As we plunk down our money for Alexandrias annual Red Cross Waterfront Festival my daughter exclaims, I smell kettle corn! My husband is already queuing for free samples of Starbucks Mint Mocha Chip Frappucino and I am filling out the response from that entitles me to a free bottle of ice-cold water. The volunteer who stamps our hands says, Enjoy the nibbles! and I think are we the only ones here to eat?
After a few more steps into the festival the answer is obvious: We are not alone. Kids wander by with lips made ringed and clown-like by the sugary residue of cotton candy, and adults are display the Miller Light bracelets that are proof of the mentality that domestic beer is better than no beer. Even the geese, the gulls and an aggressively cute family of baby mallards are scoping out the treats that are so abundant they can pick and choose, passing up popcorn for hotdog buns.
Every year Founders park fills with people spinning to the live music, spinning on the carousel, spinning their Frisbees through the air, or stomachs spinning after one too many indulgence. The Waterfront Festival always features its share of foods-on-sticks. Chicken on a stick and corndogs are always popular. Cori Lutz sat in the grass in the shade and ate a caramel apple. She tried one last year, but didnt like it, Marsha, Coris mother, explains, This year is different. Cori grasps the stick of the apple, caramel covers her sweet smile and she keeps taking bites of the green apple; this year she is devoted.
One woman behind me in line at the frozen lemonade stand declines to give me her name, but describes the days fare as, Carni food- it will take you for a ride, rob you, and leave you wanting more. The woman, wrist-banded for beer consumption and sunburned has a touch of the carnival about her, and when I turn to ask her opinion of the sausage, is, simply gone. Mysterious.
After my conversation with Our Lady of the Carnie Food I settle into a crab cake sandwich. Soft and crabby, it is loaded with meat and (I watched) stored and cooked to temperature. It is tasty and a thing of food-handling beauty. Bittersweet Catering Caf has a stand selling its world-class lemonades and celebrating its 25th year in business, and I am headed that way for a sweet swig when I get distracted by a view of the gargantuan roasted turkey legs for sale under one tent. I want one. I want to eat a gigantic turkey leg. But I am deterred by the thought of how like Fred Flintstone I will appear. Some things, it seems, are too over the top even for me.
The highlight of the festival is a stop at Wild Bills Soda Pop Co. The stand looks like an old world saloon stand and is outfitted with barrels of pop- root beer, birch beer, orange soda, etc. You buy a silver metal mug filled with ice and fill to your hearts content with the flavor of your choice. The mug keeps the soda so cold, and the root beer is tangy and lightly sweet, a perfect accompaniment to kettle corn, and ironically for all of its kitchy dress-up quality, truly gourmet. You finish the pop, you keep the mug.
The Alexandria Red Cross Waterfront Festival is a community institution, as loved for the good the good it does in the community as the joy it brings to our tummies. I love anything on a stick, I love Carni food, I would marry a mug of Wild Bills, and I cant wait to do it all again next year, even if I need every one of the coming days to joyfully recover.