State Fair

If you are one of those children of scorn who pines for Stonehenge, the Parthenon, or the great Pyramids, that’s your hard luck. You belong to Big Tex—to him and all he surveys. Standing in a crush of people at his feet trying to pry saltwater taffy from a left molar is where you pay your cultural dues.

Texas’ first recorded state fair was held in Dallas in 1859. Two thousand people attended. The exhibits focused on country life: plows, vegetables, shawls, quilts. Times have changed. Last year, just over three million people went to the State Fair, and the exhibits are as much urban as rural.

Going to the State Fair of Texas today is like finding out that Betty Ford and Elton John are lovers. It’s not the average affair. You could spend days looking for the building that houses the blue-ribbon Mason jar of strawberry preserves, being waylaid in your search by pavilions of futuristic cars and boats and microwave ovens, fat ladies, two-headed snakes, tattooed barkers, the Midway, and neon, lots of neon. The jam is there; so are the sheep and cows and pigs. Just not in the setting you would expect.

The fair has something for everyone. For the young, it’s a lover’s lane where they can mill, sweaty palm in sweaty palm, oblivious to all the art on parade. Fortunately, the art’s not lost on the observant. The fair, disciples of camp will tell you, is definitely a high. And for the sanctimonious, the fair, especially the Midway, provides proof of all their suspicions: that everyone except them is going to hell in a handbasket.

The fair is also where you prove your intestinal fortitude. Where else are you obliged to eat in one day corny dogs, cotton candy, candied apples, taffy, chili-rice, a box lunch of cold fried chicken—and then Osterize it on the roller coaster?

The State Fair of Texas will be October 8—24 this year. If you’ve never been you ought to go.

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