Replacing Garrison Keillor – or – The Great Ohio Cheese War

With Garrison Keillor on the verge of retirement I’m sure he and Public Radio have his replacement already picked out. But with my writing, storytelling and musical talents, I’d like to be considered first runner up if the initial choice can’t fulfill the requirements…etc., etc.

This story is true. Only the brand of the cheese has been changed to protect the innocent dairy industry.

                                                                                             The Great Ohio Cheese War

I witnessed what Armageddon will look like. It wasn’t after a natural disaster, an extended power failure or even a South American Soccer Team loss. It was at the Ohio State Fair.

From 1986 to 2001 I was an on-air host for the TV Shopping Channel QVC. During one of QVC’s 50 in 50 Tours, where we went to 50 states in 50 weeks to find the best local products, we did a live show from the Ohio State fair, one of the biggest state fairs in America. The show was broadcast from the fair’s theater that held 8500 people. An hour before the show, every seat was filled and a lot more people were standing in the back. It looked like it was going to be a fun show.

The broadcast was so big that QVC assigned 4 hosts, 2 to be on stage and 2 to be roving reporters in the crowd. With my Monk-like fear of germs and people I don’t know why they assigned me to one of the crowd spots. But I had plenty of hand sanitizer and wipes and felt up to the challenge.

One of the vendors was an Ohio cheese maker. Of all the things the Buckeye State is famous for, I never thought cheese was one of them. It made as much sense to me as my home state of New Jersey being known for fine wine.

When the vendor was on with his cheese, the plan was to have me walk through the crowd with a big tray of cheese samples, all skewered with toothpicks. The cameras would cover me handing out the samples and the happy faces of people scarfing down cheese would help to sell the product. I would be like a roving Cosco. It sounded like good idea. At first, so did the “three hour tour” on Gilligan’s Island.

Holy crap! As soon as the people in the audience saw me with the huge tray of cheese, the stampede started. I had more people touching and crawling over my body than someone in one of those 70’s porno film orgies.

There were kids crawling up my back like I was the wall obstacle from military basic training. One small woman came under the tray between my legs, twisting her body better than any contortionist I’ve ever seen. She grabbed a handful of cheese and wound up stabbing her hand on a toothpick. She bled all over most of the cheese that was left on the tray as well as on the cheese she had taken.

The blood-covered food didn’t dissuade the hoard. They were like sharks, the blood seemed to attract them. While images of HIV and Hepatitis-C flooded my brain, I was able to get a wipe and remove most of the ladies blood from my arm. I saw her chowing down on her bloody dairy booty like a lioness ripping out the entrails out of her freshly killed prey. She was still bleeding!

The cameras caught most of the onslaught, before a kindly director cut back to the hosts on stage. As soon as the red light on the roving camera went off, I dropped the metal tray (it was about 4 feet in diameter) in front of me and ran back toward the safety of backstage. Once there, I realized there was still a kid on my back. He jumped off and asked if there was any more cheese. If there hadn’t been witnesses, I would have gladly dropped the little bastard right there. I told him no and he headed back to the crowd. To this day, I look at milk cartons, hoping to see his face, although now he’d probably be 25.

QVC’s 50 in 50 staff convinced me to go back out, assuring me that I would be accompanied by two security guards from the fair. Why I didn’t realize how little protection would be provided by minimum wage security guards, I’ll never know. Chalk it up to the excitement of the moment.

I went back out to another section of the crowd. I picked this area because they appeared to be better dressed and more recently bathed than the people in the previous section. Obviously, I ain’t no genius when it comes to human nature. Once the cheese was in view this new hoard attacked me faster and more viciously than the last.

Once the security guards saw people literally running at me with outstretched hands, they gave me a sad look and retreated to the sanctity of backstage. I was on my own. It was a bad scene from “The Walking Dead.”

The cameras were live as the zombie apocalypse approached. Unarmed, I did what I had to do to survive. I tossed the tray into the air! Little cheese snacks impaled with toothpicks went flying everywhere. The crowd realized that these little missiles could do some damage, so they instinctively covered up. This gave me the chance to get behind the stage and out of harm’s way. Most of this was broadcast live. Still, amazingly, the cheese sold out. (Blood sold separately.)

During the rest of the show, I never saw the security guards who had abandoned me. I think they realized their lives were worth more than a few bucks an hour and probably decided to go back to their regular jobs at the convenience store as fast as their ’82 Isuzu could take them.

I couldn’t believe they asked to host the show from the Ohio State Fair for the next 50 in 50 Tour. Apparently, the State Fair folks thought the show was very entertaining. We had another full house for the next show. Interestingly, we had no food vendors that year. And they decided against having hosts mingle with the crowd during the show.

Side note: I am still HIV and Hep-C negative. God bless those antiseptic wipes!

TV Shopping Host and Coach, Musician, Author, Teacher.

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