The other day, when the air turned cool, I had the thought: “This is Fair weather!” My husband, Ted, and I practically live at Fair Park for those 24 days of the Great State Fair of Texas. People are always surprised by how often we go, saying things like, “There can’t be that much to do,” or “It’s the same every year!” I dispute the first statement: there is plenty to do. The second statement is mostly true, but, I also think that is one of the reasons I love it so much. When I breathe in the fried grease mixed with smells from the livestock pavilion, see Big Tex waving his hand and booming out a Hello, it’s like visiting a good friend you only see once a year.
Every year, Ted and I take off Friday to go to the Fair on Opening Day. There’s nothing quite like beginning a celebration – and we definitely don’t want to miss it. Most people think the Fair is only vomit-inducing rides and rip-off Midway games – but it is so much more. Ted and I hardly spend any time on the Midway. We don’t have time! There are the pig races to see and the butter sculpture to ogle. The Vitamix demonstrations and the car show. Open museums with new exhibits and African acrobats defying gravity. Cooking shows to watch and searching for friends’ award-winning jellies in the Creative Arts building. And the food – the glorious, decadent, completely unhealthy but totally worth it food.
If we did nothing else at the Fair but eat, I would be a happy woman. I first have a round of all my favorites: fried green tomatoes, a cinnamon roll (admittedly, I will have more than one round of this particular item), a barbecue sandwich from Smokey Johns, and my new favorite: fried shrimp corny dog. We, of course, must try all the new foods, especially the award winners. Fried Frito Pie, here I come! But sometimes the food vendors get a little too creative and come up with something I can’t stomach. Sorry, Fried Beer, I won’t be tasting you this year. However, last year’s most creative prizewinner, Fried Butter, was a surprising dose of comfort food. I wish we could try every single food item, but alas, even attending all 24 days would not allow us to try them all.
The real joy of the fair is just soaking up the atmosphere. The Fair, for us, isn’t so much a place to do as it is to be. It’s a showcase of Texas culture and our exuberance for doing things BIG. Everyone is here to have a good time, suspending any dower thoughts or harsh realities. How can you frown while watching a hawk shoot out of the top of the Texas Star (the giant Ferris Wheel, for those of you squares who don’t know) and race above your head to the stage upfront – all while eating a corny dog and a Lemon Chill?
Sometimes the majesty of the fair can be too much. The crowds are massive and the constant sun exhausting. But even at the fair, there are places of reflective quiet. After an exciting day of walking 9 times around the park and eating more in a day than I do in a week, I find solace in a little known spot – The Texas Discovery Gardens. When the day is just turning into the first shadow of night, we’ll find a bench near the fountain to watch the casual butterfly float by. We rest our tired feet and feel the cool mist from the fountain on our sunburned skin. We talk over the day, the food we’ve had, the shows we watched, and the friends we unexpectedly ran into (which always seems to happen). We sit and we remember, savoring the day, and feeling just a little sad that only 23 days are left.