Howwwwww-dy folks! This is Big Tex! Welllllcome to the State Fair. . .of Tex-AS! Now, gimme allllll your money, and we'll alllll beeeee hap-py! And try one of our famous corn-ey dogs! They're only $20.
It's over now, the State Fair of Texas. And not a moment too soon, if you ask me. I hate the thing. But by now, it's become one of our "family traditions," and you don't dare disrupt those. The kids, you know. We gotta do it for the kids. So, we went, joining something like 3 million others in spending over $27 million on ride and food coupons alone!
I tend to forget what a wonderful experience it is to be a kid and to go to the state fair. The smell of the pigs! The stained teeth of the Carney barkers! Getting run over by extremely obese people in electric carts driving with one hand while they chow down on a giant turkey leg with the other.
I didn't see a single salad for sale at the Fair, but something tells me most folks really wouldn't have cared if there was.
My best State Fair experience was in back in Utah 30 years ago, when the entire 8th Grade class at Churchill Junior High took buses to the Utah State Fair. The highlight was when Craig Osterloh got suckered into a midway game of chance. Enticed to win a $20 cassette/radio with two-dollar-for-three-shots at a basketball hoop, it wasn't more than 10 minutes later that he'd spent all $40 he'd brought for the day. . .and still not won the prize. He spent the rest of the day sitting alone in the bus in the parking lot, crying.
Is that Walt Garrison standing in for the money-grubbing Big Tex?
The business model for the State Fair of Texas isn't that much different. But instead of a Carney to rip you off, the scam is spread across the 277 acres of Fair Park. Worst of all is the idea to convert your cash to tickets, on the assumption that you won't realize how much you're REALLY spending if you do it 10 tickets at a time, much as casinos use chips.(Those black and white ones sure look pretty. . . it's tough to imagine them as being worth $100 as you plunk em down on the blackjack table.) The Fair website unabashedly claims an "estimated annual economic impact on the D/FW economy (of)$350 million. " Most of it, I'd guess, from the sale of Corney Dogs and Tilt-A-Whirl tickets.
This year, we didn't make it to the livestock barns, nor the petting zoo. We made our usual loop through Chevy and Ford Truck Land (why are so many models of similar-looking trucks needed?), into the air-conditioned showroom where Hondas and Hyundais and Lexii were on display, walked past the Age of Rust Railroad museum--now rechristened "The Museum of the American Railroad" or some such, I guess to give it a much grander and inclusive purpose--and straight into High Cholesterol Hell. The folks who come up with some of the crap that passes as "Fair Food" should be forced to inject this evil stuff into their own arteries. This year, the culinary delights offered include the cornerstones of good nutrition: deep fried guacamole, deep fried latte, deep fried cookie dough, deep fried spleen. All the stuff your Grandma wouldn't serve you as a kid because she didn't have a deep fryer the size of Oklahoma.
We went for traditional fare: Chicken Nuggets for I. A Corn Dog for E. A cheese/jalapeno Corn Dog for M .I got a Hamburger. And we got three drinks. Cost? Around $40. Think of that. Forty bucks. For a load of food that MIGHT cost you 10 bucks at an Alsups or Flying J. That Hamburger of mine was a real work of art: TEN tickets for a thin, over-cooked patty of high-fat ground beef on a cold bun. That's $5. Condiments? Ketchup, mustard, mayo. Over there. Get in line. Gee, thanks
Was I just imagining things, or have prices gone through the roof?
We're not high-rollers. We set our budget at a paltry $100 (remember when that would be more than enough to entertain a family of two adults and two small children with?). We used a combination of discount tickets to lower the cost of two $14 adult tickets and two $10 children's tickets to only $14 (bless you, ticket booth lady!). We parked in the front yard of some black guy with really nice gold grilles for $8. We spent another $14 on two small metal cars for the boys. The rest went for the food and a disappointingly small number of kid's rides.
For I., two times around the NASCAR ride wasn't enough.
The Rides! Here's the scam: You've got to be around 42" tall to ride on many of the kiddie rides alone. There are a few rides where you can be 33" and ride alone. . .generally rides offer excitement equal to that of sitting on an adjustable hospital bed. Still other rides won't let you ride alone if you're under 48" tall, but will allow you to ride with a PAYING adult if taller than 33". So, an 8 ticket ride for your little tyke (er, $4) is only half the cost, oh patient parent. Give the scary looking man with nicotine-stained fingers another 8 tickets to join your little one. That's $8 to let your little replicate ride in a fiberglass whale for three minutes of heart-pounding thrills
A tradition, but not this year: The Texas Star (or, La Estrella de Tejas)
By the time both of the boys each rode four rides, there was no way we were going to be able to afford the one ride we'd always taken in our years of coming to the fair as a family: the huge "Texas Star" Ferris wheel. I couldn't even imagine what that would cost this year to take the four of us for a nine-story high view of Fairpark, but I wasn't about to take out a bank loan to find out. We won't even discuss the "sky ride" above the Midway, the State Fair's newest attraction (it returned after a 33-year absence after someone fell out of one of the cars and died in the 1970s. That'd ruin your State Fair experience. This little fact was conveniently left out of the State Fair press release announcing the ride's return.
Would you really want to die, supposing you were the Human Cannonball, by missing your target and landing instead amid a display of Hot Tubs?
Now, call me a cheap-skate if you'd like. We budgeted this year what we felt we could afford to enjoy the experience and, as expected, it certainly wasn't enough. The kids enjoyed themselves with other free events: the juggler, the garden railroad, the Human Cannonball, the largest free-standing house of cards (blueprints of which are being copied for the latest Fox & Jacobs planned community), discovering the Greatness that is Big Tex, and, of course, wandering among the hundreds of hot tubs displayed by dozens of cut-rate spas dealers. But ultimately, it was the rides the kids liked, and I'd be lying if I were to say that at least one of our kids wasn't teary-eyed when we told him we didn't have enough money left to ride any more. How can a six-year-old understand how money works if his father barely does?
Bryan Berg--the CARDSTACKER! Don't sneeze or throw tennis balls at the display, please.
But, ultimately, it really doesn't matter. The look on the face of the kids while they enjoyed the rides made it all worth it, fatty foods, crowds, and Carney's notwithstanding. And we'll no doubt be back next year, if only so the kids can laugh at Dad's Big Tex impersonation:
Howwwwwwdy, Folks! I'm Biiiggggg Tex! And is that a corney dog in my pants, or am I just happy to be back at the State Fair. . . . of Tex-AS!
No longer terrorized by dreams of Big Tex walking down their street at night: I. and E. at the State Fair.
Fall Has Arrived. . . .
Summer lasted til around three this morning, when a cold front swept into North Texas. It was in the upper 80s yesterday, but with the bluster and rain, it'll barely be 50 today. Good thing the fair was ending, as all that rain falling into the deep fryers would really make Fair Park snap, crackle and pop. . . .