Falling Out 

STAR Tannery, Virginia - We were having lunch at my favorite arts and crafts festival and my brother decided he didn't like what we were having and went off to find something else to eat. We settled in with our crab cake sandwiches and coleslaw and John returned15 minutes later with nothing more than a scowl on his face.

"Security was following me around," he huffed. Since he is himself a cop, it annoys him that some other jurisdiction deems him suspicious. "I thought they were looking me over because I maybe looked familiar - like we'd met at a conference or something. But - no. It was like they were getting ready to stop me."

John is your basic 40-something who dresses like every other 40-something and, were we anywhere else, I would have been equally outraged. But there he was - a lone male heterosexual . . . alone . . . at a craft fair . . . and he wasn't carrying a single package for his wife.

I'm surprised he wasn't strip-searched.

PCD (political correctness disclaimer): Someone is going to ask me how they would have known that John was heterosexual, particularly in view of the fact that he is a very tidy person. Oh, lighten up. Everyone knows gay guys would only be at an arts and crafts festival with their significant other or their gal pal - or hawking the refurbished antiques in the furniture tent. I don't make the rules.

Fall is festival time in the Shenandoah Valley, strategically scheduled for men to garner brownie points with their wives in preparation for football season and March madness. (PCD: Of course I acknowledge there are women who enjoy pro sports - didn't we all before the Man of Our Dreams sealed the commitment? Remember that moment of satisfaction when we heard him brag to The Guys, "...and she loves football!" Heh. Sucker.)

It stands to reason. Autumn is a beautiful time around here. The federal government scarfed up all the money-making opportunities of tourists wanting to go leaf peeping on top of a high mountain ridge. The Skyline Drive in Shenandoah National Park notwithstanding, fall scenery is a pretty hard resource to charge admission to.

And so we have the Festival of Festivals, so to speak. They range from slick productions like the Mountain Heritage Arts and Crafts Festival - drawing hundreds of vendors from all over the country and a clientele just as diverse - to tiny local affairs where we basically make money off each other - a sort of gentlemen's agreement that if we attend Edinburg's Olde Time Festival, they will attend our Oktoberfest.

Mostly it's just an excuse to have funnel cake.

The larger the venue, of course, the more high-end the merchandise. You won't find a single crocheted toilet paper cover at Mountain Heritage. But if you're in the market for a full John Deere kitchen set or "Git 'r' Done" wall plaques, then the local fairs should do you just fine.

As a bonus, with the local events you also get a parade which means that every Saturday morning for the entire season there is only one fire department covering the entire area. Everyone else is part of each other's parade.

There are also local high school bands, but this early in the school year they only know one song: "On Wisconsin." And, this being the south, there is a flock of be-sashed and tiara-ed beauty queens waving regally atop mounds of papier-mache and crepe paper.

The valley is also the D.C. area's go-to locale for corn mazes and pumpkin patches. Some of the local farmers haul out their farm animals for the city kids to traumatize. Also, you can go to practically any large farm and, for a fee, they'll cover their manure-hauling flatbed trailer with hay bales and drag you around on it. Just know they consider this highly amusing to talk about over coffee on weekday mornings down at the diner.

I'll admit I'm not totally immune to the fall festival attitude. I've purchased a couple of decorative pumpkins, even though there are no Heirs left to carve them. I'll probably cave in and buy a bushel of apples. And, of course, there is Rinker Orchard's Cider, which is possibly the single reason God invented apples - that whole snake thing being a pure accident.

By all means, have a leaf peep up on Skyline Drive. But if that's all you see of the Shenandoah Valley in the fall, you're missing a great sideshow.

But, guys -- you might want to be carrying packages wherever you go.

Copyright (c) 2007, SteelWill, Inc. All Rights Reserved. Spot On is a trademark of SteelWill, Inc.

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