The sun is beating down mercilessly. The smell of fried dough and cow manure lingers in the air. The air is filled with the cacophony of thousands of voices and calliope music.
Yes, it is state fair time again!
My dad took me to my first fair when I was about 8 years old. Although we probably had state and even county fairs in Southern California, I’d never heard anyone talk about them and my mom definitely did not take us. Granted, we had two pretty impressive amusement parks practically in our back yard (Disneyland and Knott’s Berry Farm), and we spent a considerable amount of time there instead. I have always been a HUGE fan of rides and games of chance, so finding out that NW Indiana had rides, even on a small scale was amazing to me.
Every year my grandpa would save up all the aluminum cans he could (my family drank a LOT of soda). When my plane touched down for my annual summer visit with my dad, one of our first stops would be to visit my grandparents. We’d pile in my grandpa’s truck and take the cans to the recycling place. I got to keep every penny so I could spend it on games at the fair. My folks always paid for the rides and the food, but the games were all on me. Well, until I ran out of money anyway. Then, just the right smile could usually get me a few extra dollars.
Although neither my dad nor my step-mom usually rode the rides with me, they never complained when they spent hours waiting at the bottom of rides for me to get off the ride and get right back in line. The Gravitron was a personal favorite, but it made my step-mom absolutely sick. I also really liked The Flying Bobs and the fun houses. If there was a ride, I pretty much went on it. And the games…don’t even get me started with the games.
I cannot even count the number of completely worthless “prizes” I won playing carnival games. Aside from the countless low quality, knock-off stuffed animals that were never comfortable to actually snuggle with, I won several goldfish, plastic blow up toys, small square mirrors with band names and unicorns on them and so many really cool hair clips. Or at least I thought they were hair clips. I could not understand why my mom threw such a fit when I came home with these absolutely beautiful feathered hair clips. While she didn’t make me throw them away, she refused to let me wear them to school and I was ANGRY! It wasn’t until I was a grown adult going to the fair with my friends that someone told me my elegant “hair clips” were really roach clips…which I still didn’t understand as I had no idea that the tiny bit of a joint that was hard to hold by hand was called a roach. In hindsight, I get why my mom was not thrilled with her 10-year-old bringing them home.
This past weekend, my husband and I decided to take our kids to the state fair. We hadn’t taken them since my daughter was still in a stroller, mostly due to the outrageous cost of everything at the fair and the unbearable temperatures in early August. This year, however, we had an absolutely lovely Saturday and I fooled myself into believing that it probably wouldn’t be that expensive.
Boy was I wrong!
This year we managed to snag some free parking, so I was pretty proud of us. And, on our way to buy tickets at the gate, two different groups of people gave us free tickets, so we only had to pay for our kids. Unfortunately, anyone over the age of 5 is $12 a ticket, which meant we dropped $24 before we even entered the fair.
Although I still love rides at amusement parks, there is something about the temporary nature of fair rides and my growing understanding of my own mortality, that makes me steer clear of the rides now. I haven’t been on a ride at a fair since I was a teenager. I also stay away from the games now as I have no need for the chinzy prizes. I prefer to spend my time at the fair looking at the exhibits in the buildings, petting cute animals and tasting yummy, although horribly unhealthy food.
I tried to steer my kids away from the midway, which was not easy. While neither of them were really excited about the rides (my son is kind of chicken), they both really wanted to play the games. My husband and I managed to persuade them that most of the games were rigged and it was next to impossible to win. We almost succeeded, until they saw the duck game in the special kiddie section of the fair and heard the barker cry out “everyone wins!” I forked over $10, my kids reached in, pulled up 3 ducks and *surprise*–each one a prize. I figured my daughter would go for one of the knock off big-eyed Beanie Babies. I don’t know why I was such a fool. My daughter could not possibly want a practical toy like another stuffed animal for her bed. No, both she and my son wanted giant, blow up poop emojis. Yes, that’s right, just like their mother, they won totally useless, rather disgusting prizes. Not only did they carry them around the rest of the fair (which got us all kinds of looks), but they ate their dinners holding on to them AND they made so many poop jokes that I thought I might lose their minds.
One our drive home they even started squabbling about their poops. They’d gotten tossed into the back of the SUV and my son was very worried that my daughter might get his poop instead of her own. This meant that when we got home, he convinced my daughter to let him draw glasses and teeth on her piece of poop so there would be no question about whose poop was whose.
Even though we had a pretty good time at the fair, as a grown up, I now have a very different view of the fair. We ended up spending over $100 for about 3 hours–and considering I only had part of a bison burger, part of a slushie, part of a fried cheese stick and two bites of a grilled cheese sandwich, I feel I might have gotten cheated (although I did stay on my diet).