I remember attending a county fair once when I was kid. My family was camping in Salem New York. It was our annual summer retreat, for me, ages 4-10. And yes, I was just as adorable as you are imagining. I have two powerful memories that stick from this experience. Oxen are massive, majestic beasts the likes of which I had never seen before. I was in awe. And found, and still do find, particular delight in saying their name. Ox. Oxen. Fuck yeah. My other big take away; there are these things, they are called “candied apples”. They’re a revelation. Eat them if you ever have the opportunity. With no other preconceived notions, I head south one Sunday in August to catch the final day of the OC Fair.
I’m not being familiar when I say OC Fair. OC, if you don’t know, stands for Orange County. It’s the county directly south of Los Angeles county, north of San Diego and home to specular beaches, brutal commuter traffic, Mike Trout and Disneyland. There might be something else but I forget. It’s a wealthy, predominately white suburb. There was a popular TV show that was set here; The O.C. . I never watched it or I’m sure I’d have a joke here. Like most of the county, the OC Fair is enjoying California dreaming too much to be bothered by saying or writing the whole name. Ugh, so many letters. Beautiful, sun drenched, safe, malls, beaches….yeah, let’s just go OC. The official website lists it as The OC Fair.
Because I am essentially still a child, I enter the OC Fair and walk directly into the petting zoo. That’s right, a number of very young, wide eyed in wonder children are being shepherded around by their parents to pet farm animals and one middle aged man doing the same on his lonesome. I didn’t even have to pay ($3 to enter the petting zoo) because the ticket taker assumed I had a child inside to get to and I thought it best to not say “nope, it’s just me”. Goats, sheep, llamas, fallow deer, Vietnamese potbelly pigs, Bennet wallabies, chickens, miniature Sicilian donkeys and ducks. Yeah I’m owning this one, I am moth to the flame when I see a petting zoo. Loud and proud.
Hands washed, I begin to explore the fair. I can’t get the theme song from the Westchester County Fair out of my head. The commercial ran all summer on local NY television when I was a kid. Why fight it? So I sing to myself as walk, “Rides and attractions! Non-stop action. Shows, animals, fireworks too, about the most fun thing you can dooooooooo! At the Westchester County Fair!”. I never went.
As I begin to wander, I take in the food. It’s a dazzling mix of the three main food groups; grilled meats, fried everything and sweets. America! I’m gonna take a moment and focus on the second part and hit with emphasis, fried everything. There’s literally advertisements boasting about frying crazy stuff!; fried avocados, Oreos, filet mignon, chicken, frogs legs, Twinkies, cheesecake and more. Who says, “Hey, you know what we should do with that cheesecake? We should drop it in a deep fryer”? Someone who probably passed away of cardiac arrest. But a candle burns for them at fair grounds across the nation.
Naturally at 1:00 o’clock I take my seat for the pig races. The stands are packed and let me tell you the excitement in the crowd is palpable! The MC hurls a barrage of pig puns. “They’re stretching out before the race, it’s important they don’t pull a hamstring” for example. I cheer as loud as I can. I ask the grandma next to me if she’s interested in making any side bets. For the final race the MC selects four kids from the audience to rally their cheering sections in support of a chosen contender. A four year old girl with face painted to look like a cat is our ring leader. Obviously, with the first pick she selects Strawberry to be our champion. As the race ends and our screaming dies down our fearless leader, overheated, hopped up on funnel cake, her little heart bursting with love for a baby pig named Strawberry, short circuits and collapses to the ground. Pig races over.
Hunger has crept in so I buy a giant turkey leg. Originally, I had my eye on the giant turkey leg wrapped in bacon but the $27.99 price tag verses 13.99 price for regular giant turkey leg speaks a logic I can’t deny. Or, fully comprehend. My prior pig racing viewing is a non factor in my decision making. I love animals. And I can’t help it they’re delicious. I forget to grab napkins so turkey leg grease coats my mouth and chin as I stroll through the thoroughfare wielding a massive drumstick tearing off bites like Henry VIII.
Here’s some rapid fire reporting of what comes next; I test out the newest in virtual reality gaming headsets. It’s like stepping into Tron to the tune of a techno beat on Adderall while aroused. The technology is eye popping and really fun. I’m not a gamer but I start weaving a dream of 5 years from now when the glasses become affordable and all the fun I’m going to have. I tour the livestock section of the fair complete with camel milking demonstrations, bulls, horses, sheep, and a showcase of bunnies from all over the world. Bunnies?! I walk through arts and crafts exhibits, culinary displays, and shops of every kind. There’s a man carving portraits in watermelons. A bandstand has a group of kids tap dancing. I read the night time Action Sports schedule that includes; demolition derby, bull riding, and monster truck destruction under the banner “free your inner farmer”. I smile at stilt walkers, clowns and freak flags flowing proudly on display. I gaze at the giant ferris wheel, the fun house, rides and games of chance. I force myself to walk away from a carnival game where you have to throw and break two glass bottles in a row with a baseball after I hit on the 2nd, 4th, 6th, and 8th of my 8 throws. I can see the game of chicken forming between my wallet and a giant stuffed bear. As I type now I am still furious at myself for the misses. I fade in the blistering sun and high 90’s temps dumbfounded with self loathing that I choose to wear jeans.
Before I leave the fair grounds and head home I’ve got one more place to explore for the sake of the blog. There are stands selling beer and mixed cocktails strewn throughout but I advertise “wanderings and wine” and I try to be a man of my word when possible. The Orange County Wine Society, (wine societies being classy affairs, no “OC” here), is pouring tastes of their award winning 2018 class. Apparently in June they have a panel that blind taste tests hundreds of local California wines. The winners are available today in two ounce sample pours. I learn all this while chatting with two older ladies who are volunteer bartenders. They talk while I sip the Seal Beach Chardonnay (a medium bodied symphony of butter and popcorn flavors). Overheated, I slump at the bar, all the tables occupied. I should think about heading out and back to the pup I say to myself as I dust off the Orange Coast Roussanne, (orange cream, lemon, with a grapefruit finish). Still so many things to do and eat, part of me laments. But the day’s a success and as I make my way back to the car I’m swollen with good old fashioned American pride. Or wait, it could be the giant turkey leg.