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Much is the same


The characters and gimmicks seem timeless; the atmosphere is thick with dust and sugar. The oppressive heat and humidity have thinned the crowd and added an extra twinge of sadness to the eyes of the carnies who realize they will not be making money tonight- they cajole and plead half-heartedly for anyone to attempt their games. The roar of the tractor pull vibrates through the ground and into our guts; a woman vomits after stumbling off a ride. A camel chews steadily while eyeing the spectacle around him. The turkey legs and funnel cakes are still oversized and overpriced, greasy and good. The Lock and Key Burlesque and Sideshow performers tantalize with song and dance, fire and hoops, a little bit of blood; their finale cheekily tributes Peoria, complete with flying carp.


Thank god for $3 Miller tall boys, which hydrate and instigate. Outside again (the heat!), Galaxy Girl sways at the top of an impossibly tall pole, sincerely impressing the crowd with her harness-free tricks. More aerial stunts ensue from her sidekicks: Johnny Rockett races a motorcycle on an elevated track, propelling the acrobat Ashley around and around as she twists and swings by her neck. One last loop is made around the tents, then crunching gravel leads these tired feet out of the gates. The magic feels weary, the fun a bit forced, but the nostalgia of an American summertime staple has not gone unappreciated.


When we arrive, the sun hasn’t begun to set. Two beers and a shot of Fernet into the early evening, we’ve come to the Expo Gardens for the kind of nostalgia you can only share with other hometown kids (those with all the same dust, corn husk, and grain plant ether in their lungs since birth) and only embrace when you’re too tipsy to question blatant sentimentalism.


"Just like in any city, sundown introduces a new chapter entirely.


I see it in the distance first, looming taller in the skyline of this little makeshift city that is the Heart of Illinois Fair: The Gravitron, with all its panels flashing and powerful motor humming at a volume that drowns out the maniacal music it spews. Funny, it looks more ominous to me now than when I last attended the fair as a fourteen-year-old in mismatched neon socks shuffling in a pack of teen girls, tightening our scrunchies and pointing out kids from other schools we knew. Had I ever noticed the Gravitron? How could one not… It pulsates with swallowed screams, the kind that only arise in sudden realization that your own body and centrifugal force can be used to torture your soul.