There’s something for everyone at the State Fair of Texas

Austin American-Statesman, October 6, 2015

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Where else can you spend a day (or two) of pure, unadulterated mindless idiocy, otherwise known as fun?

Did any of you get as sick as I did of hearing about the vaunted pork chop on a stick at the Iowa State Fair, you know, where the presidential candidates tromped around in August trying to act normal? Well, summer has ended, so it’s time to think about Fletcher’s Corny Dogs on a stick at the State Fair of Texas.

For 24 days each fall, Fair Park in Dallas comes alive with Big Tex, fried everything, life-size statues made of butter, bumper cars, poultry and livestock judging contests, carnie barkers, rides and much, much more. Judging from the drivers in this town, I’d say most of you could use a vacation.

Since 1952, Big Tex has welcomed fairgoers with “Hooowwwdeee, fooolllks!”

There’s something for everyone at the fair. My father’s favorite was the new car show — the largest in the Southwest! If you love the smell of a new car, this show’s for you.

Besides the rides, the kids’ perennial favorite was the funny and smart Birds of the World show. Trained birds such as hawks, owls and eagles would soar, swoop and dive as they performed aerobatic feats. The birds demonstrated natural behaviors as they flew close to the audience and interacted with the show’s host, who weaved important conservation messages throughout the show. Sadly, the show ended in 2013 after 25 years (but the Dallas Zoo has a similar bird show).

One of the most amazing feats in the show was the peregrine falcon who took off from the trainer’s arm, flew the considerable distance from the band shell to the top of the Texas Star Ferris wheel, then returned. Measuring 203 feet in diameter, that Ferris wheel is the tallest in the U.S. and … the most boring ride in the world. You can grow old getting to the top, but once you do, the view is pretty cool.

Besides a Fletcher’s Corny Dog dripping with mustard, one of my favorite parts is the working-dog show. On their trainers’ command, which consists of hand movements and whistles, the border collies wouldn’t just herd ducks and goats, they’d have them doing tricks, like going up and down stairs.

My other favorite is the pig races. A few years ago, excitement filled the indoor arena as the pigs eagerly waited at the starting line: Pjörk, Alfred Hitchhock, Leonardo DiPigrio, Oprah Swinefrey, Kevin Bacon, Snoop HoggyHog, Jean-Claude Van Hamme and Arnold Schnoutenheimer. With the loud bang of the starting pistol, they were off in a dead run. People were cheering wildly when suddenly tragedy struck. Oprah Swinefrey, who, poor thing, was utterly full from lactating and looking like she had just given birth to at least a dozen piglets, slipped on a patch of slick sawdust and crashed down onto her side. Everyone gasped and leapt to their feet; you could hear a pin drop. In an act of untold bravery and determination, Oprah struggled back onto her hooves and took off racing again, crossing the finish line a good 10 seconds after the last pig. The crowd went wild! Kevin Bacon came in first, but Oprah was clearly the winner.

Besides the multiple beer tents and the large and magnificent collection of 1930s Art Deco buildings, Ian’s favorite part was the look of wide-eyed shock and excitement on the kids’ faces when he gave them each a stack of small bills, telling them, “Spend it on anything you want.”

One thing’s for sure: you will blow at least twice as much money than you plan. You just have to tell yourself the fair is not the place to be frugal. And besides, it’s for a good cause other than your own sanity: the fair has a scholarship program that since 1992 has awarded more than $4.5 million in new and renewed college grants to eligible Texas students.

The fair ends Oct. 18, so better get movin’. Where else can you spend a day (or two) of pure, unadulterated mindless idiocy, otherwise known as fun?

Toni Inglis, MSN, RN, CNS, FAAN, is a lifelong Austin resident and retired editor and neonatal intensive care nurse. She writes a monthly opinion column for the Austin American-Statesman editorial page.