Been Too Long at the Fair by
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I love Bonnie’s song, and that’s why I chose it as my title, but I disagree with the concept – for me there is no such thing as being too long at the fair!

Despite the title, from a song I love, for me there is no such thing as being too long at the fair!

County Fair

The first fair I ever went to was the Orange County Fair, in Middletown, New York. This was in the summers of 1964 and 1965, as a day trip from my summer camp, Lincoln Farm, which was about an hour away in Roscoe, New York. I have two very vivid memories from that fair, one great and one not so good. I don’t know if they are from the same summer or different summers.

The not so good memory: One of my chosen activities at camp was music. Not a chorus or choir, just a bunch of kids learning songs from a counselor who played the guitar. Since we were pretty good, our counselor arranged for us to sing at the fair. There was a stage, with a sound system that could be heard all over the fairgrounds, and different groups performed there throughout the day. We decided to sing “Guantanamera,” a Cuban song which Pete Seeger had popularized in 1963. Individual campers would have solos on the verses, and then all of us would sing the chorus. I was supposed to sing the first verse (“Yo soy an hombre sincero/De donde crece la palma”), which I knew quite well and was comfortable with. Just before we got up on stage, I was told that someone else would be doing the first verse, and I was to sing the second verse. A piece of paper with the words to the second verse was thrust at me. It went “Mi verso es de un verde claro/Y de un carmín encendido.” The words didn’t seem to fit the rhythm of the music, and I had never sung them before. I did my best, but I knew it was terrible. All afternoon people would say to me “Didn’t I hear you singing earlier today?” and I wanted to pretend it was somebody else. I was mortified. The lesson I learned that day was never sing a song in public that you haven’t rehearsed first, especially if it is in a foreign language!

The great memory: There were lots of games on the midway, and we had been warned that the carnies would cheat you if they could. But we still wanted to play for the prizes. I found one game that I was actually good at. You rolled a ball down a slope, then it had to skip over a middle compartment and land in the third compartment. (I know that sounds confusing, but that’s as well as I can remember it from 50+ years ago.) You had to do this three times to win a prize. So the first time, I got all 3 balls where they were supposed to go, and won some dinky little thing. Then I did it again, and upgraded to a slightly larger thing. Finally, I was going for a big teddy bear that I coveted. The first two balls went perfectly, but the third one veered off course. So disappointing! BUT some other kids from camp were watching, and they claimed that on the third ball, the carny darted his hand out and back so quickly that it was hard to see, deflecting the ball. They accused him, he denied it, and it seemed as if that was the end of it. Then a counselor complained to security, or some other authority figure. That person wasn’t willing to take sides in the dispute, but he wisely decided that I should get to play another round, and the carny would have to stand outside the booth, so he couldn’t interfere. I did it again, and I won! So I got the teddy bear after all. I was so proud of the fact that I had a stuffed animal that I had won myself, unlike other girls who had stuffed animals that their boyfriends had won for them.

State Fair

In my adult life, I have gone for many years to the California State Fair, since it is right here in Sacramento. I have lots of pictures, although the earliest ones I can find are from 2014, so maybe that’s when I started taking pictures with my phone instead of needing to carry a camera.

I took my kids from the time they were so young I would be pushing one or another of them in a stroller. At that age, the most fun part was the animal barns. There were always cows and pigs and goats, and sometimes more unusual animals.

Nigerian dwarf goats

 

angora goats

Llama

 

 

 

 

 

 

Later on, they became fascinated with the county exhibits. Each county makes a display each year that highlights its best features, from skiing in the mountains to grape-growing in Napa and Sonoma, to movie stars in LA. Our Sacramento exhibit generally includes a big model of the state capitol. Here it is the year the movie Ladybird came out, with Molly posing in front of it. This particular year they just had a photograph of the Capitol instead of a model. Budget cutbacks?

 

One year, when Sabrina was about 12 and Ben was about 9 (and Molly was in a stroller), we gave the two of them twenty dollars each and let them go play the games by themselves, as long as they stuck together. At one of the games, Ben won a small stuffed snake, but of course was more interested in the bigger stuffed animals. The carny urged him to keep playing, saying he could trade up (similar to what I did at the Orange County Fair, although he didn’t know about that). He kept playing and playing until he had used up all his money, then came crying back to us asking for more, but we said no.

