5 October 2013
South Dallas, TX
First & Last Day
Right, we’re in the car and on our way to the State Fair of Texas. It’s me and a handful of my best friends, all of whom are either a) hungover; b) in a committed relationship; or c) native Texans. I am solely a member of Group A, but decidedly so. I spent the night (which is to say morning) slumped over a couch, blinded by light, and sleeping on something that I’m pretty sure was equal parts pillow and dog hair. This makes me one of the lucky ones, as I could’ve spent it on the floor, which was made of dog hair entirely.
The weather is shall we say foreboding. My phone is telling me that it’s 55 degrees outside, and my eyes that the sky is the color of the same cement they use for federal prisons and inner city public schools. I’m writing this in a notebook that my friend was kind enough to lend me, but I lost the pen that came with it, and the only writing utensil on hand is a sparkly pink pencil bearing the words “Happy Birthday”. The recent theft of my car (which anyone who knows me will tell you always holds my whole life in it) has left me with but one jacket; it is the exact same color denim as the lone pair of jeans I’ve brought with me for the weekend, so I guess I’m going for a ’90s look on this brisk and lovely evening. If you’re reading this, by the way, Mr. Car Thief, please do know that I will one day eat your beating heart raw and chase it with cheap whiskey, so you burn doubly on the way down.
We’ve arrived at the SFT, but are now in the lengthy process of parking. The lots are not so much lots as they are medians surrounding the highway that people are revving their vehicles onto. Entrance to a lot is advertised at a kingly $15; the signs showing this are covering ones from earlier in the day that marked the price at $5 or $10 (price gouging would reveal itself to be the true American pastime). As we drive onto the seemingly empty lot, a man appears out of nowhere to collect money from us. We hand him a $20 bill, and in turn he asks us for change, giving us a look that suggests he is disappointed in us for not carrying around fifteen singles to make his job easier for him. Subsequently, another person — this one slightly more androgynous in appearance — shows up to direct us towards our spot. It’s unclear whether or not s/he works here, in fact s/he could just as easily be a homeless person (this is actually likely, given the way s/he is advising people that drive Suburbans to park in spots that should clearly be reserved for compact cars).
Finally, we’re walking onto the fairgrounds. My friends are in the middle of telling me that this is where they came to EDC (Electric Daisy Carnival, one of the wilder and more popular raves in the country), when I step over what appears to be a large chunk of….weave? Yes, it’s weave. This was not an uncommon occurrence at one of my high schools (where girl-on-girl violence held none of the sapphic appeal that it does in pop culture, and frequently resulted in a hallway battleground littered with the stuff), but it startles me still, after all of these years. This proves to be a good bit of foreshadowing with regard to the SFT on this particular Saturday.
General admission is $17. Too, they inform us that the SFT does not accept any form of currency other than coupons, which are bought at various kiosks scattered throughout Fair Park itself. Coupons are 50 cents each and can be bought in bulk amounts of up to 300 (!?). My friend spends $40 right off the bat (he is being accompanied by his SO, who took the hit and paid for parking). I refrain from buying any coupons, seeing as I am here purely for journalistic purposes and currently in the market for a new car. Right, so, we’ve got our tickets and our coupons, and we’re ready for some fun. We make our way to the entrance, but it’s unmanned. Again, though, the second we get there, three people sort of just apparate in front of us to collect our tickets, one of whom kicks the fun off nicely with a resounding: “AYE, WHO GOT SOME LOTION? MY HANDS ARE ASHY AS HELL, MAN.”
For weeks in advance, all I’ve been hearing about the SFT is the scope of its plethora of fried foods. It is hailed as a sort of Mecca for the deep-frite connoisseur. I’ve mentally committed myself to trying exactly one of these culinary abominations, and my job is made easy for me when a fried PB&J is offered to me within minutes of entering the fairgrounds. I take my first bite enthusiastically, but that enthusiasm wanes with each bite thereafter. I’ll spare you an in depth analysis of the experience, save for saying that the taste can only be described as intensely caloric. Some of the SFT’s other fried delicacies are inclusive of but not exclusive to the following [sic]:
- Deep Fried Butter
- Chicken Fried Bacon
- Fried Ranch Casserole (shaped in the state of Texas)
- Fried Bacon Cinnamon Roll
- Deep Fried Latte
- Texas Fried FRITOS® Pie
- Fried Coke
- Fried Bubblegum
- Fried Thanksgiving Dinner
- Deep Fried Spam Empanada
- Fried Chicken Skin
- Fried Donut Burger
And many, many more….
