Saturday, October 17, 2015

Big, Bigger, Biggest

With my unexpected day off in Fort Worth, I could have just stayed in my hotel room. I could have walked around downtown and poked my nose into a museum or two. I could have seen a movie, or taken a bike ride, or caught up on some work. But it was that 24-day period when there are cattle to be judged, barbeque sauce to be sampled and Snickers bars to be deep fried. And so I went to the Texas State Fair.

Like everything in the state, the Fair is defined by its scale. If you go to your local carnival, you expect to see a few rides, some hot dog stands, and a couple of games of chance. Supersize the above, throw in some livestock judging and handicrafts competitions, and you've got most State Fairs around the country. But inject all that with steroids, add a massive 400 vehicle auto show featuring pickup after pickup, two grudge-match college football games (Grambling vs Prairie View A&M and Texas vs Oklahoma), corn dogs, turkey legs and deep-fried everything, and you've got the Lone Star version.

Held every year since 1886 with a few time outs during World Wars, the fair surrounds the Cotton Bowl stadium on nearly 300 acres. But the above listing is just a start: there are museums, 7 concert venues, pig races, an Aquarium, a Sky Tram, and a 55-foot-tall Big Tex talking statue, to name but a few of the other attractions. While officials don't bother to tally day to day figures, they generally host over 3 million people annually, making it the biggest such exposition in the nation.

Everything is on a colossal scale. The midway takes a full 30 or 40 minutes to walk down, with games of every stripe beckoning to be played. You can win prizes ranging from the typical small stuffed animals to plush toys bigger that you, from electric guitars to furniture. There are easily a dozen fun houses and 70 rides, with at least half of those designed to induce nausea. Some are versions of ones you've likely seen, like Scrambler and Roundup, but rocket fuel injected in both scale and action. And some are simply death defying: one called SlingShot looks like a massive construction crane that simply straps two people to the end, and then flips end over end. That privilege cost 70 tickets, or $35 dollars, but you do get a POV video of your terrified reaction as a souvenir.

Of course, with livestock being such a central part of Texas' legacy, there were heifers and goats and swine a plenty. I was there on Future Farmers of America day, and watched judging by the next generation of cattle barons. Where else could you hear 20-year old Blayze Bierschwale from Lampasas, TX explain about the Santa Gertudis cattle being shown: "Number 4 is a more feminine heifer that's smoother about her shoulders, a bit softer about her hardened flank." But she paled compared to his favorite: "Number 1 is little bit straighter about her hock, a really feminine good balanced female. And when you get behind her you can see she's light constructed and stout." Now, THAT'S pillow talk.

But if the Fair is known for anything, it's the food. The staples are corn dogs, piles of french fries that size of Stetsons topped with cheese, chili and barbeque sauce, and massive grilled turkey legs that look like they belong on the Flintstones. If it can be dunked in batter and fried, you can find it there: Oreos, stuffed olives, cheesecake, pumpkin pie, PB&J, spaghetti and even lemonade (No, I have no idea how they actually do that). And each year there are specials that go where no food has gone before. This year that included a Smoky Bacon Margarita, Deep Fried Cappuccino and the Krispy Kreme Donut Burger.

When they remade the movie "State Fair" for the third time in 1962, they moved the setting from Iowa to Dallas. And while there's still a Tilt-A-Whirl and maybe even a pig named Blue Boy, times have changed. If they went today, Pat Boone, Booby Darren and Ann Margaret might have some chicken-fried lobster, or a maybe a pork chop on a stick, but only if they left room for some deep fried chocolate bacon. Big Tex would expect no less.


Marc Wollin of Bedford had a turkey leg, some cinnamon Texas toffee and a lot of free samples. His column appears regularly in The Record-Review, The Scarsdale Inquirer and online at Glancing Askance, as well as via Facebook, LinkedIn and Twitter.

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