The food is always an adventure, from standards like funnel cakes to more exotic items like deep-fried Twinkies and shark tacos.

Funnel cake

Deep fried everything

Shark taco and octopus on a stick

We don’t often spend much time on the midway (after that one disastrous experience of Ben’s), although we always like to ride the ferris wheel.

Molly and Sabrina on the ferris wheel

Ferris wheel is magical at night

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Indoors there are all kinds of exhibits, which is great when it starts getting too hot outside, because all the buildings are well air-conditioned.

One year Jelly Belly had a booth where you spun a wheel which determined which flavor jelly bean you got, and after you ate it you had to choose between two possible flavors it might have been. Here’s Molly spinning, and then trying to figure out if the flavor was coconut or baby wipes.

Sabrina took a spin and then had to decide if it was berry blue or toothpaste flavor. She doesn’t look too happy, so I’m guessing it was toothpaste.

There is always a free concert in the evening We have seen a lot of excellent performers over the years, including Huey Lewis and the News, Eddie Money, Joan Jett and the Blackhearts, and Queen Nation (a Queen tribute band). This one was Pat Benatar and her husband/guitar player Spider Giraldo.

We always take the obligatory picture with the Golden Bear at the entrance to the fairgrounds, either at the beginning or the end of the day. When the kids were little, we lifted them up onto the bear’s back. Later they climbed up by themselves. And finally, as here, the choice was to stand next to it.

There are so many other great attractions at the Fair: hypnotists, Chinese acrobats, horse racing, as well as art, woodworking, jewelry, and jam competitions, and vendors of all kinds of unusual products hawking their wares (I buy some new product every year!). I feel as if I could write a whole book about my State Fair experiences over the years. But I will spare you. If the Fair comes back in 2022 (cancelled in 2020 and 2021 because of Covid), you should just come to Sacramento and I will take you there to see for yourself how much fun it is.

I close with a tribute to state fairs by Rodgers & Hammerstein, from the very forgettable movie musical State Fair.

Profile photo of Suzy Suzy


Characterizations: right on!, well written

Comments

  1. Betsy Pfau says:

    Suzy, you do LOVE state fairs! Good that you live so close to the big one in Sacramento. But I really enjoyed your description of the one you attended as a child, going with your camp group. The singing experience sounds so frustrating! I empathize totally. Foreign language lyrics and no rehearsal? Definitely a recipe for embarrassment. Brave of you to go through with it (not that you had much choice). But brava for winning the big stuffed animal with your skills. That is really something and a great memory!

    Thanks for sharing so many wonderful memories and particularly all those photos with your children at various ages in various booths at the State Fair. It gives us a real flavor of the event and enhances your story tremendously. It’s great that you did all these activities with them, year after year. And those concerts sound amazing. And yes, “State Fair” is certainly one of the lesser R&H works; I agree! The 1962 film version was Ann Margret’s second movie.

    • Suzy says:

      Wow, I did not know there was a 1962 remake with Ann Margret! I wondered why it said “1962” on youtube, I figured it was a mistake. We had the 1945 version on video. I’m tempted to look for the remake, esp. since it also had Pat Boone and Bobby Darin.

  2. John Shutkin says:

    Great story, Suzy, and amazing pictures to go with them. You throw yourself wholeheartedly and joyously into so many activities, I’m not the least bit surprised that fairs would be among them. And your love of them shines through in this story.

    Indeed, your enthusiasm is so contagious, I may just change my own, Scrooge-like view of fairs. And I am assuming that you will plan for the 2022 annual meeting of Retrospect, LLC to be held in Sacramento during the State Fair.

    Finally, I fully agree with your love of Bonnie Raitt’s song and disdain for the movie version of R & H’s “State Fair.” Meh.

  3. Suzy, Wonderful tripping with you to those fairs! I think the game you played at the Orange County fair was Skee Ball. I would play it as a kid at a boardwalk concession in the Rockaways.

    I’m not nearly as big a music head as you, but happen to love Bonnie Raitt who I mentioned in my story SOUL COLLAGE.

