Local Commentary

Our Man in Arlington


When the family of humankind gathers in Arlington, the chosen place is the county fair.

I’ve been to a dozen of these civicpaloozas since Arlington began them more than 30 years ago, and I always arrive skeptical that the adventures will be fresh. I’m always wrong.

As Tiffany Kudravetz, the fair’s chairperson, told me this Friday with the event in full swing at Thomas Jefferson Middle School, this year’s bill of fare featured extra “signature features.” These included the Star Family Circus (it adds motorcycle daredevils to the acrobats and animal acts); the Harlem Wizards (they compete with the Globetrotters); and the Civil War Historymobile (a tractor-trailer museum bedecked with stunning life-size 1860s photos of soldiers, womenfolk and enslaved Virginians).

The 2011 fair drew 47,000, and sponsorship was intertwined with county initiatives such as the “Tell Arlington’s Story” oral history project, the Walk Arlington tour of coming development projects and the Animal Welfare League’s current programs.

Add to this do-gooder stuff the glorious if clichéd visuals-bright neon rides that’ll turn your stomach, unwinnable ring-toss games, pony rides, bake-offs, suspense-filled pig races, and indoor booths from every interest group that breathes county air.

And it’s hardly a fair without the All-American funnel cakes, corn dogs, cotton candy and soft ice cream-all of which, in Arlington style, are supplemented with healthier Polish sausage, Thai teriyaki, and El Salvadoran papusas.

Kudravetz, a recovering attorney now with Arlington’s office for volunteers, has been leading the all-volunteer team (the exception is a freelance contract specialist) since November. She put in 20-30 hours week in the summer run-up. “I don’t exactly live here, but I might as well sleep on the floor,” she says.

Security, which includes an undercover gang unit, is effective, she says–the only incidents are the occasional fistfight. Another precaution for peace is the assigning of booth locations with an eye toward keeping rival political groups at a healthy distance. The graphic photos of fetuses displayed in past years were absent in 2011-Virginia Right to Life canceled this year’s application. There are also restrictions against bad language and obscenity.

Most impressive was the energetic dancing by college-age kids involved with an international fellowship program called World Camp. Also the Arlington Commuter Store, a special mobile outreach vehicle that keeps Arlington’s citizenry current on green transport.

My own promenade through the booths, I like to think, keeps me hip to Arlington’s self-refreshing panoply of hobbyists, denizens of commerce, glad-handing candidates, county service providers, church message presenters and dedicated members of nonprofits.

I’m always touched by the enthusiasm of the multi-generation folks manning the Washington-Lee High School alumni booth. They’re delighted to talk memories of alumni-gone-Hollywood Warren Beatty, Shirley MacLaine and Sandra Bullock, or the late Major League pitcher Clay Kirby. (Wakefield alums didn’t show this year, while Yorktown and O’Connell never do. Too snobby?)

I commanded my usual performance from the Arlingtones Barbershop Chorus. I braved a sales pitch from installers of clog-proof gutters. I bought honey produced on my boyhood street. And I got the new “Arlingtonpoly” board game (profits go to teen programs).

Photos of the fair, thanks to the Internet and smartphones, are now available by the scores instantaneously.

They capture everything from the sacred to the profane. And it’s not that profane, unless you count the arcade prizes–inflatable boa constrictors?


Charlie Clark may be e-mailed at cclarkjedd@aol.com