Sunday, October 6, 2013

First Time at the State Fair

The South Carolina State fair opens Wednesday and that means it is time for the warm humid air to give way to sparkling, sunny, blue skies and a little chill in the air. So just to be sure, I checked the weather forecast to see if it would happen this year. Sunday: high of 88 and low of 70 – pretty summer like. Monday: 84 and 57 90% chance of rain – still summer-like. Tuesday: 77 and 59 – starting to get there. Wednesday, State Fair day: 73 and 55, Boom Fall weather is here, just like clockwork. How does Mother Nature do it? I don’t know. Maybe the smell of polish sausages and funnel cakes has something to do with it. The fair weather tradition will be maintained for yet another year here in South Carolina.

It seems that since I wind up writing about the State Fair every year that I spend a lot of time at the fair, but in fact, I haven’t been to the fair since 1999. Before that, I spent a lot of time there both for fun and work. The first time I went to a state fair was back in 1965 when my buddy Scotty Quick convinced me that I needed to go. I had never been to a state fair before so I was not sure what to expect. I remember as we were driving to the fairgrounds about a mile away the smell of the fair hit me like a two by four to the back of the head. “What is that smell?” I exclaimed! It was a mixture of sausage and onions mixed with hay and cow droppings. I didn’t know whether or not to breathe it in deeply or hold my nose shut. Understand that I am a city boy and have no experience with all this.

We parked the car in the parking lot behind the fair. Parking was free back in those days. Scotty had glommed a pair of complimentary tickets to the fair so we waved through the gates and onto the midway. From this vantage point the animal barns were at the far end of the fairgrounds so we could no longer smell them. Right in front of us was the nearest of what must have been 20 polish sausage stands. I know that is an exaggeration but it seemed that every other stand was a sausage stand and all the ones in between were funnel cake and elephant ear stands. Scotty, being the true connoisseur of fair food, knew which stand was the best and we made a beeline for it. Soon, we had our sausage, pepper and onion sandwiches in one hand and a cola in the other. We happily munched down our sandwiches as we wandered through the fair rides and the games of skill and chance watching everyone throwing darts, rings and bean bags in futile attempts to win big prizes.

It was great fun seeing all kinds of people, city folk and country folk both mixing together and having a good time. Every so often I would see a guy or a girl walking around carrying a big stuffed toy. So, I thought, it was not impossible to win at these games. That is when Scotty informed me all about the shills, who were paid to carry these toys around and convince the fair goers that your could win one for yourself at that game right there on the corner. Yes indeed! As we approached the back corner of the fair, I noticed that it was getting darker and darker. Here is where we found the fright booths and haunted houses. Shrieks of fear and delight sprang out from these tents as the show reached its climax and the audience spilled out with all the girls hanging on tightly to the guys who were high fiving each other with knowing looks on their faces.

Finally right in the back where you could not accidentally go where two tents of an entirely different nature. These were the “hootchie-cootchie” shows. Scantily clad ladies wiggled at the entrance as the barkers enticed all the single men to come in and see more of the exotic ladies inside. Let me tell you that these were not the girls next door, but each and every one had a exotic tale or came from some far away and mysterious place. I had just turned 20 and had not seen anything like this before. Come to think of it, I haven’t seen anything like that since then either. Scotty had lots of tales of the strange happenings inside those tents, but I suspected that he had all this knowledge second hand. There was one guy arguing with a barker that his pocket was picked while he was inside. So we decided that our pockets were worth more than seeing what was there. We opted for some funnel cakes instead. Those shows are no longer part of the fair experience these days.

During the 80’s I spent a lot of time at the fair as part of the TV crew broadcasting from 7 – 8 each night for SC Educational Television. During the late 90’s I was the technology manager for the State Government Booth at the back of the Cantey Building. I was there for 8 to 10 hours every day, so I had my fill of spending time at the fair. Although, this time of year, I still develop a hankering for a polish sausage, pepper and onion sandwich and a funnel cake. Oh MY!

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