The Lope: September 2006

Wednesday, September 27, 2006

Fire Spinner

One should always keep friends with diverse interests; it broadens one's world.

Ace's friend, Stacy, invited him to see her practice fire spinning.

For more information on fire spinning, see Home of Poi and wikipedia.

Fire spinning is a performance art with roots in several cultures.

The performer attempts to weave designs in the air by executing maneuvers of varying complexity.

Complicated maneuvers can require intense concentration.

The wick balls she is spinning are called "poi." Stacy shortened the length of the chains holding her poi so as not to strike the ground, which might splash burning fuel.

Ace wore a fireman's coat just in case.

Time exposures can do funny things. You can see gaps in the flame trail from points at which Stacy was in front of the flames.

The fuel in the poi has begun to exhaust, hence the uneven flames.

Both emerged unscathed.

Of course, when the fire is out, you can break out the glow sticks and practice with your friends and family.

Tuesday, September 19, 2006

Avast, me beauties!

"Who'll make his mark?"
The Captain cried
"To the Devil drink a toast.
We'll glut the hold
with cups of gold;
we'll feed the sea with ghosts.

- lyric excerpt from Emerson, Lake and Palmer's "Pirates" from the album, "Works."

Arr, matie, sit down and I be tellin' you of a day of two "p"s: parody and pirates.

Today, and for that matter, every September 19 to come, is International Talk Like a Pirate Day.

Why? Because John Baur (who calls himself "Ol' Chum Bucket") and Mark Summers ("Cap'n Slappy") said so in 1995, syndicated humor columnist Dave Barry agreed when he heard about it in 2002, and whole bunch of us in several countries like it. So there. That's why.

I shan't bother you with historically accurate accounts of pirates. There's plenty of info on them in your local library. Besides, it'd be pretty dull to just go about for a day regaling each other with pirate facts. Pirate-pop lingo and imagery is more fun, like the skull above which was offered at the Great Plains Renaissance Festival earlier this year.

Aye, the very word "pirate" can now be found far divorced from its original context.

Our concept of pirate lingo is far removed from the actual nautical terms pirates used. Many common pirate sayings are actually from Robert Louis Stevenson's 1883 novel, "Treasure Island" and the 1950 Disney movie adaptation. According to wikipedia, "shiver me timbers" comes from the book and "Arrr", from the movie.

J. M. Barrie's early 20th century creation, "Peter Pan" also made contributions to pirate pop lingo, as did the subsequent movie version. Above, Ace checks out Captain Hook from the 1953 animated Disney adaptation, rendered as a scarecrow by Mary Jo Cole at the 2005 Kansas State Fair.

Of course, Disney makes money from pirates, which is rather an ironic twist. Here's Ace Jackalope at the classic Disneyland theme park ride, Pirates of the Caribbean, last year. And, yes, I do always have that Jolly Roger flag with me, in the trunk of my car next to the emergency supplies because...well, just because.

It was hellaciously difficult to photograph in Pirates of the Caribbean. This spectral ship's wheel and the pirate skeleton on his treasure were the only salvageable images I got.

When I was a kid, one of the plastic model companies made Pirates of the Caribbean model kits with rubber band-powered actions. You just can't lose when you combine skeletons and pirates.

Disney and the toy companies aren't the only outfits to profit from pirates.

I don't think you can swing a dead parrot without hitting a "pirate ship" in touristy ports of call. This one is in Cabo San Lucas, Mexico.

Marketing tends to soften things; indeed, the skull and crossbones, once a feared symbol of mayhem, death and loss of property, is warm and fuzzy when used to sell the "Everlasting Bum Tickler" at the Great Plains Renaissance Festival earlier this year.

And for the ultimate in good - neigh! - "angelic" pirates, one must become familiar with Pastafarianism, the parody religion created by computer scientist Bobby Henderson in reaction to the Kansas School Board's decision to require that intelligent design be taught as an alternative to evolution. Pastafarianism teaches that pirates were "absolute divine beings" and "peace-loving explorers and spreaders of good will."

In fact, it illustrates that global warming is a result of the decline in the number of pirates, as seen in the chart above which I pirated from their website.

If you've had it with the Kansas School Board, you'll enjoy Henderson's open letter to them, part of which is excerpted here:

"You may be interested to know that global warming, earthquakes, hurricanes, and other natural disasters are a direct effect of the shrinking numbers of Pirates since the 1800s. For your interest, I have included a graph of the approximate number of pirates versus the average global temperature over the last 200 years. As you can see, there is a statistically significant inverse relationship between pirates and global temperature."

