In years past, the news that you could buy a Fletcher’s Corny Dog without leaving your car would be just okay. Good, I guess, if you’re extremely into convenience and fried food. But in a normal year, the thought of driving to Fair Park to get a corny dog and some deep-fried Oreos without ever even getting out of the car would not make most of us unexpectedly emotional.
This is not a normal year, though, and when the State Fair of Texas announced on Wednesday that it will be offering some of the deep-fried hits of the festival’s food booths to visitors on a drive-thru basis, emotional it was. Like pretty much every other large-scale social event in America, the State Fair was canceled in response to the COVID-19 pandemic, making 2020 the first year since World War II in which North Texas’s signature fall gathering would not occur. Alas, this year there would be no chainsaw carving, no slam-dunk exhibitions, no vegan sculptors crafting Mount Rushmore out of butter, and no Funnel Cake Bacon Queso Burgers. This year, Big Tex would not wave from on high at the revelers gathered there to celebrate being alive together under the Texas sun (and also deep-fried junk food).
That is, he wouldn’t be doing that until the State Fair of Texas announced that it would be welcoming visitors for a drive-thru version of the festival on weekends from September 25 to October 18. Visitors will purchase their tickets in advance beginning September 2, reserving a two-hour slot during which they can drive through the fair grounds, taking a photo with Big Tex (who’ll be wearing a giant mask, naturally) and receiving an abundance of artery-clogging delights: Fletcher’s Corny Dogs, Stiffler’s Fried Oreos, french fries, cotton candy, and kettle corn, plus soft drinks. Tickets cost $65 for a two-person package, and $99 for enough food to feed four. (Prices are per vehicle, each of which can hold up to eight people, per State Fair of Texas rules—the tickets simply reflect how much food you’ll receive.)
The wilder, more adventurous creations for which culinary fabulists are rightly celebrated each year, unfortunately, won’t be on display. “While we wish we could offer all your favorite Fair foods, the health and safety of all involved remains the top priority,” the event’s website explains. This is more of a greatest-hits collection, with turkey legs and sausage sticks available a la carte for an additional fee. But that feels right in 2020, a year in which we’ve lost access to so many of the rituals we’ve developed to remind ourselves of what life can look like when it’s good. These brief flashes that conjure the feeling of normal life are about familiarity, not novelty, and we would prefer to find ourselves unexpectedly weeping while eating a corn dog on a stick than while trying to figure out whatever the heck “Cherish Erbert Champagne” is. Call us traditionalists, if you must.
The professionally taken photos, included in the food packages, of families posing with a masked Big Tex waving down from on high will be an unusual souvenir for most who make attending the Texas State Fair part of an annual ritual. But this is an unusual year, and the attempt to capture some of the spirit of the event in a way that keeps visitors and the wider community safe and healthy feels right—maybe even inspiring. Big Tex, after all, rose like the phoenix of myth from his own funeral pyre just a few years ago, and when he looms over fairgoers now, he is a totem to rebirth. That resilience is on display throughout the State Fair this year, such as it is, and that is why the thought of safely enjoying fried Oreos in the midst of a pandemic is surprisingly emotional. This is Texas, and we will find a way to persevere, adapt, overcome, and drive through.