City Life: Event was a night to remember

Editor's note: Columnist Steve Smith has returned from his assignment in the real estate section and will resume his City Life column, which will appear Wednesdays.

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By the time you read this, I will have gone to the Orange County Fair three times with plans to attend several times more before it closes Aug. 14.

What some may deem an excessive number of visits is a function of the Super Pass, which gives us unlimited entry during the entire run. To get the Super Pass, we had to stand in line for more than an hour Thursday afternoon, the last day it was available.

When I met my wife in the Super Pass line, I looked at a few of the people standing behind her and said, "Boy, a recruiter for the local procrastinators society would have a field day in this line."

All I got back were icy stares.

One of those three visits was different, so special that it is hard to imagine that any other fair visit will ever exceed its impact, save perhaps for when I take my first grandchild.

Of course, it helps to have a grandchild, which I do not.

The special visit was the one I made on the eve of the official opening. On Thursday, a number of people — angels really — and vendors hosted A Fair to Remember for Orange County's foster families and the staffs of several related agencies.

This was the first visit to the fair for many of the foster kids, and no doubt something they were looking forward to, not just because there was food and rides and games — and it was all free — but because these kids got to take part in a family tradition that has been part of the county for more than 100 years.

For many of these kids, A Fair to Remember was a dream come true.

Walking toward the Centennial Farms gate to get in, I watched the families as they got their wristbands. This was a cross-section of the entire county, with children of all ages and their foster parents representing all races and beliefs. At the fair, no one cares about any of that.

At the fair, these families did not care about the battles between city councils and unions. They did not care about homeless people or undocumented immigrants or potholes or even pot dispensaries.

All they cared about was soaking up what many of the rest of us take for granted each year. They came for a good time, and they got it.

The event was hatched by O.C. Fair Board Chairman David Ellis and came to fruition with a lot of help from his colleagues on the board, the fair's vendors and the community.

Was Ellis happy with the outcome?

"My heart skipped a beat at the sight of the kids and families," he said. "Our goal was to see them smile, and I think we succeeded."

The small picture from Thursday is lots of people having fun. The big picture is showing foster kids what life can and should be like — that even though they have had their share of speed bumps, there is so much yet to experience and appreciate as they get older.

Perhaps that's too much responsibility to pile onto the fair. After all, some will claim that in the end it's just a bunch of rides, booths, games and forbidden food. But I don't think so. When you are a foster child, and you have had so much instability in your life until the foster parent heroes arrive, the fair really does scream "family."

The question now is whether A Fair to Remember has legs — that is, whether it will become an annual event.

"I plan to put an item on our Aug. 25 [Fair] Board agenda to get a sense from the directors if they would like to make A Fair to Remember an annual event," Ellis said. "If the public has an opinion, they can attend the meeting."

STEVE SMITH is a Costa Mesa resident and a freelance writer.

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