One of the things you have to keep in mind while strolling the State Fair of Texas is the fact that Fair Park is a going concern all year long, not just during four weeks in September and October. I’ve already discussed many of the structures at least in passing, including a few of the museums — of which there are many, including the Science Place, the Museum of Science and Nature, the Women’s Museum, and the African-American Museum. That doesn’t even include the Music Hall, the Smirnoff Music Center, a nice band shell, and other entertainment venue like the Magnolia Lounge. And since Fair Park is open and active all year long, there’s enough business for this:
Yep, that’s the Old Mill Inn, a full-time restaurant. It probably makes money hand over fist during the Fair, but it’s open the rest of the year, too. I haven’t been there for years, but as I recall it has a nice, homey atmosphere, and the food is good. The one time I went I had that most Texan of dishes, chicken fried steak, and they got it right, too.
Before we mosey into the more mercantile portion of the State Fair, I just wanted to point out that they’ve made one of the exterior walls of Grand Place, one of the expedition halls, into a giant aquarium. I was impressed. See those big stripy fish there in the middle? Those are what we call “wipers.” They’re hybrids of striped and white bass. I’ve never caught one, but I’ve caught a few white bass, and I tell you what — if wipers fight like white bass, you’d have a helluva fight coming if you hooked one. Those other bass in there, by the way, are your standard largemouths.
And on we go into the vale of sin and iniquity…
That’s Big Tex up there, the benevolent giant who watches over the State Fair of Texas. He’s been doing so for decades now, waving that big right arm and talking to the guests. They brighten him up every year and make sure his clothes and boots are still wearable, but he’s basically the same as he ever was. There’s actually a guy in a booth somewhere who provides the voice; it’s a live thing, not recorded. You can see the aptly-named Tower Building and the Cotton Bowl in the background of this pic.
Big Tex more or less marks the the start of the Midway — you know, where they have all the expensive carny-style attractions and cheesy rides. You might recall me providing a picture of how it looks before the fair in a previous post:
Pretty forlorn and empty, right? Here’s the same midway when it’s occupied:
It would have been even busier if we’d come on a weekend instead of on a Wednesday. Btu check it: you’ve got your skeeball, your shooting games, your ring toss games, guess-your-weights, and all the other ways carnies skin you out of your money (a lot of these games didn’t even take tickets). Does it bother people that you can buy the stuffed animals and other impedimenta that you get for winning for less than you it costs you to win them? Well, no; carnivals aren’t about logic, they’re about impressing your girlfriends. Now, if you’re alone and you spend $20 to win a big purple dinosaur, that’s officially pathetic. If you do it so your girlfriend will think you’re a stud, it’s money well spent.
The Midway is impressive, but it simply doesn’t stack up to the Super Midway, which you can see right here. That’s where they keep all the rides.
I believe I called them “creaky old rides” in an earlier part of this review, and some of them are. Not all, though; that’s the good old Texas Star Ferris wheel in the middle, which is very well maintained, and some of the other rides are bright, sparkly, and solid. I wasn’t impressed enough to take pictures of any of them, though — even the cheapest is far too cheesy to spend the equivalent of a buck for each minute of dubious fun. I was, however, interested to see that that’d resurrected this:
For those who want to see the entire Fair from a cable car, here’s your chance. It’s called the Skyway. I don’t know what they called it back when they had a cable car system before, but I do know that it failed disastrously on the last day of the Fair back in 1979. The cable parted and dropped some cable cars to the ground. One person died, and several others were severely injured. So hey, let’s go for a ride on the cable cars, ‘k?
To be fair, that was probably a one-time thing, and it certainly wasn’t repeated this year. I didn’t go for a ride, but only because I didn’t think it was worth 12 tickets — that’s six bucks for a ride maybe 200 yards long. No thanks. I didn’t go on the Ferris wheel, either, for the same reason. <> I’ve been on cable cars before at Astroworld in Houston (I think it’s a Six Flags now), and they were much longer and were free, once you’d paid the entry fee. I always felt perfectly safe on the Astroworld cable cars, despite my fear of heights.
Most people probably don’t realize it, given the frantic pace and in-your-face attractions of the Midway, but there are lots of free things to do on this side of the Fair, too. This is mostly the livestock area of the fairgrounds, with its big animal barns and such, but this is where most of the music is performed, too. Years back I saw Michelle Branch, The Calling, and Lifehouse all perform right after the other one Sunday afternoon. You may not remember any of them, but they were big for a while, and they were all up-and-coming back them.
But that was then and this is now, and I should save the rest of the Fair for one last entry. Keep an eye out: I’ll have it up later this week.