Call me a skeptic, but when I, a recently transplanted Midwesterner, saw ads everywhere for the Los Angeles County Fair, I may have rolled my eyes a bit. I mean seriously, LA, with its breezy attitude, fake boobs and materialistic culture, has a county fair? Do they even know what a county fair is? Don’t they realize that some people around here may have actually been to a real (midwestern) county fair and have pretty high standards for what constitutes one? I mean really, there’s no way they could have hot dog pig races around here without being ironic about it.
But it’s Labor Day and that meant that admission to the Fair was only $1 today. Sold! So we packed up the kidlets around ten this morning and headed to the fair. I thought it would be closer to LA but the fairgrounds are actually just in the next town over. The grounds themselves are HUGE and lay right next to a massive NHRA racetrack. Looks like Grandpa Javy has another reason to visit. Anyways, the fair opened at ten and already there was a fair (sorry) number of cars lined up to get in. We had the option of general, preferred or VIP parking. Patrick was being swayed towards preferred, but I scoffed. “How long can the walk be? A little walk never killed anyone.” You can see where this is going.
So one Battan Death March later, we reached the fairgrounds. The lines weren’t too bad and once we got inside, the scene before us was pretty impressive. We’d been handed a map but we quickly realized that there was far too much crammed on it to be helpful so we crumpled it and shoved it in the diaper bag. Anyways, here’s an overview of the major points of a county fair, along with my opinion of who has the advantage.
So the rides were basically the same as what you’d find at any county fair, with a few differences.
First of all, at the local Indiana county fairs, you see the kiddie rides and get the feeling that when they assemble them, there’s usually a few nuts or bolts left over and the carnies just look at them and say “eh, it’ll work.” Here, the rides seem slightly less inviting of a lawsuit. Also, when you walk in, you’re greeted by a massive fancy Ferris wheel and a skyride that goes around the park.
Kind of impressive. The real highlight though, although not technically a ride, is the railroad garden. It is a-freakin’-
mazing. It’s a huge manicured little world of railroad lines and wild west towns, complete with tiny people going about their lives. Trains woosh around looking industrious while grown men in Railroad Garden shirts operate controls from a little house and look like they’re living their childhood dreams. A lot of love has gone into that garden and it’s a joy to see. Finn’s eyes were huge.
Okay, sure there was more variety in LA. I mean, have you ever seen a sushi bar at an Indiana county fair? More importantly, would you ever EAT at a sushi bar at an Indiana county fair? There was also Indian food, Thai BBQ, lots of Mexican. But that’s not what you go to a fair for. Eating a creamy bowl of palak paneer in the middle of summer under a ferris wheel just seems wrong. So I’m discounting the variety, because it doesn’t really add much for me. You go to a fair for fair food and that’s what I’m judging on. LA was severely lacking in corn dogs, there wasn’t enough funnel cake stands and I didn’t see elephant ears anywhere. To their credit, they did have turkey legs the size of your head, which Indiana doesn’t have, and plenty of fresh lemonade. And they had tons of deep fried things. There were a ton of bars and liquor stands, which you wouldn’t see (and shouldn’t) at an Indiana fair. Do you really want people getting liquored up and then hopping on the Crazy Mouse? Yeah, me neither. Anyways, I sent Patrick to a food stand to get a sampling of the fare (sorry) and he returned with The Mother of All Corn Dogs. This thing was massive. With corn dogs, you get diminishing returns. Nobody really wants to eat a giant corn dog. You just want the taste of crunchy corn bread batter and a small bit of hot dog inside. A giant corn dog assumes that you’re eating it because you just can’t get enough. With a corn dog though, you quickly reach a point where the novelty and nostalgia wears off and you’re really just eating a fat fried hot dog. Patrick had a Western sausage that had the same problem.
This was pretty hands down. County fairs by definition attract has-beens trying reunite to make a little extra money, so the question was, which had the best ones. I can’t even remember the acts at the St Joe or Elkhart County Fairs, so there you go. Tonight, the Beach Boys were performing. Next week was En Vogue and Salt N Pepa (which answered the question posed by Cody last week: “I wonder what Salt N Pepa are up to now?”) Also later in the program, Mexican pop star Gloria Trevi, which was significant to me because she actually had a house down the street from us in McAllen. When I was in high school they found a bunch of child pornography in her house and she was arrested for corruption of minors and forcing them to have sex with her manager. Also, she never mowed her lawn. Anyways, this all was way more entertaining than the pre-teen yodeling county singer that we watched strut around the stage at the Elkhart County fair and tell packaged jokes about what a pain her little brother was. Although there’s something kitchy about that that you have to appreciate. Like the magician at St Joe this year who did terrible magic shows and you just imagined him going backstage afterwards, drowning himself in tequila and muttering “what happened to my youth?” Other than the grandstand, there were areas with a Great White Shark Encounter, a Jurassic Kingdom, and other cool things. Plus the shopping areas were massive. Plenty of room to sell you awnings and waterless cookware.
Fair Folk- LA
I’ll admit, this one took me by surprise, though not Patrick. Every year at the fair, we have a prize for the person who finds the best “Fair Folk.” You know what I’m talking about, the lady with the skunk mullet and leather chaps or the dude shoving deep fried Twinkies down his throat while his mean-eyed kids with their shaved heads and wife-beaters cheer him on. Its always a source of pride to be the one who identifies that year’s Fair Folk. Yes, I know its judgmental and mean, but it’s also really fun. Anyways, LA County has WAY more freaky looking people! It seemed like everywhere we turned I was trying not to stare. I felt like we stuck out like sore thumbs, looking like a mild-mannered suburban family. I wouldn’t have even known where to start with the Fair Folk award, I felt like the criteria had been turned on its head. The one that sticks out to me is the lady in the line for “Texas-sized Turkey Legs” wearing see through tights over white granny panties that were wedged uncomfortably in one butt cheek. Then again, there was the 300lb platinum blonde with blue eyeshadow and a very small very distressed looking tube top and hot pants who was yelling at her daughter (who was wearing a cute cardigan over a tank top) to “take off yer damn sweater, just looking at you is making me sweaty!”
County Fairedness- Indiana
The LA fair was a little too polished, a little too corporate. The Ferris Wheels (there were 3, one about the size of the London Eye) didn’t look rickety enough, although Patrick still wouldn’t go near them. The palm trees everywhere just seemed wrong. But most of all, there were no shacks with local 4-H kids selling bunny burgers or homemade ice cream straight from their 4-H pet to you. The ELKS and Kiwanis were nowhere to be found with their famous steaks and pork loins.
So all in all, the LA County Fair felt a little more like an amusement park than a county fair. Plus it’s open a whole month, so it doesn’t have that ephemeral magical summer quality. But it was really enjoyable and as you can see, actually scored high on the fair scale. I’m holding on to the Indiana county fairs though, just out of nostalgia and loyalty. Maybe when I build up more memories a the LA County Fair, like seeing Johnny Jr at the Bear Show growing up, or listening to four Ph.D’s argue endlessly about bear vs. alligator, I’ll give it the edge.