I can't go anywhere without running into pirates - not that I'd want to do without them, mind you. They're snappy dressers and accessorizers and the world would be poorer without them.

For the second year in a row, I've seen pirates while covering the Kansas State Fair. Here's Ace communing with Leann Woleslagel's first place entry in the pumpkin painting contest at the 2006 fair which concluded just two days ago. I hope Mr. Depp would be appreciative of Ms. Woleslagel's effort, and if not, off the plank with him.

But wait! We haven't talked like pirates yet. International Talk Like A Pirate Day Creators Baur and Summers, described by their website as "two reasonably well-adjusted middle-aged guys who are trying to take what started as a small private joke and turn it into a productive job" have left us a guide on "Why talk like a pirate - and how." Wasn't that nice of them?

It includes basics like: "Arrr!" can mean, variously, "yes," "I agree," "I'm happy," "I'm enjoying this beer," "My team is going to win it all," "I saw that television show, it sucked!" and "That was a clever remark you or I just made."

And for advanced users: "Bung hole - Victuals on a ship were stored in wooden casks. The stopper in the barrel is called the bung, and the hole is called the bung hole. That's all. It sounds a lot worse, doesn't it? On TLAP Day - When dinner is served you'll make quite an impression when you say, "Well, me hearties, let's see what crawled out of the bung hole." That statement will be instantly followed by the sound of people putting down their utensils and pushing themselves away from the table. Great! More for you!"

There are also pickup lines for men: "Pardon me, but would ya mind if fired me cannon through your porthole?"

And for women: "That's quite a cutlass ye got thar, what ye need is a good scabbard!"

Chicks dig pirates; yes they do!

Saturday, September 16, 2006

Comes the Storm

"The seller of lightning rods arrived just ahead of the storm. He came along the street of Green Town, Illinois, in the late cloudy October day, sneaking glances over his shoulder,..."

"...Somewhere not so far back, vast lightnings stomped the earth..."

...Somewhere, a storm like a great beast with terrible teeth could not be denied."
- all quotes from Ray Bradbury's "Something Wicked This Way Comes"

It wasn't Illinois and it wasn't October. Last night (September 16) at the 2006 Kansas State Fair in Hutchinson, lightning preceded a rain storm that ended most outdoor revelry at 10:50 PM. I shot these photos in the carnival area and right across from Ye Old Mill. The shots had long enough shutter speeds that the windmill looks like a fan. One thing I like about the inexpensive Olympus C-60 I use for 99% of the shots on this sight is that it's possible to hold it still, with practice, for a second or more.

This ride is called the Tornado. Fortunately, a bit of unpleasant irony was avoided and the storm brought only wind, lightning and rain to Hutchinson.

The lightning isn't really anywhere near the Ferris wheel; it just happened to line up that way.

"Lightning needs channels, like rivers, to run in." said the lightning rod salesman in the afore-mentioned Bradbury classic that is much on my mind with Autumn approaching. The salesman's statement was more art than science, but he was essentially correct.

It is a misconception to think that one has to be really fast to shoot pictures of lightning. One way to do it is with a time exposure, preferably on a tripod. Another method - and that's what I did last night - is to utilize the fact that lightning travels repeatedly down ionized pathways in the air. I like to think of them as the channels Bradbury's lightning rod salesman mentions.

Realizing this, you only have to be humanly fast, not lightning fast. Just frame your shot within the general area of the lightning you've already seen, wait for lightning to occur and release the shutter as fast as you can, without shaking the camera, and try to hold it absolutely still until the exposure finishes. If you're quick enough, you'll get one of the repeat streaks that follow the path of the lightning bolt you saw right before you took the picture.

Of course, the delay in many digital cameras makes this problematic so there is another strategy to use when using such a tool: just shoot, repeatedly, as many pictures as your card can hold. Then, weed through them, deleting everything that didn't catch lightning, and do it again. I did a lot of that, too.

Consider carefully your choice of foregrounds and try to visualize what everything will look like in a time exposure. I started out in the carnival and, though some shots worked, the lightning was dim, relative to the neon and fluorescent tubes of the Ferris wheel.

