Fair Enough

We approached the Marin County Fair with wild gastronomic abandon. Sure, there was the rouse of a lure of seeing Pat Benatar live, but our intentions were as pure as any could be at a county fair on a Monday. We were there to eat, and I had great deep-fried visions of all manners of food unceremoniously impaled on a stick.

I should know better than to eat food on a stick. I really like the idea of it, the kitsch factor, the portability. But there’s a huge problem I have. It’s the stick. Creeps me out. Popsicle sticks, even the mere thought one touching my teeth gives me uncontrollable chills. For me, eating anything that’s been stuck through with any wooden implement is a challenge. I’m in the clear for the first third, but then it becomes and awkward dance of avoiding taking a bite where my teeth meet wood. My brother and I discovered we shared this particular quirk when we were tasting some ice cream and presented with wooden spoons. We alternately shuddered just looking at them (in fact, if he’s reading this now, my bet is his shoulders have shook a few times). I suspect some common tongue depressor trauma, but that’s yet to be confirmed.

We started simple. Just a corn dog. A sign on the window attempted to assuage our non-existent worry by proclaiming “Guilt Free Corn Dogs. 100% trans-fat free.” Because, you know, when I’m eating at the fair, it’s my health I’m concerned about.

We continued walking around the perimeter of the fair, really trying to gauge our options. Once we realized just how limited they were, the Eggroll on a Stick we had summarily dismissed earlier was called into consideration. It was fried. It was on a stick. We ordered one. Also in the order was a trio of coconut-fried shrimp. Three little mealy crustaceans run through with a skewer, deep-fried and served with a sweet and sour dipping sauce.

(As an aside, I know that I have no business going into the nuances of fair food. This is food that isn’t nuanced. It’s overt. That being said, the coconut flavor was a toasty surprise on the shrimp. Ok. Done.)

We took a break from the tour of gastronomic disappointment and wandered back to the Midway to survey the crowd, or to see if there was some outlying Deep Fried Oreo stand we had overlooked. There wasn’t, and in an effort to submit to the full fair experience, we lined up for the Ferris Wheel.

Oh, and do you have any idea how fucking scary the Ferris wheel is? I had always dismissed the Ferris Wheel as a nothing ride, but oh no. It’s deceptive in its placidity, its old-fashioned charm. The delightful Ferris Wheel! Sepia-toned images of the World’s Fair and all that. What, with the jerking and rocking in fits and starts, it just seems that it wouldn’t be too much of a stretch for one of the little cars to fall off, or for years of awkward bumping and swaying for the bolts to finally come loose and the whole thing would roll off the pins. We looked on at the teenagers lining up for the Ring of Fire, a circular track tipped on its edge, the whole point of the ride being that you go upside-down. It’s as if you took the scariest part of one roller coaster and did it over and over again. Coaster a la carte. I’ll pass.

After a brief reunion with solid ground we took a ride on the scrambler, a low-lying demonstration of the dizzying powers of centrifugal force. Our hero in line was the one teen who climbed into a car between two hot girls, so that no matter which way the scrambler scrambled, he was going to be pressed up against one. Nicely played, kiddo.

After watching the fair crowd filter past the line, and the more we watched, the less we felt inclined to continue the deep-fried frenzy. We were lined up not far from the “Tubs of Fun” game, which seemed to describe the fair clientele more than the carnival amusement.

It had been an altogether wholesome night, Ferris Wheels and innocent flirting, simple foods and simpler pleasures. It’s what summer nights are made of, hours that take their time to pass by, faces lit up by fireworks and the blinking lights of the midway. We ended our fair food tour just as simply, bypassing grotesque funnel cakes heavily laden with all syrups chocolaty and cherry and instead opting for a caramel apple. With nuts. Sweet. Simple. And so satisfying.

For more fair pics, including some really unfortunate food photography, go here: http://flickr.com/photos/wordstern/tags/marincountyfair/

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