By the time the state fair pulls into our town every August, the kids and I already have a mental list of the things we will do. We will gaze down from the top of the Ferris wheel to see buildings that look like Legos, and people and cars that appear no bigger than toys.
We will go to see the "butter cow," hand-sculpted from hundreds of pounds of butter, in its refrigerated compartment of the dairy bar. And, of course, we will talk to Otto.
Otto will talk to us, too, because that's what Otto does. He is, after all, a talking car. Specifically, he is a 1931 Model A Ford roadster of the kind formerly used by the Missouri State Highway Patrol. Every year, Otto comes to his special open-air garage in the fair's Highway Gardens to converse with children about any variety of topics, safety-related and otherwise.
Most fortunately, daughter Cookie captured last month's visit to Otto in a rare digital moment that includes me and all six grandkids:
There, totally immersed in as deep a conversation as you can have with a hunk of metal, are, from left to right, Sooby, Bootsie, Googie (no, I am not a midget; I am on my knees), Beenie, Beenie and Heero's mama, Heero, Zoomie, and Pooh (who, microphone in hand, is acting as our spokesman).
As I understand it, Otto first came to our fair in the late 1960s. He not only talks (with appropriate help from a trooper with a remote device) but also blinks his eyes and honks. As you leave his garage, he will see that the kids all get a T-shirt and a coloring book. What's not to like about a guy who can do all that?
Like Smokey the Bear in the Conservation Building and the llama in the petting zoo, Otto wears one of the iconic faces of our fair. He is a true personality, complete with jokes and teasing and the occasional safety tip.
The kids dearly love him, and so do I. No trip to the state fair would be complete without a detour through the Highway Gardens where kids are loyal subjects and Otto is king.