Monday, September 21, 2009

The L.A. County Fair

In this ever-changing world it’s nice to know there are still State and County Fairs. For sheer Americana and just plain goofiness you cannot beat these celebrations of our country’s past and cardiac wards’ future. What better place to take your third grade class, Brownie troop, or legally insane killer inmates than a county fair. You may have heard, last week a homicidal murderer escaped at a Washington state county fair on a "field trip". (They let deeply disturbed killers go on field trips in Washington? Are they that liberal or is attendance that far down? I'm just askin'. )

Anyway, my all-time favorite was the Ohio State Fair I attended a few years ago in Columbus. The eight-foot statue of boxer Buster Douglas carved entirely in butter was certainly the highlight but watching the greased pig competition was a close second.

Folks still bring their cows to win blue ribbons. Moms still slave over hot stoves to make apple-gooseberry preserves worthy of kicking their neighbors’ sorry asses. And that prize clucker of yours might just win the chicken race this year and fried chicken competition the next. There are karaoke contests and hog calling contests (which may just be the same).

Carnival rides, manned by men who look like Reverend Jim, offer the kids hours of violent turbulent fun. I bet the escaped killer could've easily passed as a ferris wheel operator. There are exhibits, concerts, midways, horse and frog racing (different tracks), shopping opportunities, and a myriad of gastronomical delicacies, all dipped in chocolate and of course, all deep fried.

I don’t mind admitting it – I love County Fairs. So it took little persuasion to get to me to schlep out to the LA County Fair last week to make a personal appearance for the Dodgers and our radio station, KABC.

Here are some of the food items that are being served. And I’m not making ANY of these up. Deep Fried Coca Cola. Deep Fried Spam, Deep Fried Frog Legs, Deep Fried Twinkies and Oreos, and my favorite – Deep Fried Zucchini Weenies. Or you might prefer Chocolate Covered Bacon or Chocolate Dipped Pickles. There was something called a Krispy Kreme Chicken Sandwich ("Hey, that's not jelly. It's chicken!"). And who could resist savory Pig Butts? (I could see death row convicts requesting fair food for their last meal -- maybe the field trips make sense.)

These are the items listed under “Breakfast”. Again, I’m just copying what’s on the brochure. Mini Doughnuts, Cinnamon Rolls, Baked Potato (huh???), Texas Donuts, and Grand Desserts. Breakfast truly is the most nutritious meal of the day.

There are 33 venues selling beer, wine, and cocktails; 13 selling all other beverages.

And what a fair be like without Funnel Cake?! You can get your cholesterol level up to 300 with just four bites!

Personally, I have some rules about food. I don’t eat anything that’s blue. That meant no Icees, and no pulled pork.

My favorite part of any major Fair is the big exhibition hall where vendors hawk their wares. I love watching these Dan Aykroyd/Bassomatic salesmen go into their spiels. Forget computers! Forget Stem-Cell research! We have Titanium No-Stick Cookware now! And son-of-a-bitch, IT WORKS!!! IT'S A MIRACLE!!!!

And speaking of wonders -- there is now reusable ice! Thank GOD!!!

Every kind of household appliance, electronic jimjick, fashion accessory, black velvet artwork, health and beauty aid, automotive doohickey, flavor of jerky, schmatah, jewelry, and pet product known to man is for sale in one of the many cavernous exhibition halls. (I bet they even have handcuff keys.)

I got my Nail Fungus Kit, my Taco Proper, my Gourmet Olive Oil Sprayer, pet clothing, Custom Hitch Covers, Scum Off, Vita Mix (which looks suspiciously like a Bassomatic), fairy wings, my Shopping Jeep, and my Meat Pounder (I’m taking that back. It’s not what I thought it was. Turns out it’s a kitchen product.).

I found it amusing that they were selling life insurance policies ten feet from the Deep Fried White Castle Hamburger stand. And I noticed a lot of booths for bible study and Christian conversion but not a single booth for the Chabad House. The Republican Party also had a booth. I asked if they had any souvenirs like Dick Cheney rifles and the elderly women who manned the booth were not amused.

