Fair’s Fair

Can it really have been five years since we last went to a county fair?

I know we haven’t gone the last two years, for obvious reasons. But further back, my memory fails to confirm or refute attendance.

On one paw, scheduling time to go to a fair has been difficult for several years. On another, fairs are high on our list of priorities. On a third paw, I sometimes have trouble remembering what I had for lunch yesterday, much less a couple of weeks ago; three or four years is hopeless. But on the fourth paw, fair food is…memorable.

So, anyway, there was a Marin County Fair running up until the Fourth of July. I was working Monday, but I was off Sunday; the Fair had fireworks every night, and I had some cash in my wallet. Done deal.

The Fair was stripped down: almost all of the judging was done online and none of the indoor events or exhibits were happening–they’re supposed to return next year, COVID-19 willing.

But there were a few animals, including my favorite plush bunnies.

And the fluffy chickens Maggie likes.

And, while there were a few ducks in cages, there were significantly more of them roaming free.

The Fair’s focus this year was on vendors and carnival rides.

File this one under “Oh, hell no!”

This is a bit more my speed.

Okay, I exaggerate. If I’d gone on any rides, it would have been something in between those extremes. A carousel. Maybe a Ferris wheel.

The food offerings were a bit of a disappointment. Not in FairQuality, I hasten to add, but in cost and accessibility. I didn’t even consider the Lobster Fries when I learned the Fish & Chips I’d been pondering were $22–and the line looked to be on the order of a twenty minute wait just to order. How much of the cost was “Well, it’s Marin,” and how much was “COVIDflation” I wouldn’t even try to guess. And the lines were, I believe, a result of the plenitude of choices. With only one booth specializing in most flavors (fried stuff, bbq stuff, etc.) lines for the popular or unusual were inevitably going to get excessive.

I wound up with “California Fries”: French fries covered in refried beans, melted cheese, guacamole, sour cream, and carne asada. Basically, cross-cultural nachos. Good fair food and quite tasty. We didn’t quite manage dessert. No strawberry shortcake on offer and the funnel cake vendors (both of them) were only selling funnel cakes (and we’re not fond of those). So the only option for true FairDessert–deep fried Twinkies, Oreos, or some other thing that really shouldn’t be deep fried–was that fried stuff vendor with the twenty minute lines. Strawberry crepes might have done the job, but the crepe vendor’s line was even longer.

My arteries are grateful, even if my stomach and taste buds were (and still are) disappointed.

Anyway, strawberry shortcake notwithstanding, fireworks were the main reason I wanted to go to the fair.

We got good seats.

Maybe not quite as good as those people on the other side of the lake, but it’s hard to say. The show was aimed slightly toward our side, but explosions are largely omnidirectional, and the wind was blowing right-to-left, so the smoke didn’t block either side’s view. Call it a wash.

And the show was well worth it. Yes, the long lines, the high prices, the four hour wait on a backless bench–next time I’ll at least take a cushion–and even the traditional painful cold after the sun went down. From first boom, through rainbow arcs and blossoms (it was Out at the Fair day), several different variations on crackly/crinkly/twinkling, to the finale, one of the best low altitude shows I’ve seen.

Inevitably, it’s online. Not from the night we went, and not the best vantage point, but it’s almost like being there. Okay, that’s an exaggeration. But if you crank up the air conditioner to chill your house to 40 degrees and full-screen the video, it’s a reasonable approximation.

Bottom line: A well-spent afternoon (sorry). Would go again.

Fair to Middling

We’ve moved from July to August, and you all know what that means. No, not that. It’s county fair season again.

After a year’s absence, we returned to the Solano County Fair. And, much as I hate to say it, it wasn’t as good as last time.

There was a complete absence of Xathanael Todd in the art show. Yes, there were some nice pieces–I particularly liked Stephanie Liu’s “Succulent Pot Costume”–but nobody stepped up to give us the sustained off-kilter artistic vision Xathanael did so well.

Once again, the fair failed to provide strawberry shortcake.

And, while I can’t give firm numbers, I’m fairly sure there were fewer critters. Certainly the carousel lacked anything more than boring horses, but even the live animals seemed sparser than I recalled.

All that said, don’t think I didn’t have a good time, because I did. Just not quite as good as in 2015.

A few highlights.

This year was the year of the rabbit nose twitch for me. I just found them insufferably cute and took several videos.

I’ll note in passing that some of the artwork that wasn’t part of the art show was more entertaining than what was. In particular, the deconstructed chicken–part of an educational sign detailing “The Digestive System of Chickens”–should have gotten a blue ribbon.

It’s the row of violets on the ledge below the art that really puts it over the top.