[sic] “Ethnic Dance Competitions”
First sighting of the “Old Mill Inn”, an establishment which reportedly exists within Fair Park only once a year for the three week duration of the SFT. Hold on, let me get this straight. People stay here? Like, actually live at the State Fair….for more than a day? One of my friends remarks rather cleverly that this might just be a place for people to attend to their more primal needs between face stuffing. There’s a man smoking a cigarette outside the Inn wearing a full tiger costume whose function remains unclear. Surrealism would appear to have reached its zenith, for now.
Look, here’s the thing. I am something of a speed freak. I love fast cars and faster motorcycles and going 150 on a desert highway or 70 round a slippery hairpin. I’m also something of an adrenaline junkie. I love rock climbing and cliff jumping and sky diving and generally being on the verge of death; it’s when I feel most alive. I’m not saying this to come across as edgy or cool; it’s just a part of who I am. The other fact to consider here, however, is that I don’t fuck with roller coasters. They make me physically ill, which is not a sensation I ever really long for. In order to say I experienced the State Fair, though, I figure I have to ride at least one.
So I’m surveying the area and trying to find something that looks less than suicidal. There is the ubiquitous pirate ship of terror, a ride which I will always remember as having hilariously emasculated me in front of a high school girlfriend, and whose pendulum swinging all too closely resembles an axe of death from Saturday morning cartoons. There is the Zipper, whose physics I never quite understood, and given my clinical phobia of the unnatural levels of G-force that it reaches, probably never will. There is….wait, there is a man wearing a Chubaka shirt who looks exactly like Chewy himself. I believe we have found a new zenith.
For no obvious reason, there is a greenhouse in the middle of the fair. Basic journalistic curiosity compels me to go in. It turns out that some things are indeed bigger in Texas, but greenhouses are not one of them. It is pantomimically small and dwarfed by everything surrounding it. Inside there is a display case for stray cats with what appears to be only one cat in it. A small collection of trees and plants has a railroad sewn throughout it, upon which circles a toy train whose purpose, again, remains unclear. Suffice it to say that the greenhouse is far and away the least popular attraction at the SFT 2013, unsurprisingly, I suppose.
I’ve stumbled across “The Fun House”, which displays no visible right or claim to its title. It simply boasts, and is covered with what have to be very poor amateur renditions of celebrities (e.g. one looks to be an either woefully inaccurate Tim McGraw or an eerily accurate Brad Pitt in a cowboy hat). Outside it there is a woman whose one and only job appears to be convincing you that there does in fact reside some fun within this House. I can’t decide if she’s getting paid way too much or nowhere near enough. She stands in one place, almost completely immobile, save for her left hand, which is sort of fist pumping idly and lazily. Hers is the face of absolute, uncompromising misery, of boredom; it is complex in its tragedy.
I smell something truly atrocious and ask my friend, a Native Texan, what it could be. “Fried Oreos”, he responds, without missing a beat.
“The Cliff Hanger”, what it is, as far as I can make out, is a sort of carousel that sickly parodies hang gliding by patronizing those who ride it. The participants are almost exclusively under the age of nine, with the notable exception of four asian tourists who have to be taught how to get on (a spectacle being diligently documented by their family members). They look incredibly excited, where as the kids look bored to tears. They all lay prostrate, as children do when bent over the knee while receiving a spanking. The Cliff Hanger spins slowly round, never once living up to its name.
“The Magnum”….this is it. I’m going to ride this thing, mainly because I was goaded into it by a friend, but also because it appears to provide the right amount of speed with the least amount of spine-shattering, spleen-wrenching change of direction. The name, again, is unbefitting. But there isn’t really any way a roller coaster could fit it to begin with. Behind it there is a backdrop, whose centerpiece is a cartoon man in bitch goggles with spiked up hair who might look cool on the Jersey Shore, but anywhere else looks a lot like the guy who forces himself on women in nightclubs. He is flanked by women with silicone bust and matching sunglasses. There are also athletes and rockstars wielding basketballs and guitars, respectively. There’s even a man wearing grillz (does one wear a grill?). The whole things looks just totally absurd under the apocalyptically grey sky that looms ahead. I’m walking onto the ride with my notebook, and get asked if I’m “gonna do some reading?”….Fuck off, philistine.