So, I moved on to Ye Old Mill because it had a distinct and appropriate silhouette. Bright man-made lights can be a problem and there was one in this shot until I eclipsed it with the vendor's wagon in the lower right corner. I only wish Ace Jackalope would have been nearby in a Colin Clive (Frankenstein) lab coat.

Friday, September 15, 2006

The Governor, the Jackalope, and More Fair Stuff

Ace met Kansas Governor Kathleen Sebelius at the 2006 Kansas State Fair. Sebelius is a bit of an anomaly in that she is a democrat in a state where republicans out-number members of her party almost two to one. Time Magazine has called her one of the five best governors in the country; she is up for re-election this year. Ace dressed in his finest attire to meet her.

One of these things is not like the others. That's right, the one in the middle is blue, and that's different. Dalalope hangs out in the booth of the Lindsborg Marketing Association.

We ran into an old friend, Alan Montgomery, on the tram which circles the perimeter of the fairgrounds. Alan was an impressive newspaper reporter for many years and now teaches journalism at Hutchinson Community College.

John Doll of Garden City, KS, is running for congress in the 1st District.

The grain "quadrotriticale" in the 1960's Star Trek episode "The Trouble with Tribbles" was based on the actual wheat, triticale. Triticale is a popular variety in Kansas.

Speaking of Star Trek, if you're a trekkie, you might notice that the seat and base of these fair info both chairs are almost identical to chairs seen on the iconic 1960's sci-fi show. They may have been made by Burke, a mid-20th century manufacturer of chairs that were used on such shows as Star Trek and the Brady Bunch.

Passengers wait for the State Fair Railroad train.

The train passes a retired missile that now serves as a time capsule. It was placed in 1973 and is to be opened in 2013.

The missile is a "sergeant" surface-to-surface ballistic missile. It could once carry a conventional or nuclear warhead. In 2013, we'll find out what it's packing now.

The statue in the front window of the restaurant run by the Our Lady of Guadalupe church in South Hutchinson, appears to regard the bullet hole or the reflection of Ye Old Mill.

This is a cut-out onto which people are invited to apply a sticker indicating where they've been bitten by a brown recluse spider. It's at the Kansas Pest Control Association's booth.

Oh yeah, like this is any stranger than a bird in a jersey.

Culligan Water's giant perpetual water spigot is a nice throw-back to the days of trade show attention-getters. It reminds me of the Better Homes Shows my parents dragged me to when I was a kid; I was fascinated by the beach balls suspended in the low pressure column above upward-turned fans. I can almost still hear the little plastic streamers flapping on those fans.

A friend recently used the pseudo-word "ginormous." I think that describes this pumpkin rather well. It weighs 680.5 pounds and was grown by Douglas Heathman.

I haven't seen Smokey Bear used much these past few years.

I'm continually amazed and impressed at the fossil collecting and display abilities of the 4H kids. Sam Sumpter of Shawnee County found and prepared this backbone of Xiphactinus, a fossil fish of the Cretaceous era. He included lots of good explanatory material.

It's Kansas so you'd be surprised not to run into a few frontier law men. This is Marshall B.L. Harris of the Boot Hill theme park, Dodge City. Ace picked up a new Marshall badge at his booth.

So, I'm walking along an aisle at the know, the agricultural fair in the conservative state, and what do I see? A booth promoting parties where women can order products to add "just a little spice" to their lives, including lubricants that aren't for your engine...or, well, maybe they sort of are. Debi Hawkins (left) and Kari Baker were manning the Slumber Parties booth, which was awarded "first runner up single space booth" by the fair.

With potions and lotions on my mind, I rounded a corner a few minutes later and saw this row of "adults only" chairs. It's nothing too unusual, though - just a booth selling foot massagers.

What heartwarming environ is this where a 1960s aluminum Christmas tree brings back memories of a time when America knew how to decorate? Maybe I want to live with these people.

Uh...nope. Further investigation shows this is the Department of Corrections building where you can buy hats with a handcuff design on them. I'm not sure what sort of fashion statement is being made here; maybe these appeal to the bondage crowd?

Oscar the robot stops to dance with some girls.

Oscar is a native of Georgia and specializes in promotions.

In my observations this day, jackalopes and robots were getting all the women.

A quarter horse gets a shower over in the livestock area.

Apparently horses, like sheep, also wear clothes. I still say it makes them look like superheroes.

Every year I take a swing though all of the livestock areas looking for...well...anything unusual. This hen is owned by Al Keefer.