This year won big on music. Two years ago, we didn’t hear anything particularly distinctive, but this year we caught Metalachi.

Full disclosure: We didn’t stumble over the band at the fair, we went intending to catch their show.

Heavy metal done mariachi style. Great concept, well executed. I’d like to hear them take on some original compositions. There is, after all, only so far you can go as a cover band. But in fairness, not every musician is a composer. And on that subject, need I mention that I was hoping they’d go for the multi-cultural trifecta and do a BABYMETAL number? I was and they didn’t. Perhaps a bit too much to hope for.

The video isn’t great. Between the backlighting and the demolition derby next door, I’m surprised it turned out as well as it did. If you go in search of better videos, be warned that they tone down the act for the family friendly venue.

And then there was the food. The “Shark on a Stick” folks were back, but I again declined. A BBQ beef sandwich did quite nicely for protein and vitamins and set me up well for the obligatory “only at a fair” food dessert.

Behold this wondrous offering from the “Everything Deep Fried” food truck!

Granted, the caramel comes off as something closer to syrup, but frying the sandwich turns the peanut butter into a delicious oozing mass and the jelly is transformed into sweet streams of liquid. The cereal adds a nice note of crunchiness that the syrupcaramel can’t soggify. It was well worth the experiment, even knowing I’ll be visiting my doctor to discuss my cholesterol later this week.

In all, despite the minor disappointments, it was a successful day at the fair. And remember: the Solano County Fairs for ewe.

No, really, it says so right over the entrance, lack of apostrophe and all!

Fair Tidings

I actually left the house over the weekend. OK, so that’s not news on the scale of the wildfires currently destroying California, but it’s unusual enough to be worth noting. The event of such awe-inspiring magnitude to lure me out of my comfortably air-conditioned living room into the decidedly un-conditioned outdoors?
The Solano County Fair!

Solano’s fair is a little smaller than the average around here, but it covers the essentials: live animals, incomprehensible art, carnival rides, and extremely unhealthy food. A few highlights:

04-2These guys were awaiting their eventual sale with apparent equanimity. I couldn’t help but think that the wild turkeys that hang out around our place wouldn’t face their fate so calmly–and the wild birds’ multi-colored plumage looks far nicer than the domesticated birds’ plain white.

04-3On the other handwing, this group of chickens was trying to earn enough money buy their freedom by forming an 80s metal band. At the time I took the picture, the third member of the group was off auditioning drummers–I think he was talking to the ducks:

Fair art comes in both uncredited public form:
and credited competitive venues:
04-6(This Steam Powered Atomic Nuclei Fusion Machine is the creation of Tracy J. Cullen of Benicia. Those of you who share my fascination with kinetic art will be disappointed to hear that it does not actually do anything.)

04-7Possibly the most prolific artist represented at the fair was Xathanael Todd of Fairfield. His XZA Time Machine took first place in the Age 9-11 Repurposed Materials category, and he scored prizes in several other categories as well. (The instructions for the time machine are well worth reading:04-8 If art doesn’t work out for Xathanael, he’s got a great future in writing software user documentation.)

We’re not big fans of most rides, but we do have a soft spot for carousels, especially when they have creative animals. The carousel at the Solano fair didn’t disappoint.
From the horse with the dragon-wing saddle, through the incandescent seahorse and the ostrich, to the cat–tail high and mouth full of fish–there was a fine selection of riding critters.

I was disappointed that the carousel didn’t have a traditional steam calliope, but they’re so rare these days that I suppose I can’t really hold it against the operators.

And then there’s the food. Fairs have, as Xathanael would say, “food so that in case you get hungry.” I’d say you would need to be very hungry to properly appreciate it all–and you can interpret that any way you want.

I think two signs sum up the Solano County Fair fare very well.

For the record, even for the blog, I wasn’t about to try anything as repellent as bacon lemonade. And, while I was tempted by the dubious joys of shark on a stick or alligator on a stick, I eventually played it safe–OK, safe-ish–and went with the smoked turkey leg, which was quite tasty.

Safety has its limits, though. I had deep fried Oreos for dessert. The Oreo taste came through nicely, but little flavor made it into the dough. A little less batter would have elevated the cookies from tasty enough to excellent.

For the record, the food offerings were the one place where the fair failed us. We checked every booth–twice–and nobody was offering strawberry shortcake! The horror! It’s a perennial fair favorite, and one we had been craving for days. Strawberry-covered funnel cake is a poor substitute.

Strawberry-flavored disappointment aside, we had a good time at the fair. I wouldn’t recommend a cross-country flight–or even a cross-state drive–to visit the Solano County Fair. But I strongly encourage you to put aside your air conditioning and electronic amusements for a day and visit your own local fair.