Growing up in the Dallas area meant a yearly visit to the State Fair of Texas each fall. As a child I was even privileged to have an annual school holiday and free ticket to attend on “Fair Day.” My parents made sure that their daughters’ tickets did not go to waste, and we had a regular family outing to Fair Park in mid-October each year. I have only a few memories from those childhood days, but I do recall the feelings of thrill, wide-eyed excitement, and some boredom when we were forced to spend far too much time walking through the Creative Arts competition submissions. The few memories I do have involve deep-fried fair foods and loads of vendor booths hawking their latest and greatest products. This was the seventies, so infomercials did not exist and the products were truly enticing to a fair-goer. My parents enjoyed these booths the most, so we spent much of our day in those buildings, listening to sales pitches and enjoying free samples. And each year my folks looked forward to returning to the Fair just to restock some of the items they had previously purchased. Once upon a time, the State Fair of Texas equaled the Home Shopping Network in my eyes. But I loved it all the same.
Schools stopped handing out free tickets by the time I began adolescence, but I did get to return to the Fair a few more times in the following years. I most recall a visit with my best friend Valerie when we were freshmen in high school. This was my first time to tour the grounds “on my own,” and I took advantage of the freedom by spending as much time as possible in the Midway. Though the Fair has permanent rides, my sisters and I were never allowed to ride very many of them because they were generally considered unsafe. They are, in fact, just carnival rides, and a much safer option was just down the highway at Six Flags. But a child wants what a child wants, and when finally I had the freedom to roam the Fair on my own, I wanted to ride the Midway rides. That particular day with Val, spending all of our money on cheap thrill rides and rigged carnival games, has always been my personal measure for a good State Fair adventure. That memory has grown in my mind through the years because it was my last visit before moving out of the region. Our Fair adventures became less frequent after that.
In October of 2011, I was finally able to return. I can’t even recall when last I was there for the State Fair event, though it was within the past decade. But this time I went with my friend Mere and had a similar experience to that day with Valerie: I saw the Fair through different eyes. Several times I found myself surprised at the smallness of the fairgrounds, as they had always seemed so vast before, and I realized also that I had never even visited some of the standard exhibits in years past. Mere had her own agenda for the day, having attended the Fair almost yearly since moving to Dallas, and she introduced me to areas that I’d never given any thought before. Because of her knowledge and research, we were able to walk through the Food building right at free sample time, and we also strolled through the special exhibit celebrating Texas’s 125 year anniversary, which featured artifacts from Texas history. I might have never done either of those things on my own. Likewise, I made Mere join me in the Auto exhibit despite her lack of interest; I’m certain my visit would not have felt complete without walking through and checking out all the bright and shiny new vehicles for 2012. It’s just something my dad always wanted to do, so in my mind it’s become intrinsically linked to the State Fair. Thankfully, both Mere and I agreed on one thing: the food. No visit is complete without a deep-fried Fletcher’s Corn Dog and tart-sweet freshly-squeezed lemonade. I also had to stop for a sausage-on-a-stick before day’s end, though Mere was more partial to deep-fried cookie dough. Regardless of what else happens on a visit to the Texas State Fair, it is simply not complete without partaking in these ridiculous (and delicious) foods.
There is more to do at the Fair than a single day would allow (if you are taking time to really explore, that is), but I had one single purpose on this particular visit. In all the years I’ve been to the Fair I have never taken a ride on the giant ferris wheel. This year I vowed to make that happen, even great cost to my limited funds. We planned the entire day around this one event so that I could be on the ferris wheel as the sun was setting over Dallas. From above the fairgrounds you can see the full expanse of the city, and I was determined to get some photos. Our ride to the top occurred at the exact right moment, allowing for a series of breathtaking photos and an even more thrilling experience. Nothing else could have made this day any better. And the blessing came in being able to share it all with my good friend Mere.
Now, of course, I can’t wait to return again this year. I think I’ll try to save some money and do the Midway this time. Surely those carnival rides are better than they seem, right?
Take a look at my complete State Fair of Texas photo gallery for 2011…