Of course, "exotic" is in the eye of the beholder. If you'd never seen a rooster, what would you think of this guy? This single-comb Rhode Island Red cock also belongs to Al Keefer.

I saw this painted sign on the front of the cattle building and just had to investigate.

Inside, near the back, I saw what looked like a thicket of horns, which turned out to belong to Watusi cattle, a breed from Africa, said to have formerly been reserved for royalty.

A small territorial hassle erupts in the pen.

Beautifully evil looking, aren't they?

Lyre-shaped horns are desirable to breeders. A breeder in the pen area also told me the meat of these animals is lower in cholesterol than that from "normal" cows. I couldn't find much online about Watusi cattle, but here is info from Cattle Today and wikipedia.

They're not real animals, but I do admire the sculpting on these kiddie rides.

A carousel horse, reflected.

Update: pics below added 9-19-2006

This European-designed and Mexican-built kiddie ride reminded me of a giant Kinder egg toy. Kinder eggs are chocolate eggs with toys inside that seem to be sold everywhere but the USA.

I took a sky tram ride; here's the crowd on the last day of the fair.

shadow-people watching

People seemed to like maneuvering under the water spout in the boats at Lake Talbott. A ride on a mini motor boat at the State Fair Boat Dock was $2.00

Although not generally allowed, Ace had his own boat, courtesy of a circa-1972 G.I. Joe Secret Mission to Spy Island set. Thirty-four years after I took it out of the box one Christmas, it still held air perfectly.

Of course, a little artificial heat is good, too.

I always like checking out which licensed properties are most popular in the carnival area. Did I miss the Strawberry Shortcake vs. Spiderman movie?

Bacon is never more cute than when it's little. Piglets relax in the Kansas State University Veterinary School Building.

Kansas State University Veterinary School students educate kids about baby...well, practically any baby thing you'd find on a farm, but in this case, little chicks. With their cooperation, we decided to run a little not-very-scientific experiment. How long does it take before a nest of chicks gets used to a recently introduced member?

Immediately after the new member is inserted, the baby chicks fled out of sight.

Six minutes later, an advance scouting party inches forward.

Two more minutes pass and more chicks creep forward.

At eleven minutes after infiltration, Ace is of little interest to the baby chicks and the they go about their little baby chickie business of pecking at whatever is on the ground right after this.

And now that you've had some birds, here are some bees. I guess practically anything can be used in an art project. Ace tries to look natural next to Joli Winer's art design in beeswax.

As long as he's disguised as a bee, Ace seeks a queen and finds Kansas Honey Producer's Association 2006 Honey Queen Britinna Brown. Why aren't their more condiment queens? I think we need ketchup queens, mustard queens, salsa queens and, especially spicy anything queens.

The association has a portable hive.

The band Shorn was the last act to take a stage at the fair; here they are at Gottschalk Park. I only caught two of their numbers but I liked them...lots of energy...kind of a shame they were tucked away in the dark. The fair has had a decent history of booking acts before they were "someone." The Judds played the free stage here in the 1980's and two years ago, Evanescence played the grandstands, just as they were hitting the charts.

Wednesday, September 13, 2006

Eating Our Way Across the Fair

This is a food pyramid exhibit at the 2006 Kansas State Fair; ignore it for a few days if you want to enjoy yourself at the fair. This post is about fair food, and fair food is about excess and wanton consumption.

In that vain, I bring you an appetizer, available near pretty much any entrance you'd choose.

Yes, the venerable Pronto Pup, that less-course, sweeter cousin of the corn dog that must have some sort of addictive substance inside (legal disclaimer: just kidding about the addiction thing). There's a lot of stuff online about Pronto Pups; google it if you want to know more.

The Pronto Pup is a ceremonial thing to's like the culinary kick-off to the fair. There are five Pronto Pup stands this year at the fair, and the cost is $2.50 for one of those puppies.

Pronto Pup stands at least look interesting, my next choice does not. My lunch or dinner favorite is the Central Christian School Help Yourself Buffet; the place is about non-descript as you can get. They used to be the Central Christian Cafeteria when they had a wooden stand-alone building; the fair board ordered it torn down and the space is now occupied by that cool multi-colored fountain/mini water park.

Central Christian and several other vendors moved into the Cottonwood Court, a non-descript food court that used to be called the Commercial Building before the remodel. Although I must acknowledge the utility of the food court (i.e. air conditioning), I miss the character of the old stand-alone restaurant.

