It's been a crappy year. We're all desperate for a break from the debt and the drought and the doubt and the fears and the fires. And what luck: It's time again for the L.A. County Fair's annual appearance!
It's not a huge draw for the affluent, nonfat-dressing-on-the-side crowd, but everyone else comes. And I mean everyone. Folks of every style, race, weight, age and gang affiliation, all of them lining up for chocolate-covered bacon and deep-fried everything: White Castle Hamburgers, Snickers, avocados and frog legs. You can have a multi-course meal including beverage (deep-fried Pepsi) without a single unfried morsel.
Here we are, the fire-damaged, 11.9% unemployed, racially tense folks of L.A. County, coming together to scream in terror on rickety, uncomfortable rides that shake, spin and sicken, making us both appreciate solid ground and regret our earlier indulgences: the fry-bread with taco toppings, funnel cake, $9.50 barbecued turkey leg and foot-long sausage smothered in onions.
Yes, there's endless tromping in the sun with crowds of sweaty strangers, many of whom we'd run from in real life. And yes, the money streams from our wallets like the sweat from our pores, but it's air conditioned in the halls where pitchmen joke and charm, promising a better, happier, easier life with their amazingly durable, super-awesome dicer/slicers or magic mops at fantastically low prices for fairgoers only.
We all know better than to believe the carnies selling hope. But someone has to win those big bright prizes as yet unsmudged by smog or the mushroom cloud of smoke from the Station fire still billowing in the distance. And the games look so easy!
My son tells me that the view from the Ferris wheel reveals that the fair is way bigger than one would guess from the ground. But it's hard to imagine that there can be more. We've seen piglets climbing on their mama, baby alpacas soft as clouds, bunnies piled up for nap time, and chicken races. We've watched people riding the mechanical bull and singing karaoke, milking goats, dancing in costume, shearing sheep, performing magic tricks and taking photos with big-headed cartoon barn animals. We've seen folks peddling pools and pool tables, cowboy hats and cows, geodes and scooters and Bibles for teens.
But of course it's more than we can sample or comprehend in one day. What could be more perfectly L.A. County than this sprawling, concrete crush of giddy congestion and confusion, with fabulous visuals and temptations fighting for our attention and money?
Amid the cacophony of every kind of music playing at once, the beeping of the fair ambulance cart is inaudible until it's upon you. But on seeing it you're reminded to wonder: How many Angelenos are up to a full day of walking in this heat? Among the lumbering multi-generational families, the pregnant, the florid, the clusters of girls tossing their hair, the excruciatingly hip boys in shades, the elderly couples still holding hands, the folks pushing wheelchairs or strollers -- how many of us can take it?
When your pockets are empty and your feet and gut can't take any more, you separate from the herd and begin the trek through the enormous parking lot in search of your car, remembering not just this trip to the fair but all the past visits. There was the time your daughter looked deep into the eyes of a cow and became a vegetarian. And before that, when the kids were infinitely more interested in their mammoth Rice Krispies treat than in the excitement around them. Or even earlier, when you nearly fainted from dehydration and stupidity on a date, in the pre-deep-fried Twinkie days.
Our fair reflects who we are: broke, hopeful, overfed, motion-sickened, sunburned, smog-choked, wasteful, slightly hysterical and exhausted, but wildly diverse and united in peace. It is L.A. County at its best -- plus cows and chickens.