A fair of the heart

Published 1:25 am Sunday, October 7, 2012

The 35th annual Peanut Festival offered something for everyone, from bingo to midway rides.

Like salmon swimming upstream. Almost a quarter million of them during the course of four days. And not all headed upstream, either. They’re moving in every possible different direction, mostly keeping to the paved paths, but also wandering off into the grass between tents — chasing balloons, avoiding salesmen pitching vacations and home improvements and even magazines.

For anybody without one of the super-special Entertainment Parking passes, there are two ways into the Peanut Festival. Each one takes visitors along a gauntlet of sponsors’ tents. Beyond that gauntlet is the Peanut Promised Land — the midway, the food and the entertainment that folks came to see and enjoy in the first place, all the stuff they’re hurrying to get to as they rush past the hawkers on the side of the path.

All the old favorite rides are there on the midway. The Ferris Wheel. The Zipper. The carousel. The Tower of Inverted Terror. The Swings of Sickness. Teenagers pack the area like a Clearasil convention. Justin Bieber could not hide here, not even if he stepped into the booth to see the World’s Smallest Living Horse, not even if he ducked behind the World’s Largest Pig.

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There aren’t a lot of adults in line for the rides. Adults tend to think about things too much, and if you over-think the Death Plunge of Darkness, you’re likely to back out.

So turning from the rides the adult salmon heads back upstream in search of food, through the raging hormones of youth.

The reward lies just a few steps away. Souvlaki and sausages. Pizzas and paella, burgers and barbecue, sodas and snacks, peanuts and … peanuts. But none for the lady who said she was allergic to peanuts, which frankly seemed a bit risky, considering it’s a “Peanut Festival.” Some people get their thrills risking their lives on the carnival rides; for others, it’s the risk of a major allergic reaction as they’re strolling past the Goober Gang’s peanut hull cemetery.

Eat the peanuts and embrace the culture of the festival, or skip them to save your appetite for something decidedly less healthy. Either way, you’re only a few steps from the big stage — or the small one. There’s music blasting from the one and music blaring from the other, and the kids all dance and shake their bones while Mom and Dad sway or sit on a blanket or remember the days when it was cool to flick the flame of a lighter to show how much they loved that last song.

Today’s artists are American Idols on tour since they became stars on television, and the truth is they compete with the demolition derby in terms of popularity at the Peanut Festival, a fact which might make them feel a bit like salmon swimming upstream but one that makes perfect sense here in Suffolk, where almost a quarter-million people file past the vendors pitching vacations and home improvements and even magazines on their way out of another wildly successful fall festival.