Fair free-for-all

COSTA MESA — The scent of roasted pork drifted through the main gate at the Orange County Fairgrounds, where hundreds had lined up Friday for the noontime opening of the 2011 O.C. Fair.

More than 32,000 eager fairgoers passed through the fairgrounds' gates between noon and 1 p.m., when parking and admission were free, said O.C. Fair & Event Center spokeswoman Robin Wachner.

Before the gates opened, the jangle of music from carnival rides could be heard in the distance.

Orange residents Martin Guzman, 41, and his daughter, Victoria, 18, were among those first in line at the main entrance. The duo had manned their post against the blue metal gates since 7:45 a.m.

For Guzman and his daughter, going to the county fair has been a tradition since Victoria was 6 months old.

"It's a beautiful thing," Guzman said about taking his baby girl to the fair for the first time almost two decades ago.

"It's a memory that I have every time we come, especially now that she's an adult," he continued. "It's just a blessing to be here with family."

The father-daughter team planned to head straight to the rides — Victoria's favorite part of the fair — and then a sticky-sweet pile of funnel cake.

"Being here with my daughter is my best memory," Martin Guzman said. "Seeing her happy is what makes me happy."

Almost 55,000 people took part in the fair's rides, carnival games, live entertainment and, of course, the medley of fried foods on opening day of the 2010 fair. Fair officials anticipated seeing that same number — if not more — on Friday, but official estimates were unavailable.

"It's busy, but as long as you don't let it get to you, it goes real smooth," said Paul Cooper, 54, an employee of Juicy's Burgers at the fair.

It wasn't exactly "Carmageddon," but traffic on the San Diego (405) and Costa Mesa (55) freeways, Fairview Road, and other routes to the O.C. Fair were backed up opening day.

Cooper had traveled to various California state fairs and events with the independent vendor for more than three years, he said.

"I like the O.C. Fair the best," Cooper said. "I love the people. The people here just seem more friendly than most."

As the minutes ticked down to noon — the time the metal gates would be rolled back and the flood of fair-ready participants would pour into the fairgrounds — Orange resident Chuck Smith, 58, planned on where he would head first.

As the second in line by the main gate, he was set to have first pick of the 2011 fair.

"The pig races are always the first thing," Smith said of the spectator sport, which allows him to shout and cheer on his favorite hog. "Then I go to the barn and see what animals have been born."

Smith, an employee of the Costa Mesa Von's on 17th Street, had been to the fair more than a dozen times. He recommended the Russell Brothers Circus show for first-time fair attendees.

"Then, just for giggles, you have to do the elephant ride," he said.

Also busy: the fair's many food booths. The theme this year is "Let's Eat."

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