Monday, September 26, 2011
L.A. County Fair
My family may have been rich in many ways, but we never had much money. Still, our parents managed to take my sister Vicki and me to Disneyland every couple of years. Plus we always went to the L.A. County Fair—an annual ritual—that is, until Vicki and I got too old to care much about farm animals and family outings.
When we were young, all six of us—including our Gramma and aunt Ti—would pile into the car at the crack of dawn, so we could get to the fair when the gates opened. (Pomona was a looong way from Burbank, in those days!) As soon as we arrived, we’d drop Gramma off at the Mexican Village, where she could yak all day with other Spanish-speaking natives.
I no longer remember what we did at the fair (other than eat), but do know we always stayed till dark, stopping at the “Fun Zone” on our way out. My sister and I weren’t much for carnival rides, but we did love to pitch dimes at small faux Depression-glass bowls in one of the many game booths. Vicki had an extraordinary arm, filling both our and Ti’s kitchen cabinets with tiny glass bowls—far too many, even for our family of hardy dessert-eaters.
Me, Ti and Vic
It’s been many years since I’ve been to the fair, so naturally I said I’d go when Tim announced he had to work a remote broadcast from there this past weekend.
The radio show started at 7AM. We spent the night before at the Fairplex Sheraton (Pomona is still a very looong way away!). I was surprised to see the fairgrounds looking pretty much the same: the big grandstand/racetrack at the center, farm animals to the north, the flower and garden pavilion to the south, and the permanent exhibit buildings on the east. The “Fun Zone” has been replaced by rides located throughout the park. Tim’s broadcast booth was next to the sky ride, from which passengers were admonished not to throw objects or spit (!).
My first stop was the old flower and garden pavilion, where I had spent many delight-filled hours as a youth—an early indicator, no doubt, of my future fascination with all things botanical (who knew?). I was distressed to find myself back in the 1960s, however, staring at tacky lush landscapes and lots of water features. Have the county fair exhibitors learned nothing about drought-resistent California plants in all these years? A major disappointment.
I next went in search of Gramma’s Mexican Village. Now called the more politically correct “Plaza de las Américas,” the stage—and the performers!—looked exactly the same, though the audience was decidedly much more heterogeneous. Hawkers were selling the same old south-of-the-border junk; but Spanish-language radio station KWKW's booth, where Ti and I were interviewed on the air many years ago, was now history.
I then moseyed over to Fairview Farms. In the old days, the cows, goats, pigs, chickens, and sheep were all confined to small pens. At least now the barn was spacious, allowing the animals to roam around and stay clear of humans, if they so desired. Where else can you laugh at a mound of adorable sleeping piglets, then step outside and order barbecued pork as soon as you leave the barn? The county fair is nothing if not incongruous!
I spent a good hour walking down the crowded aisles of the “Shopping Place,” where you can buy everything from jewelry, candy, sewing machines, beds, flags, several brands of kitchenware, handbags, flying toy helicopters, vegetable choppers, grave sites and coffins (yikes!), and fake chamois. You can also have your teeth whitened and/or get a foot massage, while waiting for the next product demonstration to begin.
This, too, was a familiar throwback to my childhood. But I did stumble upon two completely new areas that I would have loved as a kid: a medieval town, where youngsters posed with fake knights and a magician, and Jurassic Planet, a pretty good exhibit of animatronic dinosaurs.
As fun as all that was, the biggest highlight for me was the Millard Sheets Center for the Arts, where “Eclectic Collectibles” were being displayed. Here I found collections of postcards, lunch boxes, comicbooks, buttons, thousands of soda-can pull-tabs carefully shaped into furniture, wood sculptures, fruitbox labels, and an assortment of signs on loan from the Museum of Neon Art in Glendale. This alone was worth the price of admission.
And, of course, no county fair experience is complete without massive quantities of mostly fried food. But as even Tim discovered, there is such a thing as too much of a good thing! For the first time ever, he couldn’t finish his hot dog. Another county fair memory to cherish!
Vicki, me and Dad