There were massage chairs, a back bubble traction device (kinky!), relief from any ache or pain for only three payments of $39.95. Someone was selling cast iron Butch Cassidy safes and another vendor was hawking seven-foot ladders. “Would you like a bag for that, sir?” I don’t think they’re doing great business. I didn’t see anyone walking around with a giant ladder or safe on his back.

I didn’t make it to the Safari Adventure but I did swing by Jurassic Planet to see the prehistoric dinosaurs (large enough to be impressive, small enough not to scare the shit out of kids.). At “A Pirates Life” they were teaching youngsters how to steer a pirate ship (so they have fun and learn a useful trade).

And of course I went to the big livestock barn. Here’s where the LA County Fair has it over their Ohio State counterpart. Both have sheep shearing demonstrations. But the LA Fair doesn’t sell lamb burgers right outside the hall. Is it bizarre that I still just like to walk around and look at animals?

I did my radio show, interviewed Steve Garvey (I said in the spirit of the Fair I had him dipped in chocolate), hung out with Dodger fans and handed out pocket schedules. I don’t know why, the season is over in two weeks.

I hope County and State Fairs go on forever. In this age of mega-corporations and Wallmarts, it’s nice to see small businesses and ma & pa operations (even if they’re killing us with Funnel Cake). These Fairs are an American tradition that need to be preserved. Or at the very least, deep fried.

32 comments:

emily said...

I got your meat pounder right here...

D. McEwan said...

It's been exactly 41 years since I last went to the LA County Fair. Sounds like it hasn't changed a bit.

In 1959, at the racetrack/stadium there I saw The Three Stooges perform live at the Fair. Without sound effects, they were just three old men hitting each other pointlessly.

Do they still have the monorail?

Alan Coil said...

The Michigan State Fair, reportedly created in 1849, has just had its final year. The economy sucks in Michigan, and the Fair fell victim.

sj said...

did you walk away with a Sham Wow or a Slap Chop?

Jason said...

Of course they were not amused! Every red-blooded American Republican knows Dick Cheney is a shotgun man. Getting the technical details and/or jargon right is essential to selling an inside joke to an audience.

HFFC1977 said...

Is it me or americans from these fly over middle states are just plain crazy?
A sane people wouldn't eat deep fried Cola or deep fried Oreos. Then again Glen Beck is success for some reason. It's the Fall of the Roman Empire all over again.

D. McEwan said...

" HFFC1977 said...
Is it me or americans from these fly over middle states are just plain crazy?
A sane people wouldn't eat deep fried Cola or deep fried Oreos."

It's been a long time since I went to the LA County Fair, but I believe it's still in Pomona, California, which is not in the middle, flyover states.

Paul Duca said...

I mentioned at Reelradio that I saw the 4 year old boy who won the hog-calling contest at the 1964 Fair...he was on an episode of "I've Got A Secret" that was on the Game Show Network.

HFFC1977 said...

D. McEwan said...
" HFFC1977 said...
Is it me or americans from these fly over middle states are just plain crazy?
A sane people wouldn't eat deep fried Cola or deep fried Oreos."

It's been a long time since I went to the LA County Fair, but I believe it's still in Pomona, California, which is not in the middle, flyover states.

I tought Ken levine was talking about some Ohio state fair, but i was wrong. So i's not just red state americans that are nuts, it's most americans. Maybe with the exception of the New England area.
Here in Europe you cant't find those crazy heart attack inducing foods.

DJ said...

No pig races? Those are great fun. Especially when the winner gets his prize -- an Oreo cookie.

denparser said...

@DJ

There are also other games more fun than pig races.

rscottyd said...

new this year at the texas state fair, deep fried butter!

i can't wait.

Max Clarke said...

Marin County has their own fair, also. Their website is marinfair.org.

You wouldn't connect upscale Marin with a county fair, but it's very popular each year. It's held just downhill from the Marin Civic Center that made Frank Lloyd Wright famous.