    I’ve struggled with the meaning of her Been Too Long at the Fair lyrics, but if she’s saying too much of a good thing is bad, it may be true metaphorically, but certainly not at a REAL fair! (And anyway it’s just a once-a-year thing!)

    Alas, we loved going to an Ag Fair every summer in CT but Covid shut that down too!

    Great photos of your kids!

    • Suzy says:

      Dana, I looked at images of Skee Ball online, and I don’t think that was it, because my game started with a downhill section, then a flat one, and then an uphill one, and none of the ones I saw were shaped like that.

      I don’t understand the lyrics to Bonnie’s song at all (which she didn’t write, so maybe she didn’t understand them either). And I particularly dislike it when songs mention Jesus. So I don’t pay attention to the words of the verses, and just sing along on the chorus and the bridge.

      • Skee Ball or whatever ball, you had fun!
        And yes often I don’t understand lyrics but I do love Bonnie Raitt.
        I saw her years ago at the Beacon in New York, and one fairly recent summer we had tix for James Taylor at Tanglewood.. For some reason we couldn’t go and gave the tix to a friend who told me later that Taylor’s surprise guest was Bonnie Raitt! Boy was I mad.

  4. Khati Hendry says:

    I can see why “State Fair” isn’t one of those enduring musicals, but the clip was sure fun. Sacramento clearly has the best state fair in the state however, and you have drunk deeply of its offerings. The pictures were wonderful, and of course I love the Bonnie Raitt song. Your gaffe with singing “Guantanamera” reminded me a bit of the time when our lame high school folk music group went to entertain at a seniors home, and launched into “Swanee River” without thinking through to the “that’s where the old folks stay” line. Even though we may have felt chagrined, In the end, the people listening to you or to me probably didn’t care. Happy 2022 at the Fair.

    • Suzy says:

      Thanks, Khati. Our family has always loved that line about it being “the best state fair in our state.” But I would also hold it up against any other state’s fair, because I think we have it all, reflecting the urban and the rural aspects of the state. I thought about including pictures of all the gadgets I have bought at the Fair over the years, but the story was getting too long. Maybe I’ll write another story about that.

  5. Marian says:

    Wow, this is such terrific detail, Suzy, that I’ll definitely join you at the next state fair. Everything you describe makes me smile. I didn’t have too much luck with the carnies, but at a synagogue bazaar I bounced a ping pong ball into a goldfish bowl and won the fish, which lived for seven years. Did catch Peter Noone doing a Herman’s Hermit’s tribute at Hot August Nights in Reno one year. The kids were totally baffled when we boomers started singing “I’m Henry the VIIIth.” Thanks for restoring those memories!

    • Suzy says:

      Mare, I’m excited that you want to join me at the state fair next year. Even if we don’t have a full-fledged Retro meeting, as John suggested, you are close enough that you could easily drive here.

  6. I suppose the highest compliment, paradoxically, is to call this a fairly good story. Your description of a state fair is spot on. The tent crew only had a small piece of the NY state fair but it was very similar. And yes I know the Orange County fair. But I’ll save the rest for your comment on my story.

    • Suzy says:

      Calling it a “fairly” good story is amusing, but I prefer what you said in your reply to my comment on your story, where you called it a terrific story. But now it’s here via my reference to it. Interesting about the rumors of Mob involvement in the Orange County Fair – maybe the carny who tried to cheat me had Mob ties!

  7. Laurie Levy says:

    Good for you, Suzy, winning your own stuffed animal! Clearly, Sacramento’s fair was a huge step up from the one we took our grandkids to in Indiana.

    • Suzy says:

      It’s actually not Sacramento’s fair, it’s for and about the whole state. I did go to the Sacramento County Fair once, which was a lot smaller (and free!), but I don’t remember anything about it. Not to be a state chauvinist, but California probably has a lot more to offer at a state fair than Indiana does.

  8. Mister Ed says:

    Terrific story, Suzy. Whoever shoved the second verse in front of you without notice obviously knows little about performing. What happened to the stuffed animal that you won?

    • Suzy says:

      It was a black and white teddy bear (NOT a panda) that I kept on my bed through high school, college, and law school. At some point in the ’80s or ’90s the fur started coming off and eventually it was shedding so much on everything that I had to get rid of it. Very sad!

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