Kage Baker liked the idea of county fairs. There is something so marvelously wholesome about the idea, even if one of the best activities is eating your way from one weird fried food to another. But the air of Harvest Home, the bright colours and lights and happy screams from the Midway, the fact that everything smells so impossibly good – she loved that atmosphere of carnival. And fairs, all fairs, are magical microcosms. So much happens there!
And at most county fairs, they have the best rides ever: those candy-coloured chairs with foot vibrators built in. For 25 cents you can sit down, get a barely-legal foot massage, and watch the crowds drift by. Man, that’s bliss.
Kage loved people-watching, as do I. And county fairs are prime for that. Even people who arrive in sensible shoes and ordinary clothes mutate during their time on the fairgrounds. By mid-afternoon, everyone is wearing hats with horns and ears and pinwheels and dayglo sippers full of margaritas; they have traded their cardigans for hoodies painted with googly-eyed vampires. The T-shirts alone constitute a graphic novel, and tattoos bloom spontaneously on every bare arm.
At the LA County Fair (where I spent yestreday) there was actually a guy air-brushing tattoos on folks. With stencils. Amazingly cool. Some guy was having the entire wavy hill scene from Nightmare Before Christmas painted on his back.
There was a model train set you could walk through in one place. In another was what was advertised as the biggest steam engine in the world. There were Clydesdales and miniature horses. There was a monkey-free monkey exhibit, whose entrances were flanked by two-story-tall fire hydrants: absolute layers of mystery, folks. There was a pirate village (with live pirates) and a gypsy encampment (full of dummies).
There were the usual wonderful exhibition halls full of flower displays and quilts and jams and sheep and prize steers: America the Beautiful, live and breathing softly on your hands. There was a Jurassic Hall full of really pretty good animated dinosaurs – although the audio-animatronic emu in the All-Healing Emu Oil booth one hall over was drawing a bigger crowd. Of course, it danced …. there was an ice sculpture display, that one went through wrapped in woolly blankets supplied at the entrance. There were sauna models where one could strip down to underwear and a paper examining gown and walk through, presumably to experience being papier-mached first hand.
Fried food. It’s the mainstay of country fairs, that and barbecue. They had fried barbecue at the LA County Fair. Fried Twinkies and Snickers bars are almost passe, now, but they are only the tip of the fried iceberg (which you can also approximate with a fried ice cream bar). There are: deep fried … avocados, beans, clams, doughnut sandwiches, eggs, frog legs, Good N’ Plentys, hemp, ice cream, jelly, Klondike bars, lemons, mushrooms, nougat, onions, peanut butter, Quaker Oats, ravioli, soda, turkey legs, udon, veal, watermelon, xocolatle, yams and zucchini. And more.
There are beer booths everywhere, but they only serve Budweiser and Stella Artois; however, the wine tasting pavilion is a paradise. And there are marguerita booths, whose influence cannot be underestimated.
There are entire halls dedicated to those special products As Seen On TV. Those are as good as a zoo, except the weird things displayed click and light up rather than growl and pace. There are items to do dubious things to absolutely any aspect of your life, at a discount and in decorator colours and usually accompanied by a set of carving knives. Ladies press magic cooling towels to your face as you walk by; although I missed it, I bet someone somewhere was selling relics. There are fudge booths and shaved ice machines at the ends of every hall, too.
And it’s a drug dream of cheap sparklies. Some of it must be fake, some of it might be real: I don’t know or especially care, because it all cost next to nothing! There are nearly as many weird things encased in amber as there are encased in frying batter. There is genuine fake Bakelite, and faux vinyl made from recycled trash bags. There are miracle fibers, natural fibers, recycled fibers, organic fibers, green fibers, vegan fibers; all of them are wearable and will guarantee dietary regularity!
Heck, does anyone really need to be advised to go to a County fair? Of course not. It’s an incredible giggle, as much for its tackiness as its moments of true beauty – and there are many . I can recommend a koi pond behind the Flower Hall where apparently dragonflies evolve from thin air; the Midway at the one perfect moment when the neon comes on; the first bite of a funnel cake fried (amazingly) in walnut oil. Spending 6 whole hours laughing out loud with your family, and coming home with a marshmallow shooter.
We stayed up until 10 PM shooting marshmallows at the corgi, but we had to stop eventually – he ate all our ammunition. Kage would have loved it.
Tomorrow: planning for the end