By Dustin Swope, 2013
Until recently, I’d never been to Asheboro, and I’d never been to any “fall festival” with real red, brown, and yellow leaves that had fallen from real trees earlier that day. Walking up to one end of the Asheboro Fall Festival’s main street, I thought that would finally change. I crunch my way over a few leaves – I was already envisioning my own freshly raked pile sparring partner, right in line with the other kids half my age.
The first few tents were just as quaint as I’d hoped. Each tent had a specialty food or craft, backed by smiling families in folding sports chairs. No bobbing for apples or scarecrow stuffing, but there was already a five-table spread of baked seasonals, none of which had the telltale white smear of a supermarket label that refused to go quietly.
I thought that I would finally be able to check this one off the bucket list. Then, I looked to my right, up the the surging river of humanity that poured over the banks of Main Street, Asheboro. The column seemed frozen, but after a few minutes of revelling, I realized that there was, in fact, a flow to traffic. Somewhere in this impenetrable swarm, I was supposed to find that simple, seasonal miracle that is the fall festival? It just didn’t seem possible.
Having resigned myself to an afternoon of elbowing and shuffling with my “excuse me”-record on repeat, I took my first brave steps into the fray. Tent after tent, it was all a blur. I pushed forward on something between instinct and autopilot. Children weaved in and out like burrowing mammals, waiting for a moment of weakness to slide under my foot or in front of my knee, because they know that every trampled child gets a fried oreo to wipe away their tears. Women were given a four-inch berth when possible. Men apparently weren’t expected to acknowledge any sort of personal space bubble.
When a crunch corresponded with a footstep, I freeze. I check my shoes, scan the scene of the crime, and move on. It was a far cry from the tranquility that I imagined the sound of leaves crunching under my feet would inspire. And I’m not sure if because of the herds of deep fryers and smokers or how these metal apparati focused festival-goers into a molten river of body heat, but it was hot. The tents impeded wind like trees in a forest, and all I could do was hope that the next person I crashed into was fighting the urge to sweat as valiantly as I was.
Twenty minutes of grinding it out in this family-friendly mosh pit, I spot the end of my own personal trail of tears, just a block away. I’d been ice-breaking through the crowd for the three ladies I came to the festival with up to this point. Now that the current has slowed and the crowd has thinned, though, I lift my gaze up and over heads to the tents on the side. Maybe the grass was just looking greener on the other side, but I could swear the layers of foot traffic closest to the tents were strolling comfortably, even pausing at the odd craft or baked good that caught their eye.
“That looks like fun,” I think boldly. How could I have gone so far without realizing there was more to Asheboro’s celebration than sweating, getting kicked, and trying to not kick the person in front of me? Well, shame on me for wasting the trip down, but I wasn’t making the same mistake twice. The girls about-face while I tag the end of the festival on this street, and dive into the downstream current in pursuit of the parking lot. I, however, planted my feet and began a quiet, smiling survey of the landscape
Flowers, candies, crafts, pies, preserves, jewelry, spices, and political advocacy. So there was more to the Asheboro Fall Festival than sweating, shuffling, and apologizing. I paused at a barbeque stand to purvey the range when the grillmaster asked how everything looked – a school crush might as well’ve asked me how her hair looked. “Beautiful! I don’t know what you did, but it’s beautiful.”
I lost track of time amongst the sweet and spicy smoke at my own little backyard cookout, sampling the goods and talking grilling like I knew why one would use a dry rub instead of marinating or a mid-grill glaze. From a spirit-breaking trial, to a mid-eastern Grand Bazaar, to a seasonal gathering of friends with skills and hobbies, the Asheboro Fall Festival has come a long way to holding a special place in my heart.
I “Dorothy” my way down the rest of Asheboro’s yellow brick road, swinging my bag full of baking and grilling spice blends that I promised my new grillmaster friend I’d learn to cook with. Toe-tapping, fanning hands, and folded arms greet me as I complete my circuit through Asheboro’s Fall Festival. Oops, guess I was in the doghouse for the ride back to Elon. A fast blast to a baked-bonanza tent for chess pie and a sweet potato spice coffee cake and I was ready to hit the highway again. So, I didn’t get to lose myself in a corn maze or fill a scarecrow’s jeans with hay, but this was so much more “fall festival” than a Florida city of millions like Tampa had ever put together for me.