I figured I was pretty much a celebrity what with the TV appearance and being the President of the "Pick and Shovel" club. 4H.

Geeze, makes me want to go out and buy me some cotton candy and fried dough. But now all you can get downtown where I live is mocha lattes. That standard of living thing.


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