Alright, I have completed my riding duties without projectile vomiting on anyone or anything. We’re circling around to the ferris wheel, where two of my friends are regretting their decision to fulfill the couple’s stereotype of riding a very tall ferris wheel in a very cold October sky. I pass a booth for something called “Duck Dynasty”, whose flagship product appears to be one of the guys from ZZ Top in full hunting camo. Next to it there is a Reptile Room, which consists of a single reptile (advertised as [sic] “Alive Croc!”). The Reptile Keeper is wearing a full length trench coat and giving off an uncanny school shooter vibe.
Unfathomably, the SFT is a sort of dating hotspot. The intense comedy of watching a girl dressed scantily in cold weather and trying to eat incredibly greasy fried food while somehow looking sexy for her date provides considerable entertainment. I go to sit down but stop when I see what looks an awful lot like a fried index finger….wouldn’t put it past them. I’m staring at said extremity when my friend and I are abruptly overtaken by a jarringly loud yet somehow stealthy school band (the school, I am later told, is a local HBC whose football team was playing a bowl game at the SFT). I can’t help but think that they must have waited to start playing until they were directly behind us, because I never heard them coming. They stomp and pound and drum and blow. They are accompanied by cheerleaders of all shapes and sizes, but they’re not cheering, so much as flailing spasmodically. By chance, the most participative in this spectacle is also the heaviest; she evokes images of savagery and ferocity. She is a wild rhino being held captive at this zoo. They stampede through the rides, leaving the poor Reptile Keeper quivering in their wake.
It has come to my attention that the vast majority of those working and attending the SFT 2013 today are people of color. I didn’t notice this until just now, standing in front of a prototypically girlie ride called “Lady Bugs”. There’s nothing special about the ride itself, but the three men working it are some kind of awesome, in addition to being i) black; and ii) dancing to soul music. This, I think, is what they’re being paid to do (i.e. look like they’re having a great time so that everyone will have no choice but to hop on a Lady Bug and join them in doing so). They’re doing a damn sight better than the lady at the Fun House, as can be seen when a little white kid drops to the floor and starts doing the Worm to Marvin’s “Got To Give It Up” (a personal favorite of mine, growing up). The irony is rich, given that not too long ago I saw Confederate Flag and Texas Independence motifs painted on the columns of the Convention Center. I’ve lived between Dallas and Austin for close to three years now, and I’m still getting used to it. This state is, to be frank, a very disillusioned place to be.
There are advertisements for things “As Seen On TV” pretty much everywhere. The only thing more plentiful is the face of Big Tex, the SFT’s longstanding mascot, a 55-foot tall cowboy in full Rodeo garb. He smiles creepily, and was apparently burned to death in 2012 due to an electrical error with his insides (although, one has to wonder if this wasn’t a willful act of arson). Big Tex looks nothing like the modern Texan, but we are meant to believe that he is. For one thing, he is fit, which is more than can be said for most people at the SFT 2013. A history of Big Tex is delineated on several posters next to the legend himself, recounting his conception in the ’50s as a [sic] “cultural ambassador” and phoenician rebirth at this year’s fair. The signs reading “You Must Be This Tall to Ride” all measure you up against him and his shit-eating grin. You get the distinct impression, watching him, that he’s really only here to watch you spiral downwards into a ghastly pit of gluttony and wretched excess.
The inevitable has happened; it’s starting to rain. Everyone is fighting to make for the exit. A man who looks the spitting image of a pimp (avec cigar, grillz, white hat and snake skin boots) is displeased with this, along with the state of his companions’ attire. One of my friends still has a few coupons to spend, so he hurriedly buys a Turkey Leg and tears away at it furiously on our way out. This all denim look is not going to hold up in the wet. The fairgoers are flooding out of the fairgrounds, and there’s a lot of outspoken bitching about the rain and the effect it’s having on a variety of weave-based hairstyles. By the time we reach the parking lots, we are thoroughly drenched. As we’re about to cross the street, a cop tells us all to wait, because a train is about to pass through. A large family is waiting in front of us, and as the train is approaching, the mother says to one of her children [sic] “Take a step forward and see what happens”. My search for the zenith ends here.