This is my plate after a trip through their $7.00 one-trip buffet. I like the chicken and noodles and the stew, in particular. A soft drink will set you back another $2, which is about average.

For my money, the best drink value at the fair is the $1.50 large root beer at any of the four root beer stands. They have diet, too. Part of what makes them a good value is that they have no ice so that's a cup full of pop undiluted by frozen water; you don't really need the ice, the root beer is plenty cold out of the tap.

These root beer stands have been around at least 20 years. I can remember when the small size cups were fifty cents. They've had a problem with bees being attracted to the stands, drawn by the sugar, I suppose, but I've seen little of that this year.

You'll need something to eat with that root beer, and I suggest peanuts from Allen's P Nuts. A bag is $1.00 and they have salted, unsalted and hot.

Those barrels are warm and fun to stand over when it's chilly. The previous owner was a fair institution for decades and the current owner has kept the age-old signs with the peanut guy on them in order and seems respectful of the heritage of which he is part.

Now that you overdid the salt with those peanuts you'll need another drink. May I suggest the lemonade my friend Mark prefers? I like it too, but I am swayed by the novelty lemonade stand. I'm just shallow that way.

There's just enough room in one of the lemons for the operator to work with his/her equipment 360 degrees around them. The lemons are fresh squeezed; you can see the juicer back there.

Ace liked his lemonade shaken, not stirred, and his new friend Micki does just that, then pours it back and forth between cups for a bit and serves it up. It was $3.00.

There's only one lemon-shaped lemonade stand, and it closes at night, literally. It reminds me of the orange-shaped citrus stands that used to dot Route 66 in California. I believe only one of those remains, in Fontana, CA, preserved in a Wal-Mart parking lot, of all places. I guess that means the lemon at the fair, even though it is only eight years old, is in a better setting. It's portable, of course, and the Wichita owner totes it other places, too.

Another place that friends have turned me on to is the Kansas Dairy Association's Dairy Barn, under the grandstands. Though I'm not researching the history of places too much in this particular post, I did chat with some other customers and apparently it's been open at the fair for at least 30 years.

The Dairy Bar sign is the only neon sign on the fairgrounds of any note.

They serve great ice cream, milk shakes, malts, etc., and are a "must stop" for several of my friends. A malt or milk shake is $3.00.

Zag's popcorn was my new food discovery this year. New to me, that is, but the owners tell me it was built around 1952.

I was initially drawn by its gleaming stainless steel sides. In previous years, I've seen it near more multi-colored light sources, which made it look even better. I'd never eaten there, though.

Zag's is owned by Frank and Glenda Hockridge of Fessendon, ND. That's their daughter, Christina.

Glenda refers to the trailer in the feminine, like a ship. They've hauled it to quite a few Midwestern fairs and a she says people have to "come up and touch it like a 55 t-bird." It really is a trailer and she says they pull "baby doll" no faster than 55mph.

Christina serves Ace a caramel apple. A friend and I had these and the apples were exceptional in quality; they are $2.50.

My favorite food this year has been the roasted sweet corn. It's actually guilt-free, more-or-less. Here, a nice lady named Irene hands me my $3.00 treat.

The corn has already been dipped in butter and I have a number of seasonings to choose from. This particular stand is across from the KWCH studio.

Every year there seems to be a "shock food" - the thing that people dare each other to try. For the last couple years it's been "alligator on a stick." I thought about trying it but just couldn't; I've had too many pet reptiles.

A good last stop for the night is Isabel Burke Salt Water Taffy, home of Norman the taffy puller. $7.50 will get you a plastic box of taffy about the size of the carry-out box restaurants usually give you for a whole dinner. I have learned to buy these last because, even with the sack, they're a pain to carry around. G'night!

Tuesday, September 12, 2006

Some Sheep and a Poem

A friend with whom I'd roamed the Kansas State Fair, called a little bit after ten PM the other night as she was passing some agriculture buildings on her way out. She had noticed that a sheep was being sheared and thought we'd both find it interesting; that's why we get along so well.

Now, I'm a small town boy, but not well-acquainted with farm life. This being the case, I enjoy the agrarian aspects of the fair and often park in the lot across Plum Street just so I'll walk through that same concentration of agricultural buildings and maybe see something new to me. Newness this night came in the form of a nice woman named Carolyn, of the Newton, KS area, who was shearing a Dorset sheep for her son, Aaron, who was off at college.

