Previously on Midlife Crisis Crossover:
It’s that time again! The Indiana State Fair is an annual celebration of Hoosier pride, farming, food, and 4-H, with amusement park rides, cooking demos, concerts by musicians either nearly or formerly popular, and farm animals competing for cash prizes without their knowledge. My wife Anne and I attend each year as a date-day to seek new forms of creativity and imagination within a local context. At least, normally we attend every year. You can guess why there was no 2020 edition…
In addition to the nonstop celebration of food, our State Fair also loves its live animal activities. Folks can attend 4-H livestock judgments, wander stenchful barns, pet a few benign critters, pay quarters to help overfeed them, gag while watching live veterinary surgeries, and more, more, more. Sometimes when a smaller-scale event promises animal action, we might go take a gander, as we did at the Great American Duck Race.
To my knowledge, duck racing is not America’s next big gambling obsession. The organization staging this little soiree for Hoosiers hails from New Mexico and has won numerous awards in this oddly specific pastime. Their leader, a gentleman who swears his real name is Robert Duck, played emcee and oversaw the process. The ducks are kept in one shelter between races, then herded by dog to another pen near the starting line. Four ducks race at a time, each in their own lanes and each launched by a volunteer from the audience who could come on down, take a quack at it, hope their racer doesn’t go a-fowl, and have bragging rights for giving a duck. I should stop.
I was a little surprised when Mr. Duck called for volunteers and Anne raised her hand. It was an early Thursday morning, the small bleachers were half full, and she was struck by a whim to switch gears from passive to active. She was handed a duck from the staging pen and approached the starting line. According to her, the duck was very light and soft, and required a confident grip but not a cruel choke-hold. Of the four races run that morning, only two human entrants lost control of their charges, thankfully both into the water rather than out into the crowd.
Once they turned off the background music that included such best-forgotten tunes as “Disco Duck”, the signal was given and the race was on. The human handlers were told they could aid their ducks in two ways to a speedier victory: by shouting words of encouragement that they couldn’t possibly understand because they are ducks, or by splashing water at their butts and presumably spurring them onward and away, in case tiny man-made waves might jolt them somehow. In theory this would make the volunteers feel more involved in the process and more participatory in the victory. In reality, each race lasted a maximum of 1.50 seconds and was over before either of us could snap a camera button more than twice.
Anne’s duck sadly did not win, but at least she tried. After the entire rinky-dink regatta was over in less than fifteen minutes, the audience was naturally invited to come buy Great American Duck Race merchandise — duck-calling noisemakers and so forth. Seized by a sudden urge for a souvenir from her sports experience, Anne bought herself a hat and wore it around the fairgrounds for the entire rest of the day with pride. This sparked a fun conversation with one food vendor who recognized the trophy of a fellow veteran duck racer with whom they could swap duck tales.
To be continued! Other chapters in this very special MCC miniseries: