The Hell That is the San Diego County Fair

Parenthood, Travel

Come on, you know exactly what I mean. It’s that love/hate relationship we have with our local county fair – the one where your kids beg you to take them each summer. In our city it’s the San Diego County Fair, or as I like to call it – Hell Fair.

There’s a reason that kind of rhymes with Hell Fire: because IT IS. Sure it’s all home-towny Americana in an obvious sort of way. There’s the livestock exhibitions and the piglet races. There’s the baking contests and the flower show. The endless stalls of ginzu knives and amazing frying pans. And of course, there are also the traditional games of chance and the wacky carnival rides.

Guess what? Cow butt! Guess what? Cow butt!

It’s just that when you put all that together, and add a shit-ton of people packed wall-to-wall, you get a hell soup that gives me hives a full month before it even opens its fiery gates.

I was a Fair Kid once too, lured by the flashing carnival lights and food-on-a-stick. My parents used to take us to Cal Expo – the California State Fair up in Sacramento – and it seemed bigger than Disneyland and full of amazing sights, sounds and tastes. We loved ducking into the County Exhibits Building, where each county in the state of California created elaborate displays compiled from things that make each county unique. Although these were interesting, the AC was always the main draw for me since Sacramento in the summer regularly tops 100 degrees. But I loved it anyway.

I get why my kids love our Fair too, and probably for many of the same reasons: oddities on display, food you are never allowed to eat throughout the rest of the year, and rides that make you scream with both laughter and fear all at once. The call of that drum song beats through the generations, and my kids hear it loud and clear.

I mean, how often do you allow yourself to devour an entire blooming onion? I mean, how often do you allow yourself to devour an entire blooming onion?

Somehow, all that magic and wonder fades the moment I pull my car into that dusty-ass parking field and trudge to the front gates to begin The Fork Over. Like a mafia-burdened shop owner paying his monthly vig, or the parent of a kid in team sports shelling out for yet another round of equipment, my reaction to forking over money at every turn of Hell Fair burns all the way down to the DNA level. The Fork Over hits hard too – $300 blooming onion on a stick, a pound of fudge for $175, a booklet of 50 carnival ride tickets for a mere $1,200. And don’t forget the $800 in quarters tossed to win a goldfish no one wanted in the first place.

OK I exaggerate, but you get the drift. Combine that with hoards of people wandering aimlessly, shoulder to shoulder so close you can’t see your feet beneath you, and I’m cooked after about 45 minutes.

“Ready to go yet?” I call to my kids hopefully. My only reply is an are-you-kidding-me smirk as they dodge into line for the next ride, laughing uproariously and having the time of their lives.

How can I begrudge them this wonderful experience and the fond memories this is making, you ask?

I can’t. So I sit, burning in Hell Fair for another 2 or 7 hours depending on their stamina. All I can say is, these memories better be damn good.

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