I arrived just before a delicate moment; apparently, when you shear a sheep, you shear all of the sheep. Although professionals use a clipper with nine flared teeth so they can work at a zippy pace, amateurs tend to use one like Carolyn has, with 20 teeth. This means she is less likely to cut the sheep; I'm sure he'd be appreciative at this particular moment.

Carolyn's friend, Larry Cramton of Stillwater, helps her "card" the sheep. Short-bristled brushes, similar to what you might use on a dog or cat, are used to remove the remaining hair; the animal reacted much as if this was a massage. He certainly deserved one.

This part of the process is a fine trimming called "blocking" and is performed with large scissors. Carolyn and Larry are concentrating on the right side of the animal because it is the "show side." That is to say, while the sheep is being judged, the handler will be holding it on the left side so the judge will see mostly the right side.

While my friend watched and asked more questions, I wandered off and shot pictures of the other sheep, which I was surprised to see wore clothes.

My first impression was of Mexican wrestlers in a cage match...except the sheep were pretty much docile.

But if they are docile, how'd the one in back get that hole in it's hood? Every year at the fair, I seem to have one moment of Monty Pythonism. I seem to recall something in Python about killer sheep. Perhaps sheep don disguises at night to go wreck havoc on Greek restaurants. Hmm...maybe that's why Hutchinson never has one.

It's not unusual to see cots in these buildings. People who have animals entered in the fair sometimes sleep here.

Sometimes the preparations are more elaborate.

Back at the other end of the building, Carolyn has had to unhook the sheep's restraints to apply it's cloak. It (it doesn't have a name; I asked) is thinking now might be a good time to leave, but she has other ideas. Carolyn nixes my Mexican wrestler or killer sheep theory by telling us the covering is to keep them clean for judging. I still like my theories better.

Now it's time for the head to be shaved, carded and blocked. So much for the 80's hair look.

Time for it's hood.

Carolyn and Larry, satisfied with their work, put our new-shorn friend to bed.

Ace Jackalope enjoys diving into the sheep's former covering. The wool is too short to be used by knitters, so it is thrown away.

OK, tell me they don't look like hooded vigilantes. Perhaps they're plotting against this display in the Kansas Sheep Council booth:

The last few nights I've not left the fair until everything was pretty well shut down. There's a certain small-town ambiance then, like Main Street after a festival when the cacophony has died away and you can hear individual footsteps going home. It's quite pleasantly reflective, if you don't mind the occasional sound of a patron who's enjoyed the beer garden too much.

And now for something completely different:

Goodnight to the lovers that walk in the lane.

Goodnight to man, asleep on the bench.

Goodnight to the water, now all down the drain.

Goodnight to the piggies, who've hardly a stench.

Sunday, September 10, 2006

Bride of Ye Old Mill

As we reported a few days ago, Ye Old Mill, the 1915 "water dark ride" of the Kansas State Fair, has had a face lift for 2006. The siding and porch are new, and I'd heard that there was "all new stuff" inside. Anytime I hear words like "new", "updated", etc., when applied to a classic building, I shiver.

The big Balrog or Malabolgia-like automated thing is still outside; that's a good sign. If you wanna have some fun, watch for people who've just casually stopped by it when it's not active. Then wait. I saw three girls scream and leap a good two feet away when it began to move and speak. Now that's priceless fair entertainment.

I'm happy to report, however, that Ye Old Mill is just fine inside, having lost none of it's antique machinery or it's dank, dark charm.

This year, the theme is "Tunnel of Love."

At first I was discouraged. What if they softened the place? What if it was warm and fuzzy? What is they played pop love songs inside? A skeletal couple near the entrance gave me hope.

Be not disheartened, oh fans of creepiness; demented clowns dwell within.

And any sane person knows there is nothing more unsettling than a clown.

There's some nice atmospheric artistry inside, too. The audio has also been torqued up this year.

In addition to the usual automated pieces, there's still that good old-fashioned human element.

If you value the preservation of Ye Old Mill, you might want to thank Kansas State Representative Jan Pauls of Hutchinson, who hindered a plan by the Kansas State Fair board that would have required tearing down the mill.