I used to go there every year, but now the $200 admission fee and the mandatory weight check keep the undesirables out. I never though I'd become one of them.

SharoneRosen said...

my favorite park of being a DJ at the late lamented Classic Country KLAC was having to go out to the L-A county fair to staff the booth, sign autographs and point to the restrooms!

I loved every cheesy deep fried chocolate dipped corner of it.. and looking at the animals too!

Tom Quigley said...
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Tom Quigley said...
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Wojciehowicz said...

In CT we have a number of local fairs but the three my wife and I try to attend without fail are the North Haven, Durham and Berlin fairs.

They have a little less in the way of deep fried and more normal fare like fries and candy apples, but are still plenty special to hang out at each year. They're a nice constant in an otherwise chaotic year and don't cost hundreds to travel to or attend unlike a Cape Cod vacation.

Steve the Creep said...

My hometown in Iowa had the best county fair. When I was a kid, I'd spend every day there while it going on. One of my favorite memories is climbing the grease pole and pulling the $50 bill off the top. That was an insane amount of money for me.

lsefton said...

"Insane killer escapes at county fair."

Now we know the theme for all of next Summer's dead teenager movies.

Tom Quigley said...

Here at the fair in the largely urban county where I live in New York, the only hollerin' contest they hold is to see who can yell "Help! I've been shot!" the loudest... Last year a major traffic jam occurred in the fairgrounds parking lot with several fender-benders. This year they advertised the parking accomodations with "Come on in and be part of the demolition derby!"... The roller coaster and ferris wheel were both shut down since the operators were high on speed most of the time and couldn't tell whether or not they'd started or stopped the rides because as far as they could tell, everything kept spinning and swooping up and down... Some of the livestock got loose and terrorized the fair goers. It's amazing how much panic two hungry porcupines and a large dog mistaken for a moose can trigger among a crowd of city folk... The circus attraction at this year's fair was the internationally known family of acrobats, "The Flying Tortellinis," whose show-ending feat, their famous multi-layered trapeze stunt known as the "Lasagna of Death" nearly ended in tragedy when one of the trapeze ropes went from being Al Dente to Al Fresco. Fortunately, the volunteer firemen's new high-tech rescue/cooking exhibit was located right next door. They came over and used a colander to catch the flying Tortellinis... The new fun house turned out to be the most popular attraction this year when some local politicans who were on hand to officially cut the ribbon and open it went inside, got lost and finally managed to find their way out a week later, thereby missing a scheduled legislative meeting which would have increased property taxes for everyone in the county. Fairgoers are now hoping that next year that proposed giant cornfield maze will be ready in time for fair week...

Yeah, nothing like a county fair to bring out that "back to the simpler times" spirit in people...

Jim said...

I made the mistake of going to the L.A. County Fair on Labor Day weekend - which was opening weekend when admission was only $1 (instead of $17). Now, the L.A. County Fair is one of the biggest I've ever attended...

...but you literally couldn't walk at even a leisurely pace in the shoulder-to-shoulder traffic both inside AND outside the pavillions. Throw in $1 drinks and midway rides...

...and forget fair food, because the only menu item the fair brought to mind was "soylent green".

Jim

P.S. Sorry to hear about the Michigan State fair going out of business. I actually saw Sonny and Cher there when I was a kid.

Mike Bell said...

Hey Ken!

The Kern County Fair starts tomorrow! You can always drive up and look at the gated government subsidized apartment complex where KERN used to be, and then head over to the fair and get something on a stick. And it's only supposed to be in the 100s for the next week or so! C'Mon! It'll be fun!

Cap'n Bob Napier said...

I'm missing the Puyallup Fair in Western Washington State as we speak. Not that there's anything wrong with it, but the $10 parking fee, $10 entry fee, and high-priced food turned me off last year. Oh, I like the scones, the cow chip cookie, and the Walla Walla onion burgers, but prices have gotten ridiculous. Once every three years is enough for me nowadays.

