Fair time is excitement time. It is shebang time. It’s let’s wear out the kids time. It’s past 6:00p.m. and it’s “let’s get rowdy here” time. The L.A. County Fair starts small and winds up big. Did I mention that Smokey the Bear is here? They got Smokey the mutha-freakin’ bear over here. Here are a few tips to get along and have a great time.
1. This venue is not only perfect for groups of friends, but also for family members. However, do not trust the older kids to babysit the younger kids while you go wait in the ridiculously long line for Slushy Margaritas. Also, it’s not a good idea to have the neighbor’s kids come along with you, no matter how seldom you see their parents.
2. Eat a good breakfast — and this goes for both kids and adults. Even sandwiches are OK. Because the first thing you’ll hit once inside the “Yellow Gate” are seemingly endless rows of questionable cuisine designed more to be a dare amongst friends. An ice cold glass of Pickle Juice is probably not the first thing to go for. Although it will probably help to make some interesting urine later on.
3. Sun screen, Sun screen, Sun screen, and get a hat as well. I once had a affair with heat stroke in a public place. You don’t want to go there,
4. Check your sugar, check your meds. Ah, yes, check your blood pressure too while you’re at it. I know you have been yearning for chocolate bacon apples in a trough. But first make sure you take your psych meds, so you don’t have an awkward time asking strangers about the live dragons on the ceiling. If you should forget sun screen or Motrin, the first aid station has got much of what you need in small packets for a small price and they are a bunch of very nice guys as well [Motrin does not make the dragons go away -Ed.].
5. When you first arrive, hit the bathrooms, get the kids some soft serve and head for this year’s prizewinner in the wine pavilion.
6. Those who live by the timetable die by the timetable. You can’t see everything in one day. Pick out a couple of highlights and just throw the rest away. Leave yourself some time for surprises. Get used to it, and should a monkey cross your path, then thank your lucky stars for this omen and tip the hairy little sucker.
7. Share your food. It’s expensive, and sometimes it pays to be cautious. That’s what I think when I see things like “Peanut Butter Stuffed Deep Fried Dill Pickle.” My girlfriend and I went semi-adventurous this year and ordered up the “Deep Fried Pork Belly Wrapped In Bacon.” It was unctuous, it was delicious and it probably cost me my soul. But they could have jumped the carny food shark and slathered it in Corn Dog batter with bacon bits, that would surely be the kick in the pants it needed. But that’s just me being picky. Having pork juice dripping down your chin almost as soon as you arrive is a monumental thing as well, so you can see why I’m on the fence about this. I’ll end this part with a quote from my girlfriend at the peak of a very hot day “This would be the worst place to get Ceviche from.”
8. Don’t eat right before livestock viewing. The sights and sounds of Mother Nature in the raw could have interesting effects, depending on how recently you ate. While you’re looking at the swine and the likes, say hello to the children who tend the animals. Most likely their whole family will be staying at least a week in a trailer, but I’ve seen owners sleep in a cot right next to their oinky entry in the fair. If a teen is up and brushing a sheep, ask them some questions or compliment the critters. These guys and what they do is really the heart of the fair.
9. Keep hydrated. I didn’t see a single Gatorade machine while I was there, but bottled water, frozen lemonade and fresh fruit smoothies should handle that task without much effort.
10. Special Fair Funnel Cake Dog. According to the gal working the register, there is but one cocktail frank inside the fluffy cake goo. Somehow we wanted to be even more disgusted than reality would have it. So…the most vomitous entry this year was the chocolate dipped dill pickle. That’s just wrong. Chicken Charlies is the king of all foods fried and strange. He’s got no less than four trucks at the fair this year, and none of them sell the Caviar Topped Twinkie that debuted in July at the Orange County Fair. True, the $125.00 price tag went to the Children’s hospital, but when people drop by to stare aghast at the weird food, the smells of fried chicken and ribs is going to reel ’em in. Chicken Charlies has also invented the Deep Fried Slim Fast Bar, because they can, and I’d like to think it’s a thumb of the nose at the other vendors selling imitations of his array of fried treats like Oreos and Snickers.
11. Pace yourself. That may not be easy to do, especially with kids in tow, but when you’re close to reaching your limit, slow down and people watch. Or go into the air conditioned hangars where they keep all of the plant and flower displays. A very good place to be, plus it’s very close to the wine bar and Wine Education Classes.
12. Unless you are 16 years old, you are allotted no more than two spin rides per visit. To this day, I cannot even bear to look at a Zipper, let alone ride one. A Carny left us on one of those things for 20 minutes. Did he go out to cop? In the last few years the workers at the fair have gotten more and more presentable. Still, when the ride was over, the ground seemed to spin for an additional twenty minutes. And remember, no matter how cool the outside of a Spook House Dark Ride looks, the inside will have absolutely nothing to do with that enticing maiden being chased by ghouls on the trailer facade. I only attend the rides if it’s Bargain Days or Food Drive Days.
13. Always stop by the Arts and Crafts department and talk to the guy who cuts the geodes in half. These guys know a lot, not just about their hobbies, and don’t mind bending your ear.
14. No matter how grouchy you get, go too see some baby animals. That’s bound to melt your heart, and so will the walk through a rain forest simulation where you can almost touch a Bear Cat or watch a porcupine eat a pomegranate.
15. Take a stroll around the large layout of miniature trains that fascinates in a simple and powerful manner.
16. Never go into the gizmo and products hangars unless you can say “No!” to the onslaught of broccoli steamers and 30 second taco makers. Don’t sign up for their contests or give out your email unless you like digging through a sh*t ton of spam. Always enter these arenas with a determined and humorous countenance. In other words don’t give them the impression that you are an easy mark. They’re not dishonest there, but they probably get a commission of each sale, and that’s why the heat is on. If you have WIFI on your phone, you can easily tell if Amazon can offer a better price — shipping included.
17. Go watch a baby camel being fed and listen to a short lecture on why camel milk and cheese is getting a bum rap.
18. Dare a friend to eat a Pickle Dog. It is a large dill pickle that has been cored long enough and wide enough to perfectly fit a hot dog inside. Once snug it its pickle bed, it gets dunked in corn dog batter and deep fried. This could almost work, but if it’s near the end of the day, skip the dares and stick to a classic dessert that will give you the fuel needed to survive the long trip on the freeway to home base.
19. Don’t bet on the pig races. Those fuzzy looking porkers are beyond cute, but I’ll be damned if the drunken guys in front of us didn’t clean out our pockets. Just yell for your team and have fun. In fact, that’s a very fine way to end the day with a squeal in your heart.
20. Take this list with a grain of salt and have some fun. You have one weekend left so finish off this fair season with a bang!
What survives of the traditional county fairs — the judging — is always done a couple of weeks ahead of time before they let in the public. Perhaps next year I’ll enter something in the “Jams And Jellies” category, because I’m fascinated with the judging procedure and the hopes and dreams of suburban America when it comes to winning a prize. Instead, we get to see the fruits of these labors while squeezed into what feels like the largest block party ever. The fair is always a fun thing to do. I can’t thank Jake and The LA County Fair enough for letting me into their world this year so I could take the time to see all of those smiling faces. Get your tickets here