Surviving a State Fair
While it’s beginning to turn into Autumn for some of you lucky ducks, down here in Texas we’re still pretty much roasting. However, that doesn’t mean our traditional hallmarks of the changing season haven’t begun springing up. From Halloween decorations in our stores to slightly fewer people dropping of mid-day heatstroke, it’s all appearing, yet there’s no marker of the end of summer quite like ads for the Texas State Fair.
Like a roving wind across the plains, they appear, colorful tarps and tents winding along the highway, making their way to the fair grounds. In no time, where once there was only space, now there are booths, attractions, and so, so, so much fryer oil. Intoxicating as the sight can be, for those of you not accustomed to navigating such wild waters, the journey might be a perilous one. Take heed, and guidance, lest ye fall under Big Tex’s endless, hungry stare.
Pick Your Time
It seems like a copout to say look at the schedule and try to find a time where things won’t be crazy slammed. People give that advice for every theme park they attend. The thing is, all of those are essentially a low-stakes version of preparing for this moment right here. Because a theme park exists perpetually, open in seasons at the very least, meaning there’s a vast stretch of time to select from, inherently spreading out the guests.
Not a State Fair. You’ve got a month, maybe six weeks, and then it’s lost to the winds once more. That means your crowds will be highly concentrated, which makes finding those empty times even more vital. Show up crazy early, take a vacation day while the rest of the world works, do whatever you can to avoid showing up with the bulk of your city, because these spots do not have many efficiency or crowd-funneling systems in place.
Don’t Eat Everything
I’ll admit, I’m using my fair and the ones I’ve been to as something of a general template, but this bit feels truly universal for a state fair. There will be fried food. More than you can dream, and in forms you’d have never dared imagine. Chicken fried bacon, fried snickers, fried butter, champagne fried lobster, stuffed fried taco cone, fried creamed corn, fried chicken alfredo; you have no idea how long I could keep going. None of these were jokes, by the way, all real items at the Texas State Fair, some from this year.
Point is: there’s far too much to try and bite off in a single go. You’ll give yourself a stomachache, if not insulin shock, trying to pound that much sizzling goodness. Check the hubris at the gate, this isn’t about willpower, it’s about not tripping your body’s emergency evacuation switch. Plus, as a wild aside, a lot of them aren’t good. Turns out sometimes the novelty outweighs the flavor. Pick your passions, and hit them early in the day. If you’ve got room for more, maybe do a re-visit of your favorites, or squeeze in that last addition you were on the fence about.
Plan Your Path
Part of why I said tackle your food quests first isn’t just so you’ve got time to walk each item off, making room for more. It’s also because schedule coordination is unexpectedly paramount in these situations. Most state fairs will have some manner of petting zoo, for example. At the Texas one, as you might imagine, there’s quite a wide array of livestock on hand. Also: poop, because that comes part and parcel with a bunch of animals. You certainly wouldn’t want to go grab some hand-held grub right after rubbing your palms all over a wild animal in a room with open-air feces. I mean, not unless you’re late for your Chipotle shift, or insert whatever company most recently got people sick when you’re reading this.
Keep in mind what you want to do, and what would be bad to follow things up with. If yours is one of the lucky fairs with actually powerful rides, hit that shit early or late, not mid-food-binge. Shows are best saved for the more crowded times, because all the seats are bad so there’s no reason to waste prime time on your butt. Any attraction with lots of touching or interaction, be gracious and maybe hit those before you coat your hands in animal poop. And keep some hand sanitizer on you, because not everyone will have followed such basic rules of society.
We’ve tackled state fairs about as logistically and seriously as possible, which leaves the more intangible element. A fair happens during the day, in a season when it’s meant to be still warm, and is usually scorching in Texas. Add on that they sell alcohol in very large cups, which it’s easier to pound through with the burning sun overhead, and the stress of crowds, travel, not to mention inflated prices for every single item, and sometimes people can get… let’s call it overwhelmed.
A state fair, at least in my region, is synonymous with seeing some sort of shitshow. Sometimes it’s a couple having a full on screaming fight in the middle of a snow-cone line. Sometimes it’s an intoxicated patron who decides they’re going to challenge that big ass statue to a fight, and they don’t care what security thinks. Occasionally it’s a whole family affair, kids sprinting past with some sort of inflatable display stolen from a booth, being chased by apologetic parents and angry owners.
You never really know what to expect, which is part of a state fair’s charm, in a way. It’s a ton of people, fried food, booze, and noise all crammed into a space that’s too small and heated up rapidly. Really no surprise we end up seeing so many unexpected reactions in an equation like that. But keep your head on straight, stick to the game plan, and maybe you can get away with only drunkenly sobbing into a corndog.
For a day at the state fair, that’s considered victory.