Welcome to my who-knows-how-long tribute to the State Fair of Texas! The actual Fair ended on October 21, 2007, a week ago as of this writing; consider this your Monday-morning, armchair-quarterback dissection of the event. I’ll try to keep these entries down to a manageable length, but there’s a lot to see, hear, and do. After all, our State Fair is the biggest in the country, with more than 3,000,000 visitors a year. That’s a lot of aching feet. But it’s a great state fair, and I can prove it. See?
When you come to the Fair, be sure to bring lots of money. That’s not to say that you can’t go on the cheap, because there are plenty of things you don’t have to pay for, but it does costs a bunch to get in — $14.00 this year, though little kids got in free. You could knock the price down three bucks if you come after 6 PM or if you brought a specially marked Dr. Pepper can, and on Wednesdays they were holding a canned food drive that offered a fantastic deal — bring three cans, and you could get in for a buck. Heck, you can’t beat that! My sister and I were fortunate enough to go on a Wednesday. We had to pay $10 to some street hucksters to get our six cans, but it saved us $16. All the more to spend on coupons.
Remember those coupon booths all over the park?
Here’s what you get out of them:
This is a block of 20 coupons — ten bucks’ worth. They’re yellow because they’re worth their weight in gold. You can use these to pay for rides, of course, but the real reason you get them is so you can trade them (at ridiculous rates) for funnel cakes, cotton candy, and foot-long corn dogs at the endless rows of food pavilions located all over the park. Now, I imagine you’ve seen cotton candy and corn dogs before, but you may never have partaken in a funnel cake. Here’s what they look like:
What you’ve got here is basically a bunch of interwined loops of fry-bread liberally coated with powdered sugar. As the name suggests, funnel cakes are made with a funnel-like implement that delivers the batter to the deep fryer in a thin stream. It cooks almost immediately upon hitting the oil. Loop it around and around, and you end up with a flattened knot like what’s displayed above. The cake itself is actually only slightly sweet, less so than Hawaiian bread; it’s the powdered sugar that makes it a cake. Some people dump strawberries or cherries or some other filling on the top, but that just makes it hard to eat by hand, which is the right way to do it. Keep plenty of napkins on hand, and be careful, it’s hot.
I suppose you can cook funnel cakes at home, but the only time I’ve ever seen or enjoyed them was at street fairs, State Fairs, and carnivals, where they always cost a lot. This one cost nine tickets, which is basically $4.50. When you compare it to the six or seven tickets they wanted for cotton candy, and eight or nine for one (one!) ear of roast corn,* that’s not bad for Fair food. It’s filling, that’s for sure, and it gives you the energy you need to run around.
We needed it; after all, the Park’s huge — 277 acres — and it’s packed with stuff from end to end. You’re going to feel all that walking the day after, believe me. Here’s a caution: be sure to drink a lot of water. There are public water fountains here and there, so your best bet is to purchase a ridiculously overpriced soda (8 tickets or more) and keep the container so you can fill it up in the bathrooms or at a water fountain. Even better, bring one in. We went on a nice day, so heat wasn’t much of a problem, but we did find ourselves flagging occasionally. Fortunately, we were able to find cheap water and sodas at this place:
That’s the Continental DAR Museum, which is packed with old colonial stuff. It’s not a big place, really, but it seemed big to us because they had their front room lined with chairs so folks could sit down and take a load off, and their donation of $1 per drink was a welcome change from the ruthless mercantilism going on outside.
By the time we got to the DAR Museum the first time we were, oh, 50 yards into the Fair. We came in through the entrance next to the Women’s Museum, and there was a lot to see on the way, including some striking statues and this nice example of public piety:
Just to the right of the main entrance was something I hadn’t seen before, probably because I’ve never entered the fairgrounds this way: the Texas Vietnam Memorial. It’s made of highly-polished Texas Red granite, and since I’m a sucker for memorials, we had to stop and look.
While I was checking out the POW/MIA display, my sister was looking at the main wall. She came up to me a <> minute later and said, “You’ve got to see this,” and drug me over to one of the panels. My name was on there.
Well, it wasn’t quite my name — I’m Floyd B. Largent, Jr. — but it was a little jolting. I’d heard of Sgt. Loel Floyd Largent before; we’re not related (as far as I know), but his buddies have left references to him all over the Internet, and he’s hard to miss when I do an ego search to see if my name (or my writing) is being taken in vain. I didn’t realize he was from Texas too. We put one of those little U.S. flag stickers beside his name to show that he was remembered that day.
More to come — keep an eye on this space!
*Which always reminds me of that “corny” old joke: Q. What’s a buccaneer? A. Way too much to pay for corn.