I’m a Michigan boy who relocated to Colorado a few years ago. Don’t let Tim Allen fool you – the Great Lake State is a tough sell. The weather was my biggest gripe. Winters are long and dreary, when most hunker down with their Snuggies and Seasonal Affective Disorder lamps. Spring is usually a few days around the end of April when the glaciers finally recede on their way back to the Canadian ice shield. Then it’s straight into summer, a steam-bath rife with road construction and mosquitoes capable of carrying off small dogs.
But autumn is the pay-off – dry, sunny days and cool nights as the trees go all Norman Rockwell in improbable shades of yellow, red and orange. And while Colorado has some impressive fall colors as well, there’s one fall ritual that my adopted state just can’t get right – the pumpkin patch.
This time of year they sprout like mushrooms across the Midwest, mystical places with the power to separate us from our assets more deftly than Bernie Madoff, where even the most suburban among us are suddenly willing to pay good money to pick apples, a job we normally wouldn’t consider even for a CEO’s salary. Where rosy-cheeked farm hands in flannel shirts and overalls happily charge us 12 bucks for half a gallon of watered-down apple juice and a sack of stale doughnuts. And we pass over the money without even thinking about it, for it’s money we have and cider we lack. For an additional fee, you can take a bumpy ride around the orchard while having your ass molested by a bale of hay, or risk losing a finger trying to feed one of the devil-eyed goats. The yellow-jackets attempting to bathe in any unattended beverage come free of charge.
Around here it appears a lot of folks just buy their pumpkins at the nearest grocery store and that’s the end of it. But in Michigan it’s all about the “harvest” experience. Some operations are low-key, with things like pig races or maybe an old tractor to play on, while others have more of a carnival atmosphere, where the gourd-selection process is not for sissies.
Simply scoring a parking space can be a challenge at the more popular patches. No lines, no rows, just a field full of jumbled cars and an 11-year old in a day-glow vest motioning you out to the back forty. Screw that. The savvy move is to fall in behind the woman in the LL Bean Barn Jacket who’s pushing a stroller and herding three crying kids back from the petting zoo while trying to scrape llama turds off her shoe – she looks like she’s had enough. This is the point at which you also need to send someone to brave the throngs and fight their way up to the cashier in order to purchase the group’s color-coded wrist bands. After a brief stop at the row of fermenting porta-potties for a game of “how long can you hold your breath,” it’s into the fray.
Various wagon rides pull in and out of a crowded staging area with the precision of flights at La Guardia. Two are rotating passengers out to the apple orchards, two others to the pumpkin field, while the “Cinderella Express” – giant pumpkin-shaped coaches pulled by horses suffering from over-active bowels – travels to parts unknown. If you’re looking for more action, there’s always the corn maze, a.k.a. Thunderdome. It’s where parents banish their kids in the hope they’ll burn off that doughnut sugar buzz before the drive home.
The pony rides are perhaps the tamest attraction, the animals appearing listless as they plod around in circles. Not surprising, considering their lot in life, or maybe it’s just that they’ve been rendered deaf by the roar of the nearby generator supplying power to the fan for the inflatable castle. It’s actually one of those trampolines-in-disguise meant to finish off what was started at the corn maze. Careful as you pass so as not to walk under the plumes of regurgitated caramel apple and cotton candy.
And then there’s the elephant. Yes, at least one legendary pumpkin patch in West Michigan had an elephant on the premises. How a pachyderm ties in with the season is beyond me but to the proprietors’ credit, at least they didn’t paint it orange. For ten bucks a head, anyone who hasn’t seen the footage of circus animals gone berserk is welcome to climb aboard.
So c’mon, Colorado, time to step up your game. As you can see, I’m used to a little “pizzazz” with my pumpkin.