It’s 4:30 p.m. on Wednesday and the Texas State Fair is offering $2 admission when you donate three cans of food at the front gate. My friend Brendyn and I are leaving Kroger with two plastic bags filled with canned beans and corn. It’s going to be a good day.
4:45 p.m. — Highway 30 West is fairly busy. I’m usually rushing to work around this time, but it is my day off and I have all day to stuff my face with fried foods. The First Avenue and Fair Park exit has excited me ever since I was a child. It’s like a paved Yellow Brick Road to the gates of the fair.
5:03 p.m. — Parking is hard to find, but I manage to snag a spot behind the Pizza Lounge directly in front of the main entrance. We turn in our cans of food and receive our $2 admission. As we make our way to the edge of the fairgrounds, the smoky aroma of barbecue and the sweet scent of deep-fried confections welcome us. The ticket booths sit directly in front of the entrance, welcoming our minimum wage-fed wallets. Tickets cost 50 cents each. I start with 40 tickets, which sets me back $20.
5:17 p.m. — I step up to one of the many famous Fletcher’s corn dog stands scattered around the park and buy a corn dog for 10 tickets. I take it to the condiment area, which is surrounded by dozens of hungry Texans trying to load up their deep-fried hot dog with their favorite toppings, and smother mine in mustard. Then I head toward the auto show in the Centennial Building.
5:32 p.m. — After eyeballing the new Corvette and every other sports car I’ll never own, we head to the Midway. We pass the man working the Roll-a-Ball stand, who is wearing a squid hat. He tries to lure us in by enthusiastically repeating “the next big winner” in a voice you would expect a man wearing a squid hat to use.
I kindly pass up the offer but snap a picture of him for the memories. I’m too broke for playing games. I came here for food. It’s time to hit the food court.
6:02 p.m. — We follow the Texas Skyway lift to the Tower Building and enter the cluster of food stands that line the picnic area. I have always been bad with decisions, especially ones involving food. I rip myself apart deciding what to eat every year.
I make my mind up after gawking at menus for several minutes and go with brisket tacos. I shell out 12 tickets, grab my food and sit down at one of the empty benches to devour my food and wait for my friend. She comes back with a basket of Twisted Taters covered in ketchup, which I do not hesitate to eat, like the good friend I am.
As we eat, we flip through the pages of the fair guide and find a pig race. I’ve never seen a pig race. That’s about to change.
6:15 p.m. — The race starts at 7:45, so we have time to kill. We begin walking aimlessly through the coliseum, where wall-to-wall vendors are selling everything from homemade fudge to top-of-the-line cutlery.
I stumble into a booth selling Indian ornaments and clothing and buy a Hindu prayer flag.
As we make our way past the maze of tables, my friend is lured into the sales trap of a woman demonstrating flat irons. She walks away with a strand of ironed hair and an awkward experience.
We head out of the coliseum and merge with the crowd as we make our way to the Cotton Bowl. There we find a booth offering a chance at season tickets to Dallas Cowboys games. All I have to do is fill out a form and spin a wheel. Brendyn spins and misses the win column by two spaces. I go next and land on win. I begin hollering about winning tickets as the woman in charge of the wheel congratulates me.
She then takes me to a plastic display case where the grand prizes are kept: sunglasses. I thought I had won the tickets. I pick a pair my brother would like and walk away disappointed.
6:45 p.m. — Our inner gluttons come out, and we decide to hunt down some of the notorious fried foods the fair is so famous for. Our noses guide us to a food stand selling fried peanut butter, jelly and banana sandwiches.
I buy one for 12 tickets, and Brendyn buys a bacon-wrapped cinnamon roll skewered on a stick. We find a bench to sit at and quickly devour our mini heart attacks. I instantly feel guilty, but in the back of my mind, I wouldn’t mind having another one.
7:15 p.m. — We sit for a bit to let our food digest while we people watch. It is getting dark and the true mystique of the fair is beginning to show. The lights of the ferris wheel and the Midway gate flicker and flash as people scramble to watch the Chinese Lantern Festival.
It costs $20 to get in, but we can see the fireworks and hear the music just fine from the outside. We make our way to the Pan Am Arena and find our seats in the stands. The room smells like a pig pen and looks like one, too.
A lady comes out in overalls and explains to us how the races work. There are three races and four different pigs for each race. The pigs represent all four corners of the room.
Our first pig is named Wigley Nelson, the second Sylvester Stalloin and the third Miss Piggy. Each loses the race, although to be fair, not by much. The races last a total of 20 minutes. It was not what I was expecting, but this night is about new experiences.
8:04 p.m. — As we exit the coliseum, we catch the last part of the night parade. The floats include various fair sponsors such as the Shriners. They put together a band and perform cool surf rock, which I have genuinely enjoyed since I was a kid.
8:30 p.m. — My legs are tired, and my belly is full. My mission is accomplished. I snap a few pictures before we make our way to the car. As we drive off into the unusually cool Texas night, the lights of the ferris wheel glimmer in my rear view window.
It was a good day.