City Life: A fair story

Our first impulse was to ride our bikes to the Orange County Fair on Saturday. But our bikes do not have the proper lighting and knowing that we'd be heading back home at night did not make us comfortable. Besides, it would have been against the law.

So we drove. Our usual first choice for parking is the lot at Costa Mesa High School, but that was either closed or full, so we drove over to the many lots at Orange Coast College.

At 6 p.m., the streets surrounding the fair were jammed. No one likes to sit in traffic, especially me. Sitting in a car idling amid gridlock seems so wasteful. There are exceptions, of course, such as waiting at a red light, but these days I am even hesitant to idle at the drive-thru window of a fast-food restaurant. Instead, I'll park my car and walk in, or I'll shut off the engine at the window while I'm waiting for my cheeseburger.

Perhaps there is some irony in that I'm trying to reduce my carbon footprint by turning off my car's engine for a couple of minutes, while I'm waiting for food that will probably contribute a few micrograms of artery-clogging fat to my arteries.

Perhaps not.

On Saturday night, I got stuck in traffic. As my grip on the wheel tightened, I was calculating the exit options. There were none. I was good and stuck.

Then, in a flash, the far-right lane into the best OCC parking lot opened up.

"I'll never get a parking space in here," I said to my wife, but the thought of forward movement was enough to make me want to try.

"We might get lucky," she replied.

I doubted it. After all, we'd gotten stuck on Fairview Road because 10 minutes of cruising the outer OCC lots produced nothing. Yes, I am aware of the gas I wasted and, yes, it bothered me.

I drove up one aisle and down the next and then passed a guy who was walking slowly past a 1973 Volvo station wagon. That car, new, was one of the cutest ever made, but this one needed some work.

My wife rolled down her window.

"Are you leaving?" she asked the driver.

"Yes," he replied.

We had scored a prime spot in the best lot outside of the fairgrounds after only about 15 seconds of trying.

Points to my wife, Cay, for her positive outlook.

As we made the short walk to the fair, I commented on the number of people and cars.

"You'd never know there was a recession," I said.

Not only were the lots and streets jammed, it was elbow to elbow inside as well. That reminded me of the poor fit for this fair. It has outgrown this space and remains in Costa Mesa only for sentimental reasons, not rational ones.

Traffic and parking are a mess. Inside, the fair is a disjointed collection of pavilions and stalls that used to have some small-town charm.

Today, it is just plain confusing. What is the point, after all, of neighboring collections of vendors named "Carnival of Products" and "Parade of Products?"

If new planners were to construct the Orange County Fair today, it would not be placed in its current location, which is now like trying to pack 10 pounds of mud in a 5-pound bag.

Then there was the vendor with whom I had this exchange shortly after we arrived:

"How's business?" I asked.

"It's been a long day. I've been here all day," he replied.

"Well, at least you're working and earning money. A lot of people can't say that these days."

Clearly missing the point, he said, "I've been by myself all day here. I'm tired."

"You are working and making money," I repeated. "A lot of people can't say that right now."

"Yeah, I guess."

It was hard to believe, but I'd actually found someone that day whose bad attitude exceeded mine.

Fair food changed everything. We started with corn on the cob and a beer, then had a brisket sandwich, homemade potato chips and a cinnamon roll with cream cheese. We washed all that down with a tasty sparkling wine at the Orange County Wine Society wine bar.

It was a great day. I was eating junk food and not feeling guilty. I was with my favorite person in the world. And I did not have to ride my bike home in the dark.

STEVE SMITH is a Costa Mesa resident and a freelance writer. Send story ideas to

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