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The View From Here

It’s late July, and all roads lead to the Fair

Neshoba County Fairgrounds — It’s getting harder and harder to get away at the Fair.

Oh, it’s simple to get here. Cruising across Central Mississippi on Highway 16. Or winding through the countryside on Highway 21. Coming down on Highway 15. For thousands of us every July, all roads lead toward Philadelphia and the Fair.

We pack cars, trucks and SUVs to the breaking point with coolers full of cold drinks, grills and groceries, and precious children who are growing up way, way too fast. And then we hit the road for the rolling hills and red clay dust, the heat and the humidity, and the up-close-and-personal living quarters of the family Fair cabin.

“It’s good to get away,” I’ve said before, standing on the front porch and watching the lights of the midway start to shine in the dusk.

And I know that I’m not alone in making that observation. I’ve heard folks tell each other how good it is to be back at the Fair, out of the office, away from the everyday grind of phone calls, faxes, messages and messes.

Unfortunately, that sense of timelessness is slipping away. The modern world encroaches, even here where 16 family members (or more) will share a few hundred square feet, sleep on bunk beds and share a bathroom and a half for a week. But satellite dishes are everywhere now, the rebuilt cabins would be right at home in Destin, and the once spotty cell service is now crystal clear.

So, we’re never really that far away.

Check those messages

I remember when the busiest place on the fairgrounds was the pay phone in front of my wife’s family’s cabin. We could sit for hours and watch the parade of humanity — comedy, drama, tragedy — pass by to use that phone. People-watching par excellence.

Young cousins would tear across the small yard to answer an incoming ring. They’d take messages to nearby cabins or even promise to be on the lookout for whomever the caller wanted.

And then they took the phone out — a victim of the cellular revolution. It hasn’t really been the same since then.

Now, we check our voice mail. We return calls to colleagues. We touch base with clients. And getting away?

Well…

Business and pleasure

This year all of those satellite TV dishes that have been popping up on cabin after cabin will be pulling in a signal from ESPN as the network broadcasts an edition of “SportsCenter” from the racetrack grandstand at the Fair.
ESPN at the Fair? Yep.

As Ricky Nobile points out in his cartoon this week, they really should concentrate on our greatest spectator sport at the Fair: politics (although the harness racing every afternoon isn’t far behind).

Much has been made of the light political lineup this year, but the speeches have been broadened to include four former governors — a couple of whom aren’t quite out of the campaign arena. And with Gov. Haley Barbour capping off the Founders Square program Thursday morning, the politicos will be out in full force. It’s always fun to watch that maneuvering.

Of course, it’s also hard work for the behind-the-scenes people. The staffers, advisors and consultants who are never too far away. The Fair is one of the most unique places for politickin’ in the world, but it’s tough, too. Ninety-five degrees and a politically-savvy crowd can make for a long day.

Politics at the Fair is one of the ultimate mixes of business and pleasure for everyone involved.

Add it up

So, maybe these things that I’ve thought of as distractions keeping me from “getting away” aren’t really that distracting. They’re just part of the larger Fair experience.

Keeping in touch with the office? That’s really not so bad.
Talking business over a beer? There are far worse places to get it done.

Perhaps what makes the Fair so alluring — and important — for many of us is the perspective it allows. Life, the good and bad of it all, doesn’t seem quite so overwhleming or impossible from the front porch, and so maybe the Fair isn’t really about getting away. It’s about getting in touch.

And getting right. Allllllllright.

Contact MBJ editor Jim Laird at jlaird@msbusiness.com. For the next few days, he’ll be sitting in a swing on a front porch at the Neshoba County Fair. Feel free to join him.

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