Remember, without creepy old mills, some people would have no place to live. Actually, these two are living in the Pride of Kansas Building at the moment. If I were them, I wouldn't go back to the mill either. Old movies document well that old mills just aren't safe for monsters or their brides. Remember the part in James Whale's "Frankenstein" when the old mill is burning with the monster inside? ...and the part in "Bride of Frankenstein" in which they find him? Also, it's an agricultural fair and they probably sell pitchforks somewhere. Mobs of villagers love pitchforks. Yeah, best to hang out in the Pride of Kansas Building disguised as scarecrows till the townsfolk leave.

The Frankenstein monster and his bride aren't the only ones hiding out in the Pride of Kansas Building. Watch out, lady; Bert and Ernie will not save you from Michael Myers; your only help from Seseme Street might be "the Count".

There's also a nice retro-robot scarecrow, based on the movie "Robots."

People also admire the more conventional scarecrow-types.

Hmmm...isn't there a giant commercial oven being exhibited a few buildings away? And doesn't one of the bulk food places have chocolate chips? "Hey, Pillsbury doughboy...lets take a walk."

Friday, September 08, 2006

Kansas State Fair Starts Today

The 2006 Kansas State Fair starts today and runs through September 17 in Hutchinson, KS.

I enjoyed covering it last year and here are some links to those posts:

Garrison Keillor visited the fair and we posted a little thing we like to call Prairie Lope Companion. I don't think we'll cover any of the grandstand shows this year, but ya never know.

Animals, bugs, rocks and minerals are a big hit with the science geek in me so I hope you enjoy Fun with Animals at the Fair.

I also got a bit Monty Python-esque on that one and you get to see Ace visiting a femme fatale in the clink.

Hypnotist Ron Diamond will be back this year; we do recommend seeing him, especially if you want to see your best friend spank herself or your neighbor chase his belly button. You can see Ron and his hypno-monkey put people through zany antics in a feature we call Pigs and Tigers and Hypno-Monkeys. Oh yeah, there were also racing pigs, performing tigers and a cool Egypto-ride.

Do you have an army?

Do you have WMD? Do we think your Estes rockets might count as WMD?

Do you have a fortress of salt-a-tude?

Do you have a tabletop ionic thing-a-ma-jigie? Better watch out, Ace goes a bit megalomanic in World Domination.

Sometimes being a cultural detective means finding out how other people live. And sometimes they live with a stainless steel commode.

See 'lopes go bad and people get wet in Friday at the fair.

National Talk Like a Pirate Day is September 19 this year, just after the fair this time. Last year it fell during the fair and we were able to find this lovely prop; let's see what we come up with this time.

Last year, a behind-the-scenes tour of Ye Old Mill was the highlight of our fair visits.

This was partly because we were breathing a sign of relief that it was out of danger of demolition.

This year, it's even been fixed up a bit; that siding is new, so are the porch and the gingerbread. We're hoping it hasn't lost any of it's antique charm. You'll see a report in the next few days.

Norman the taffy puller is one of the under-appreciated icons of the fair, at least to retro-oddity lovers like me. There is another little artificial man at the fair and he lacks Norman's non-threatening quality. Stay tuned during the next few days and we'll chill you with his presence.

We'll also eat our way across the fair, and may give you a gastronomic report.

The fair can be a great place for a photographic scavenger hunt. Last year I was in a Bram Stoker sort of mood and decided to explain Nosferatulope by finding images at the fair to illustrate a passage from "Dracula."

There's also lots of free stuff at the fair, like we didn't have enough crap already. But it's free crap, do you understand...FREE! Anyway, a free picture online takes up far less space than a bag full of free phonebooks we never use, so we kept that; and here it is, presented as our last gasp of the 2005 Kansas State Fair. We might have to pick up another spent fuel rod from Wolf Creek, though...those are cool, and look great with a Homer Simpson action figure. See you out at the fairgrounds for more fun, as quirky as we can find it.

Wednesday, September 06, 2006

Three Meals in Kansas

"Eat no mediocre meals." - Ace Jackalope

Sometimes, you must drive across the vastness to experience diversity in dining. This is a road that is called, somewhat absurdly, NE 150th Street between Newton and Cassoday, KS. You can see for miles. This is what people who don't know the state think the whole place looks like. It's not that long a stretch by Kansan standards - only 45 minutes (yes, we use time for distance) - but it does plays tricks on me as it is so flat in places that a sense of motion is given only by the passing fence posts.

But it is beautiful out here. This is the flat brown and green plane from which Clark Kent leapt into blue superness, and you can see why - the sky is a god of wonderment and joy, and you want to leap into his arms.

