If you’re starting to think America is all narcissistic selfies and contentious Internet comments, there’s a cure for that. Pack up the family, slip on your cowboy boots, and head on down to the county or state fair. You’ll see that there are plenty of people who still know how to work hard, make things, and have fun. Here are 26 steps to get your very own injection of American exceptionalism.
1. Mosey through the crafts pavilion and see that people do, indeed, still make things. Beautiful things. Hard things.
2. Head over to the farming pavilion with the whopping big pumpkin and see that people do, indeed, still grow things.
3. Notice the pride ordinary Americans pump into their oversized pumpkins, plum jelly, and peach pie. There’s no swagger like a first place ribbon at the state fair swagger.
4. Those pumpkins are really big. Like American hearts.
5. Scoot through the animal pavilions and let the kids learn where their milk and burgers come from. Show them how American farmers have created abundance and fed the world.
6. Notice the hard work and pride the 4-H kids put into raising sheep, cattle, and even turkeys.
7. So many bunnies. So cute.
8. Take a moment to appreciate the majesty that is Butter Elvis.
9. Funnel cake.
10. There is no feeling better than strapping on an all-day wristband for rides at the fair. That’s freedom right there, folks.
11. They go by many names. The Zipper. The Vortex. Cliff Hanger. Orbiter. The Tornado. They all mean spinning until you’re dizzy. MORE PLEASE.
12. Stagger away from the rides to the lumberjills demonstration, from logrolls to tree-felling. Those axes are sharp and those women know how to use them!
13. Four words: Foot-long chili hot dog.
14. Watch the shepherd dog competition for a perfect blend of man and beast creating teamwork on a primal level.
15. For something completely different, head over to the racing pigs. Laugh as their little tails wiggle!
16. Spend some time with the greasemonkeys in the tractor section. Pick their brains about what those old machines did and how basic machines work, and hear how they maintain them just for the love of machinery. Let your little boy wander to his heart’s content as things whir and chug and thump and patapatapata around him.
17. Go full circle from old machines to new as you take in the robotics competition. Try to get the number of the nerd on the winning team so your daughter can date him. He’ll probably rule the world one day.
18. Pulled pork sandwich with beer and a deep-fried Twinkie chaser. There are no calories in food bought at a fair.
19. Join the stream of people headed into the arena. Notice how Americans come in all different shapes and styles, but we have more in common than we realize.
20. Stand with your fellow Americans, put your hat over your heart, and sing the national anthem like you mean it, without a trace of irony.
21. Extra points if you also sing “Proud to Be an American” and know all the words.
22. Cent for cent, there is no better bang for your buck than a demolition derby. It has all the drama of a gladiator fight, the thrill of victory, the pain of defeat, plus big crashes and gas fumes.
23. Or maybe some faded but still-great band rocks the night with treasured tunes.
24. Or perhaps take in a rodeo. Amazing young women race their horse through barrels and brave young men defy gravity on the back of a bull.
25. Take that wristband and take some more rides after dark, when the fairway is all twinkling lights and flirting youth.
26. There is nothing better than the top of a Ferris wheel at night, the lights around you, the breeze ruffling your hair, the sound of laughter coming from below. It’s good to be an American. Still. Now. Always.