Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Sampling Local Culture—The Demolition Derby, Fair Food and Men in Hats

Sampling Local Culture—The Demolition Derby, Fair Food and Men in Hats
My friends from the Seattle area, David and Vidya, pulled into my driveway in the early afternoon on Saturday. The aroma of rhubarb pie I had baked especially for their arrival escaped from the oven. Once they unloaded their suitcases and the bag of books they brought for me, once we devoured half the pie, we settled in my living room. Vidya and I caught up on family doings. David browsed through the newspaper. With a yell, he interrupted us.  “Hey, look, it says here there’s a demolition derby at the Blaine County Fair in Chinook tonight at 6:00. Let’s go.”

“But you just drove nine hundred miles,” I said. Quite frankly, I couldn’t imagine David at a demolition derby. When I go to Seattle, they take me to the opera, to the symphony, or to a play. You know, something posh.  “Have you ever been to a demolition derby?”

“Oh sure, they’re great fun. Don’t you go?”

"A guy invited me to one in Malta back in about ’81. I was newly single and desperate for any social activity.  But on the way to town that evening I second guessed myself. What in the world was I thinking? I couldn’t imagine why I would want to watch cars smash together. But once it started, I picked up on the excitement and screamed my head off. So, Vidya, would you like to go?”
“Sure. Let’s do it,” said Vidya. “If we leave now, we have time to grab a bite to eat at the fair.”

Off we drove to Chinook. We ambled along the row of booths serving food. We passed up pronto pups, dismissed nachos glommed with glooey yellow stuff, and ended up at the VFW shed devouring the juiciest, the best cheeseburgers ever grilled. They came loaded with sauteed onions from a cast iron skillet. That’s what fair food is supposed to be—mouth watering, chin-dripping yummy.
We settled ourselves down in the open seating area of the bleachers to await the starting flag, blissfully cool under the clouded sky after the one-hundred degree heat of the day before.

Vidya is quite observant. After scanning the crowd for a few minutes, she said, “Look, do you notice that every male here above a certain age wears a hat. David, you are the only man in this entire crowd without a hat. Doesn’t that make you feel naked? You tenderfoot!  Sondra, do you think we should get him a cowboy hat?”
She giggled. “And you should have changed into jeans.”

“Wouldn’t make any difference. Not him wearing those sandals with white socks,” I said.  “He still wouldn’t fit in. Maybe we should get him boots too. What do you think about ostrich skin, maybe orange?”

We looked him over, sighed and shook our heads. “No, not a chance. It would never work.”

The show was about to start. But first two young girls came to the microphone to sing our National Anthem. Their young voices were so sweet. They earned an ovation from the crowd. Sweet. 
Then the first heat of cars chugged, limped and roared into the bermed arena. They reminded me of fighting cats, with torn skin, mangled ears, broken bones and missing teeth. They were showing their age, but still had plenty of fight and vinegar. They stalked one another, growling threats, snarled and spit, moved in, backed off, closed for the throat.

We each picked our favorite junker and placed our bets.  David backed the one with the most violent colors. Vidya chose the one that rumbled onto the field the most aggressively. I looked for one with the most steel, such as the station wagon. “That one is a real hog,” I said. However, if my favorite got stuck in the berm right out of “go”, I didn’t hesitate to switch. Never let it be said I backed a loser. 

We yelled, clapped, screamed, bet, won and lost.  We had such a good time that we decided we will go for cotton candy, hot dogs, and the rodeo at the Great Northern Fair this weekend. We’ll place bets with each other at the rodeo too. I intend to win big. I know how to pick a cowboy.
Sunday I found my favorite “beer and guns” camo cap and presented it to David. Then we drove to the Fort Peck Theatre for “Gypsy” and later walked over to the hotel for a sumptuous dinner. We wrapped up the night with a finale of the northern lights. From a demolition derby to a Broadway musical to the wonders of nature.  Now that’s Montana culture.

Sondra Ashton
HDN: Looking out my back door
July 19, 2012

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