As a child, the Wisconsin State Fair was always about the animals, and the WonderKnife demos, corn on the cob and then the cream puffs. I don't even remember eating anything else there as a kid, except for the one time I thought fried rice from a trailer seemed like a good idea.
This year, we decided we should make the effort to make it to the Florida State Fair, it being, presumably, our last year in Florida. What we encountered was light years from anything either Lori or I have ever seen in our lives.
Wisconsin holds their state fair in August, a nice, summery month where we can wear shorts and enjoy cool lemonade and not get hypothermia. Florida, contrary to popular northern belief (or at least mine), is not this way twelve months a year. What started out as a tolerable 55 degree day descended quickly to 40 when the sun dropped. Thankfully, we were dressed for it. Our parents raised us well, and Wisconsin weather means you ALWAYS expect it to be colder than you think it could ever get.The fair did have the original Batcopter, and for $30 apiece you could get a 45-second ride around the fairgrounds. Sorry, but unless I actually get to use the Shark Repellent Bat Spray, it's not worth $3, let alone $30. They had removed the wings, too, so it wasn't until we were right up at the booth that we even knew it was anything other than an ordinary helicopter.
Upon entering the fairgrounds, though, the first thing we encountered was Cracker Country. The purpose of the exhibit is to preserve and celebrate Florida's rural pioneer heritage. Am I the only one who thinks this might be a wee bit racist? Just me? Okay, then. Old turn-of-the-century buildings, craftspeople, overpriced touristy crap, ideal. Kind of like Old World Wisconsin, only without the diversity. I must admit, it was tempting to send our friend Bob, the whitest white guy I know, a postcard from the Cracker Country post office.Once out of Cracker Country (and am I the only person relieved they elected to keep the traditional spelling?), we emerged into the sea of food stands that comprises about 80% of the remaining fairgrounds. If it can be deep-fried, you can buy it from about 200 different vendors. Elephant ears and funnel cakes shared space with the more modern deep-fried Oreos and Twinkies, and the 18" corndogs shared their batter-dipped goodness with Swedish meatballs, bratwurst, Polish sausage and more. The fried green tomatoes were excellent, but I didn't try the deep-fried pickles from any of the vendors offering them up. Fried cookie dough, battered and fryolated bacon, fried butter, Hostess cupcakes, Ringdings, Mars bars, Pepsi Cola, potatoes both French- and spiral-cut, tons of pizza, tacos in a bag, barbecue from all regions of this fair nation, strawberry pies, shortcake, cheesecake (which could also be had deep-fried or chocolate-dipped on a stick), and grilled Italian, German and Polish sausages with peppers and onions, cheesesteaks, and a vendor making a killing selling cheap frozen burgers, fried and mashed into a Krispy Kreme donut for $6.50. For another $1.50, you could add cheese and bacon, but I will not sully my first Lutherburger experience by going on the cheap. Deli sandwiches from far and wide, including the ubiquitous Cuban. There were more turkey legs than I've ever seen, piled high next to grills and smokers. There was a pork chop on a stick. There was even the official 'Fried Wisconsin Cheese' wagon that usually graces the south entrance of the Wisconsin fairgrounds.
Disappointed was I, denied gator on a stick, denied any signature 'Florida Flavor', some gimmick that would suck me in for something unique, something that won't appear anywhere else.
Surprising, too, was the ratio of elements. Five Ferris wheels, but barely a sampling of livestock. Had we not been so tired from our six hours of wandering, we would have made it back to the freak show, with the world's tallest man, the gorilla girl, and one of the original Oompa Loompa's eating fire, all 39" of him. We missed the world's smallest horse, because I think $2 a person is too much to ask for a goat with a mane hot-glued to his head. There were funhouses and Whizzers and Himalayas and all manner of spinning, shaking nauseaters. When the nation's carnival companies winter in your back yard, I suppose there wouldn't be a shortage of rides, (ahem) scams, weight-guessers and side-show attractions, would there?
There were some animals, exotic chickens and lop-eared rabbits, goats and sheep and llamas and Watusi cattle and a six-day-old Guernsey calf, we saw a few horses but everything is so cordoned off, not like Wisconsin where we spent our childhoods walking right up to animals to pet them. We saw newborn piglets suckling with fury, fighting for prime position. They had exotic animals, wallabies and giraffes, frantic to eat the overpriced carrots being sold.
More than anything else, Lori and I got sucked into the mechanical bull riding tent. It's insane how much money this thing makes! $7 for your chance to ride the bull, for as long as you can or until the barker decides you've used your $7 wisely. Little kids, teens, grown men and women alike, $7. Make your eight seconds? You're done. Next? It was nice to see he was gentle with the little ones, let them enjoy themselves until they couldn't hang on any longer. Want a photo? That's another $7. Want a DVD of your eight seconds of glory to show to all your friends? $10. Lori and I watch for better than half an hour, for sure.
Every state fair should have one.
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