The State Fair of Texas midway never gets old… (click for larger image)
by Paula Bosse
I haven’t been to the State Fair of Texas for several years, so I took a trip out to Fair Park this past Wednesday to see what’s new.
Food. The only thing I ever really want is the traditional Fletcher’s corny dog, and I’m happy to report they’re as good as ever.
I also tried the Fried Texas Sheet Cake which was — and I can’t believe I’m saying this — too sweet, and just … too much. A bite would have been plenty. The topping of chocolate syrup and pecans was the best part. Maybe someone should offer a bowl of just that. …And then fry the whole thing — bowl and all. I’d probably try it.
When I saw the sign for “Fried Chicken Skin” I had to try it. I guess it’s something you either really want, or it’s something that makes you recoil in horror. I really wanted it. I was expecting more of a battered-Church’s-fried-chicken experience, but I don’t think there was any batter at all. I still liked it, but it could have been a lot more mouthwatering. It needed a bit more heft. (Speaking of fried skin — there’s a phrase I’ve never uttered — why aren’t there chicharrones at the fair? Done right, those things are incredible. Isn’t pork belly still a thing?) (And someone really should do battered fried chicken skin.)
It might have been healthier had I just swallowed the cute Big Tex earrings ($10, zero fat grams), which I almost went back for. It takes a special kind of person to be able to pull those off, and I’m afraid I’m not that whimsical. But I bet they make a great conversation-starter and help break the ice at parties.
Everything was remarkably clean. I mean really clean. …Freakishly clean. This is not the grimy, dirty, cigarette-butt-laden fair I remember as a kid, and I have to admit, I kind of missed the grime and trash. Also, I don’t remember the plush toys being so remarkably colorful. My retinas will never be the same. Click the photo below to get the full neon blast of color.
Speaking of things I miss, I also miss the seediness of the fairs from my childhood in the ’70s (certainly the seediest decade in modern times): the unkempt carnival barkers who never sounded like they were from Texas, the bored ride operators going about their repetitive jobs with a cigarette hanging from their mouth, the half-eaten candy apple stuck to the asphalt, and, yes the side shows. Without doubt, I think my favorite thing about the annual fair was seeing the huge banners emblazoned with vivid images of freaks and oddities — those banners were works of art and sheer advertising genius. I never wanted to see the shows, but I loved those banners, and I loved listening to the raspy voices of the going-through-the-motions barkers. Now? I saw a teeny booth along the midway wherein was what was purported to be the world’s smallest horse (yawn), and then there was the exhibit below featuring what appeared to be nothing more than a two-headed rattlesnake and a couple of two-headed turtles inside a little building about the size of a portable garden shed. But a kid will always be fascinated by anything with two heads. I realize my interest in two-headed creatures isn’t what it used to be, and I also realize that the day of the brilliant freak show banner art has come and gone.
When I was a kid, my favorite “ride” was always the German Funhouse. I did see one funhouse, which did not seem to be specific as to country of origin. These haunted houses get high marks for decorative impact. This is what you want to see at a state fair!
Incidentally, it will cost you 6 coupons to experience the full gory glory of “Scary Park” — that’s HALF the price of one order of fried chicken skin! Seems like a pretty good deal. There are some “extreme” rides that will cost you 150 coupons. ONE HUNDRED AND FIFTY COUPONS. That’s $75. I watched one of these rides, which began with two teenagers being strapped into some sort of horizontal harness. The second step was the signing of the waivers. Then the boys were raised way, way up and then dropped and flung across the sky from a height which makes me queasy just thinking about it. They swung back and forth a few times and were then lowered to terra firma, no doubt thrilled and nauseous. That makes a whirl on the quaint Kamikaze seem like a leisurely stroll around the neighborhood after a light meal.
The Texas Star ferris wheel is pretty impressive and deserves a better photo than this, but look at the ground — you could eat off that!
In case you ever find yourself on Jeopardy and the category is “Amusement Park Rides,” this might be helpful.
I don’t know how many Fletcher’s stands there are at the fair, but this one on the midway is certainly the brightest. (And if you say “corn dog” in my presence I will be forced to correct you….)
My favorite sign at the fair was this one, at the beautiful entrance to the beautiful Hall of State: “NO FOOD, NO DRINK, NO BALLOONS.” Don’t even think about it.
And look at Hall of State at night. Nary a balloon in sight.
I was actually working in the Hall of State the day I took these photos, so I had a short walk around the park right after it opened (that corny dog was my breakfast!) and a longer walk around the midway at night. A few thoughts:
- I’m the only person who wishes it weren’t quite so clean.
- Neon Big Tex is way better than “new” post-flambé Big Tex. Everyone complains about the new Big Tex, and I’m one of them. There’s a new kid in town, Tex, and my allegiance is now firmly with Neon Big Tex, the old Centennial Liquor sign featuring a neon-outlined Big Tex recently planted in Fair Park.
- I never liked the nightly parade as a kid, but I really enjoyed it this year. The floats were attractive, the cowboy on stilts and the unicyclist on a stuffed pony were fun and goofy, and the Carter High School band was really, really good (and brought memories of my high school marching band days back with a vengeance). Also in the parade were several policemen on horses. I wondered what happened when a horse would leave its … um … byproducts behind them in the (meticulously clean) street, and then I saw a policeman riding behind in a golf cart, with a shovel strapped to the side and a large receptacle in the back. I wonder if the officers draw straws before the parade to see who gets stuck with shovel-duty?
- I did not visit any buildings. I saw no canned peaches, no automobiles, no butter sculptures, no livestock, no miracle mops, no pig races. I’ll have to leave those for next time.
The best thing about the fair is that everyone is happy — especially the children, who are often over-stimulated and beside themselves with excitement — and it reminds me how much I used to look forward to my annual visit.
Seeing the fair in the daytime and at nighttime are two completely different experiences. Daytime in general is overrated. Always choose nighttime!
Sources & Notes
All photos by Paula Bosse. Most are pretty big — click ’em!
The 2017 State Fair of Texas runs from Sept. 29 to Oct. 22. There’s plenty of time left!
Copyright © 2017 Paula Bosse. All Rights Reserved.