Mesa Musings: We permanent fairgoers

The newspaper headline jumped out at me: "Fair Closes After Successful Week."

No, I didn't read the headline this summer. It wasn't about the Orange County Fair, and it wasn't printed in the Daily Pilot.

I spied it this fall; it described the Wilson County (N.C.) Fair and appeared in the Wilson Times. My daughter, her husband and four children live in Wilson, a rural community near Raleigh, N.C..

The first thought I had after reading the headline was: "You mean their fair is just a week long? A modest affair with a sensible bill of fare makes their fair a l'affaire to remember!" (That's a fairly accurate paraphrase.)

I'm a lifelong resident of Costa Mesa and the Orange County Fair has sprawled in my backyard — quite literally — since 1975. I live in Mesa del Mar. I'm so close to the O.C. Fairgrounds that when some fairgoer eats a slab of deep-fried butter, I get heartburn.

I know, it seems that all who write about the O.C. Fair in these pages present slobbering testimonials. Not me. Guess that makes me a grinch.

I don't attend the fair; I stopped doing so 20 years ago. I subscribe to the agrarian adage: "Why buy the cow when you can get the milk free?"

I attended the O.C. Fairdozens of times before commencing my personal boycott. Today, quite enough of the fair oozes over my back fence, slithers across my patio and steals through windows open to capture the hint of a summer zephyr. I don't have to be within the fair's precincts to feel its pulse.

The 77th annual Wilson County Fair closed after one week, and attracted 19,000 fairgoers. By all accounts it offered a slice of Americana.

The 120th edition of our behemoth ran for a month, July 16 to Aug. 15, and featured food, rides, games, exhibits and more than 50 concerts (many of which I heard in bed with a pillow over my head). The 2010 county fair attracted more than a million people. A million!

When I was a teenager, the O.C. Fair was much like the Wilson County Fair. It was small, corn-fed, manageable. And, best of all, it lasted a week. Heck, I can put up with Ozzy Osbourne for a week!

Since then, the fair has consumed our neighborhood like a ravenous barnyard beast. It grew to 10 days, then to 17, and ultimately to 4½ weeks.

It's now the longest-running fair in the nation!

My wife, Hedy, and I usually plan our summer vacation around the fair. When it's on, we're gone. This year, due to a scheduling quirk, we were home.

We were stranded in Sonny and Cher limbo: "The Beat Goes On" (the 2010 fair's theme).

In our household we're not immune to the fair's traffic, noise, congestion, pollution and, yes, odors. Fair barkers who swallow their microphones while shilling their wears join us all hours of the day and night in our dining room for meals, in our living room during quiet reading time, and in our upstairs bathroom during tension-easing Himalayan salt baths.

When we leave home during a fair evening or on a weekend, we're required to program extra time into our schedule just to get out of our neighborhood.

This year, on opening day, I got my first taste of 2010 Fair Frenzy. Now that I'm retired, Friday mornings are devoted to driving to Huntington Beach to take my 86-year-old mother to breakfast. It's our weekly ritual.

This year — on the first Friday of the fair — I returned home on the 405 at 11:15 a.m. The traffic began backing up at the Harbor Boulevard exit, then stopped entirely.

"What the…?" I huffed.

Then it dawned on me: "The fair opens today."

It took me 45 minutes to negotiate the Fairview offramp and make it to my front door. By the time I walked into the house, I was fuming.

Despite the current imbroglio over who is or is not owner of the property, the 2011 fair crouches in wait — taunting me. It rides my gastric ulcer like an undigested meatball.

Nine months and counting.

I'm off to draw a steaming tub and break out the Himalayan salts!

JIM CARNETT lives in Costa Mesa. His column runs Wednesdays.

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