KevinJ711 said...

Glad to report that both the Broome and Tioga County fairs here in central New York are going strong, and the New York State Fair had great attendance this year as well. I agree that these are a part of our history and should be preserved.

D. McEwan said...

"HFFC1977 said...
So i's not just red state americans that are nuts, it's most americans."

I agree that eating those deep-fried - ah - snacks is insane, however, they are not consumed by "most Americans." if they were, they'd be in every supermarket and home, and Ken wouldn't write about it any more than he'd write: "They had these new-fangled television contraptions that show an image from other places, and golly, in color too."

Those are novelty foods available pretty much only at fairs, carnivals, and parking lots outside Fat Fighters meetings.

Extrapolating that "Most Americans are nuts" because a revolting heart-attack-on-a-bun is sold at county fairs would be as bigoted and sterotypish as my deciding that all Europeans are snobbish elitists based only on your comment. Fortunately, I've been to Europe, and found many friendly, warm people, except in France of course.

Frankly, "most Americans" don't even attend country fairs, and of those who do, most don't eat the deep-fried novelty foods. Many Americans are nuts, but I can't accept teh "most Americans are nuts" premise, at least based on this posting.

Now if you;d cited the 2004 election, then-a you got somthin'.

richard Y said...

Call me sick but i was on the floor with the line,

and my Meat Pounder (I’m taking that back.

Anonymous said...

Wife and I were there last week, so I have tips for your visit next year:

Eat barbecued corn of the cob
Pet a cashmere goat
Find the the railroad exhibit tucked away in a far corner and see a 700,000 lb train.
Find the hot rod museum in one of the exhibit halls. Amazing.
Check out the tablescaping competition, usually under the grandstand, where points are deducted for not having a full pepper shaker.
Visit the midway and watch people pay to get sick.
Find the giant minature train layout and experience oxymoronism at its finest.
Watch the Pomona police and the Pomona gangs glare at each other.

I with you, Ken. At my advanced age, it's daredevil eating that's the biggest single draw, but I love it all and will be back next year

BigTed said...

I don't understand why the TV ads for the L.A. County Fair are so full of L.A. cliches (i.e., bubbleheaded blondes who spout Valley Girl-isms and look like they're 40 going on 15). Did somebody decide that reflects what real Angelenos think of themselves?

Rachel said...

HFFC1977 said...

"Here in Europe you can't find those crazy heart attack inducing foods."

Are you joking? I had my first deep-fried Snickers bar in Europe. I'm sure that's not the only heart-attack inducing food I could find there.

Doug DeRoo said...

There's just nothing finer than Truck Ken Stevens harassing vendors at the state fair!

He's not kidding about taking the Meat Pounder back! The one (the REAL meat pounder, wink wink) he bought in Bakersfield in 1972 wore out last year...

David K. M. Klaus said...

Mike Glyer's thoughts about the fair at "File 770", here:

http://file770.com/?p=1322#comments

steve macdonald said...

My ex-wife used to drag me to the Arizona State Fair year after year in the 1980’s and '90’s. As the years went by I began to dread the experience more and more, and although our divorce was not my idea, it might have been worthwhile just to get out of ever attending that miserable event again.

Aside from the overpriced admission, the horrendous (and overpriced) food, and the grimy, pathetic (and overpriced) carnival rides, the people who attended the annual event seemed to be the sort who exemplified the term “the great unwashed.”

But most depressing of all were the musical acts on the state fair circuit. The only thing sadder than the flotsam and jetsam who paid to get into the fair were the down and out musicians who played the event. Acts so far past their prime that...well, here’s an example. Guess who played the San Diego County Fair in June of this year? Big Brother and the Holding Company.

Yes, Janis Joplin’s one-time back up band. Half a century after their one shot at the big time, these poor, sad, relics are still out there, trying to make a comeback of some sort, still thinking they might have some tiny scrap of a career left. The pathos is enough to make the Pope advocate euthanasia.