NJ 2 CA: Cross Country by Car in 7 Days – Day 3

Day 3 – August 15, 2011

Spent the afternoon at the Indiana State Fair – the day after 40 were injured and 5 killed when a stage collapsed around countless people waiting for the band Sugarland to perform. The grounds were fairly empty, contemplative, crowd noise close to mute aside from laughter of excited kids and loud music of fair attractions. Underneath the sounds, people murmured randomly sharing stories with strangers of what they saw, who they helped, how they only had 5 seconds to think fast and move away from being crushed by a stage.

One woman had returned to the scene of the mayhem to attend an early morning memorial service. She looking loopy, dazed, lost as she aimlessly wavered around muddy parking lot puddles, before spontaneously stopping and blurting out, “I was at the concert yesterday.” She clenched a drink and surveyed the lot looking for her vehicle. “I wanna know why. Wanna blame someone. But I guess things just happen.”

Hours later, I listened as a teen girl spoke loudly from a bathroom stall, recounting her memories by cell phone. “I pulled some people out from under the stage,” she said flushing the toilet. “I had to come back today to show my respects.” Leaving the stall, she turned on the faucet to wash her hands and smiled at the ladies in the mirror. “Were y’all there yesterday? At the concert?” Everyone hesitantly shook their heads ‘no.’ She smiled again. Her lids heavy, pupils drained of shine. “I was there. It was crazy. It’s all over the news all over the nation.”

But no matter how many times the media replays footage of that stage collapsing in slow motion, nothing can illustrate or elicit the energy of the day after the Indiana State Fair tragedy: Slow. Quiet. Spontaneous moments of shock seen through forced, exhausted smiles made to deal with the craziness of it all.

Next Stop: Chicago

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