Planted in the middle of this, near the Kansas Turnpike, is Cassoday, population, 95. The town has taken the title, "Prairie Chicken Capital of the World." Alas, the prairie chicken, a relative of the ring-necked pheasant, is hard to find near Cassoday these days.

This is ranch land, largely. According to the Kansas State Library, cattle are brought to Cassoday from all over the country to "go to grass" using the grasslands of the Flint Hills.

This well-preserved station is a relic of the Santa Fe railroad, which came to Cassoday in 1906 and helped drive the cattle business. The building is now used as the Cassoday Historical Museum.

Trucks do most of the hauling now, but the Burlington Northern Santa Fe still rumbles through the city. This is scenic Kansas highway 177, north of Cassoday and south of Matfield Green.

Cassoday is a town of wide dirt streets and wooden-porched buildings. The only sign that suburbia even exists is the steady stream of Wal-Mart trucks that stops at the Cassoday cafe. In fact, one reason for the the cafe's popularity is that a Wal-Mart driver "discovered" it and passed the info on to his friends.

The focus of business in Cassoday is the Cassoday Cafe. The right half of the building dates from 1879 and, according to present owner Dianna Carlson, has always been a cafe of some sort. The left half is a "new" 30 years old.

The interior is unpresumptuous and well-suited to the cafe's clientele - mostly locals, truck drivers, real cowboys and bikers. Above the mantle you'll see pictures of the much-vaunted but seldom seen prairie chicken, along with an autographed still of actress Janine Turner, who appeared in "Stolen Women, Captured Hearts", a movie filmed near here. The cafe has become a biker's haven the first Sunday of every month from March to November, when the town can accommodate as many as 2,000. Carlson said, in an interview with the High Plains Journal last year, that 1,589 bikers eating breakfast on one Sunday morning was her record, at that time.

The food, when we were there a couple weeks ago, was a simple but good buffet.

We finished the day in Hutchinson Kansas, where another relic of railroad days looms in the evening sun. This grain elevator, abandoned now, used to be serviced by the Santa Fe.

The next day, and another eating venue - this time it's the Grace Episcopal Church in Hutchinson, KS for the annual Victorian Tea fundraiser for the Mental Health Association (MHA) of Reno County.

This was quite a switch from yesterday's cafe frequented by bikers.

The menu included a cucumber sandwich, egg salad with fresh royal pepper, tuna salad on seven grain bread, bacon - basil tomato bites, prosciutto and rosemary on carrot chips, calla lily with herb filling, butter cake with cherry topping, chocolate heaven, lemon tart, sugar cookie, raisin walnut fudge cookie and frosted petite grapes. Not visible are traditional scones and clotted cream, pumpkin bread and english berry trifle.

The theme was "lavender and lace." Hey, I told you it was different from yesterday. Here, a nice woman named Teresa hears a secret from her granddaughter, Kenzie, as her other granddaughter, Kylie, looks on.

Entertainment in the form of story-telling was furnished by "Scarlett." Ace is reminded of Wilber T. Wrangler in that humans are not always what they seem.

Ace settles at a table of animated ladies and studies their interaction. MHA Director, Patsy Terrell, said of the gathering: "I think people are eager to have a reason to dress up a little bit and do something out of the ordinary. I'm always struck by how much people are enjoying just talking with each other. I think it's because we don't do it very much anymore."

Susan, a "thelope" reader, introduces Ace to her friend, Kathleen, who acts as if she's never seen a jackalope sporting tea party finery.

Another fine meal has been consumed, and the sun sets again on Kansas.

In deciding where to eat, I always give weight to stopping at a place with a cool old sign.

Such is the case with Job Lunch in El Dorado, Kansas

The building dates from the early 1960s and has a long counter and several booths.

Our server, Dani, took good care of us.

Job Lunch is known for serving veal, but Ace was most attracted to fried green beans. Yeah, you read that right.

Imagine - they have taken one of natures healthy gifts, green beans - and deep fried them. But, oh my lord, they are tasty. I could gobble down a whole sack of these while driving.

As I left, I was treated to a perfectly framed reflection in an adjacent building.

What shall we eat tomorrow?

Tuesday, September 05, 2006

Where is Ace Jackalope? (episode 5)

In the woods, near field and brook, Ace happens across a rough tooth refugee from the meadows, who only wants peace through understanding. Where is Ace?