Before actor Jack Black recently introduced America to lucha libre with the movie "Nacho Libre," Huntington Beach resident Martin Marin had been working the Mexican-style wrestling circuit for 18 years.
Now, for the first time, Marin (aka El Genio) will be performing in front of a hometown audience at the Orange County Fair, which opens today.
Marin finally secured a spot in a lineup of entertainers that includes local acts and big names such as Paul Simon, Linda Ronstadt, Bill Cosby, the Steve Miller Band and Gnarls Barkley. The event drew a record 1 million people last year.
"My thing has always been getting lucha libre mainstream, especially in the United States," Marin said. "To all of us, it's really an art. We are artists."
Although Marin and his wrestlers won't perform until July 22, the fairgrounds were already buzzing Thursday with workers, volunteers and vendors preparing for opening day. For many, the process began months ago.
The Centennial Farm staff spent the last year designing, planting and maintaining its gardens and floral displays for this year's theme: "Flower Power" -- year of the garden.
New to the farm's regular rotation of crops is a series of specialty gardens. Bamboo stands tall in the Asian Garden and hummingbirds' favorite flowers fill the small plot named after the bird. The Children's Garden bears the fruit -- or more precisely, vegetables -- of six weeks of labor by six fourth- and fifth-graders from Davis Education Center in Costa Mesa.
"People think when they come for the fair, 'Oh this is so nice,' and that we just planted them, but we've been planning year-round," said Evy Edelo, agriculture education supervisor at Centennial Farm.
Much of the setup takes just a few days, but is labor intensive.
Ray Cammack Shows Inc., which manages the carnival rides, had two days to assemble 22 of the fair's approximately 55 rides. That's because they came straight from the San Diego County Fair in Del Mar, which ended its run Independence Day.
"There's an old adage in our business: It takes as long as we have," said Tony Fiori, Ray Cammack Shows media and marketing director. "We'll have them ready by Friday at noon."
One new ride joins the roster of "spectaculars," the larger, faster-moving carnival rides. The orange, red and pink G-Force uses centrifugal force and pendulum-like swinging motions to deliver its thrills.
Elsewhere on the grounds, International Speedway promoter Brad Oxley and his two-person team have spent about two weeks creating the dirt track for tonight's 31st annual Speedway Fair Derby and Freestyle Motocross Jumping event.
"We've been literally laying down the dirt and shaping it ... so it's a fast and competitive racetrack," Oxley said.
Michael van Stralen, 8, said he had spent little time preparing for his fair experience. He was hoping his duck-shaped green zucchini would beat out two giant grapefruits for "unusually shaped" fruit or vegetable in the farm and garden competition. It was his best zucchini among four.
"I watched them -- two minutes, that's it," he said. "And I watered them for six seconds, two times a day."
Today's highlights at the O.C. Fair
Hours: Noon to midnight. Location: 88 Fair Drive, Costa Mesa.
Free admission and parking: Noon-1 p.m.
More information: www.ocfair.com or (714) 708-3247
All day: Stephen Krikl exhibit featuring models of WWII armored vehicles built to scale with recycled materials
1:30 p.m.: Russell Bros. Circus
3:30 p.m.: Glassblowing demonstration
4:30 p.m.: Cooking demonstration by Blackmarket Bakery
5 p.m.: Juggler Greg Bennick
6 p.m.: "Interesting and Unusual Plants," by Tim Nomer
8 p.m.: 31st Annual Speedway Fair Derby & Freestyle Motocross Jumping; seating available on a first-come, first-seated basis
9 p.m.: Mapapa African Acrobats
10:30 p.m.: Doo Wah Riders
Source: Orange County Fair & Exposition Center
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Fair days and night
The Orange County Fair is open today through July 30 and is closed Mondays. Parking and admission are free from noon to 1 p.m. today only. There is a fee for all carnival rides.
General (13-59 years): $8
Seniors (60 years+): $6
Children (6-12 years): $4
Children (5 & younger): Free
Tues.- Fri.: Noon-midnight
Sat.-Sun: 10 a.m.-midnight
Free admission days
Today: For active duty military, law enforcement and fire personnel and one guest, from 1 p.m.-6 p.m.
Tuesdays: Ages 12 and younger
July 19, noon-6 p.m.: With each donation of five dry or canned food items
July 26, noon-6 p.m.: With each donation of one new or three near-new children's books
In faiground lots
Vehicle parking: $5
Bus parking: $10
Preferred parking: $10
Free auxiliary parking at Costa Mesa High School when the main lots at the fairgrounds are full.
Saturday and Sunday only
Free parking and shuttle service from 10 a.m. to 1 a.m. from: The Automobile Club of Southern California lot at Fairview Road and South Coast Drive.
The Experian parking structure at 475 Anton Blvd.
All's fair: the usual -- and some unusual -- suspects
This year's event, which celebrates flowers and gardening, has added new international acts, but classic fair fare remains: the All-Alaskan racing pigs, petting zoo, exhibits and scream-your-lungs-out carnival rides.
Opening night adrenaline rush:
31st Annual Speedway Fair Derby and Freestyle Motocross Jumping, today at 8 p.m. Free, limited seating.
Veggies prepared as mothers never imagined: deep fried broccoli and cauliflower. But no deep-fried flowers.
First-time O.C. Fair appearance of masked men in tights: Lucha libre, Mexican-style wrestling. July 22 and 23, at 8 p.m. Free, limited seating.
For futurists: Fuel cell exhibit showcases a compact home of the future powered by solar and fuel cell technology.
From tribute bands to punk: Free concerts with general admission, as well as extra-free concerts at the Pacific Amphitheatre. See www.ocfair.com
For fans of the acrobatic: Russian circus troupe AGA-BOOM! Peking and Mapapa African acrobats. Various show days and times.
Source: Orange County Fair & Exposition Center