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Friday, Aug. 27, 2004 11:19 am

grace about town 8-26-04

On second thought . . .

You may have read last week that I claimed to love the fried cheese curds at the Illinois State Fair. I loved them on opening day, when I first sampled them. Because I wrote about them, I decided I needed a photo, so I bought another grease-soaked trough of them on Sunday and ate all of them (with ranch dressing). That's when I rethought the whole fried-cheese curds thing. Once in a lifetime is enough. Try them once, and you'll be fine, but then, please, don't ever have them again. I'm afraid the taste of that second bin of cheese curds will haunt me till my dying day.

A friend told me she ate more at the fair than she'd ever care to admit. I'm kind of disappointed in my food consumption, to be perfectly honest. Some days it was just too cold to have ice cream, and on the day I was determined to try a chocolate-covered deep-fried Twinkie, it was way too hot. I did get a big plate of aloo papri chat at the Gateway to India booth. It's a big mess of potatoes, garbanzo beans, and other stuff, with lots of good spices. I got it because Penny Zimmerman-Wills recommended it in this very publication, and it's now my favorite food.

The last day of the fair was the most tumultuous for me. It started out with Abe's Amble, the 6.2-mile race that started at the Grandstand and then wound around Lincoln Park and through Oak Ridge Cemetery. I hadn't realized there were so many very tall and threatening hills in Lincoln Park. If I'd have known that before, I might have changed my mind about participating.

If you read my report on running the Bix 7, a seven-mile race in Davenport, Iowa, you might recall the sheer agony of the whole thing, starting with being abandoned by MNB (My New Boyfriend, who is going to be MB from now on, for the sake of brevity -- plus, we've dated long enough so that he doesn't feel so new anymore.) That race culminated in horrific quadriceps pain plus a great deal of hatred for humanity in general.

I guess I did learn a little from that first race. This time, I started out slow, and I was relieved at the end to realize that my legs were still functioning and pain-free. Also, although I'd been pretty mad that MB left me during the Bix, this time I wised up. I realized that if he wasn't at my side, I'd feel no compunction to go fast. I could be the only person out there on the course actually ambling.

I started out alongside an older fellow who seemed to have a lot of leg issues; he wore some kind of brace on one leg and a smaller strap on the other. I figured that I could surely keep pace with him.

Nope. Soon he was out of my sight. It was OK, though; at least I never got it into my head to attempt to sprint. I slogged along, making it up the horrible hills of torturous death somehow (on the last one, a woman behind me quietly chanted in a singsong voice, "I think I can, I think I can," which was funny and made the hill slightly less unbearable).

At the end, one of the women who herded us through the chute past the finish line said, " 'Grace About Town'! I love your column!" I didn't actually snarl at her, but I was certainly in no mood for idle chatter. But I did feel a lot less surly than at the end of the Bix race, and I was downright chipper once I found bagels and cookies.

As I was eating, a guy came up and introduced himself: "Steve O'Connor -- remember me? We were in kindergarten together at Hay-Edwards Grade School." His name sounded vaguely familiar, but I couldn't remember him. As I kept trying to conjure up some childhood memory, he told me he'd been at my fifth birthday party. I met his wife, Carol, who was quite nice, as was their daughter. The daughter, who was about nine, ran in the 2-mile race before the Twilight Parade and declared that she never, ever wanted to run at all anymore. I admired her conviction. I didn't point out that I'd vowed never to run again after the Bix. She probably has more determination than me.

Steve and I talked about our very stern teacher Miss Turnbull (approximately 193 years old when we were in kindergarten, she continued to teach for another 100 years). Suddenly I remembered Steve -- he was definitely a boy I'd had a crush on. I'm pretty sure I had a crush on a lot of (most?) boys in grade school, but I feel Steve might have actually offered me a ring at some point -- maybe in the fourth grade. I'm probably making it up, but my memory is that he offered me a plastic ring with an American flag on it. I was so startled at the offer that I didn't accept it. Hmm, what if I had? Would that have signified going steady? Did kids go steady in grade school? I personally didn't, but if I'd taken Steve's ring, I'm pretty sure it would have altered the course of my life.

Not that life has been so bad, but it's funny how things turn out. And it was nice to see Steve again. It made me wonder what happened to Danny McCurley, a kid who lived on my block. My childhood plan was to buy a station wagon with a roll-down top and marry Danny.

Interrupting my reverie, the race organizers announced the Abe's Amble race winners in all age categories, and I found it funny that a 14-year-old girl beat my time by quite a bit. You go, girl. Me, if I race again (and I'm not saying I will), my goal will be to finish -- and who knows whom I'll run into next time.


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