A cornerstone of an Iowan summer is the church/town picnic. They’re like the Iowan version of the Chicago street fair. In Guttenburg, IA, they throw a big town party for the 4th of July. And in my wife’s hometown, the local catholic church throws a labor day picnic.
The New Vienna picnic is set up like a multi-ring circus. There’s a ton of tents. In one tent, there is a silent auction, where you can bid on things I would have no idea what to do with, like 100 bales of hay, Iowa Hawkeye football tickets, a rotary grinder, or any of a selection of quilts.
Also in that tent, there is a kids section, where kids can play various carnival-style games, like plinko. There’s another game where the kid grabs a toy fishing pole, sticks the line behind a wall, and another kid hiding behind the wall clothes-pins a prize to the line. And that’s the game. Because in the kids’ tent, the kids always win a prize. Every time. It’s charming, endearing, and wholly anachronistic. I love it.
To play a game, it takes about 2-3 tickets. To buy a balloon, it’ll cost you two tickets. The tickets cost 25 cents each. And you don’t have to buy a sheet of ten, an annoying practice and growing trend at Chicago street fairs. At the New Vienna Picnic, in contrast, you could go up and buy a single ticket if you wanted to, and they wouldn’t even look at you funny. Again, charming, endearing, and wholly anachronistic. I love it.
But my favorite kiddie activity is the tractor ride. They use a John Deere lawn tractor to pull little cars made out of plastic barrels. On one of the cars is a bell that some kid always manages to ring until it gets annoying and then keeps ringing.
I asked my wife if she thought I could go on the ride. She told me that I was too heavy, which is what I think she always says anytime she doesn’t want to get embarrassed by me hopping into a kiddie ride or trying to ride a ten-year-old girl’s bicycle.
For the slightly older kids or the kids at heart, there is candy gambling. There are various styles of roulette-ish games that you play for a quarter per spin – they have the kind of wheels that clack like a baseball card in the spokes of a bicycle. If you win, you get a quart size bag stuffed with snickers bars or m&ms or skittles. My mother-in-law tells me that, years ago, you used to win an entire box of candy. I have never played these games. For some reason, I find them intimidating.
For the adults, there is a beer tent. My wife seems to insist that there is usually live polka music played in the beer tent. But on this particular day, there was a dj. And I swear I heard some Ke$ha. Even so, the beer tent always manages to draw in a large crowd of bikers, all of whom seem to have come in on Road Kings or Gold Wings.
There’s another tent where food is sold. There is the usual array of summertime concessions, like hot dogs and hamburgers. At this particular tent, there was also an option for a McRib, which I now lament that I didn’t try at least out of curiosity.
Inside the church building that houses a grade school, there is the option to have the chicken dinner. They fry the chicken outside in these huge, propane fueled fryers. When you walk by, it sounds like a small airplane is about to take off. And the air smells intensely of frying oil. Intensely.
The last food option is ice cream. There is a trailer by the Dubuque County Dairy Association. And it took me a while to realize it, but it is intended to look like a barn. I got a big old cone of strawberry ice cream. My wife doesn’t usually go for strawberry. And since my wife and I usually split ice cream, I don’t think I’ve had strawberry ice cream for about half a decade. But on this particular day, I insisted we get our own. After all, it was just $2 for this cone.
My wife likes it when I wear this shirt. For some reason, it seems to exacerbate the weight I’ve gained over the years. And she thinks it shows off good progress on the sympathy weight she would like me to gain during her pregnancy.
My wife got mint chocolate chip for the same reason I got strawberry. I hate mint chocolate chip, particularly when it has green food coloring in it. She loves it. And she particularly liked the mint chocolate chip on this day, probably because it was neon green.