STATE FAIR: Awesome, even on a $20 budget

ferriswheel-FeatBy Justin David Tate Life and Arts Editor
Massive turkey legs and ferris wheel rides are what the average person pictures when they think about the Texas State Fair. The problem for college students is that the cost of a turkey leg and ferris wheel ride is nearly $20.

Photographer Kristen Dixon and I each decided to limit ourselves to $15 in tickets, which means we’ll have 30 tickets each to play with. In the process, we’ll see if we can find some free things to do alongside the more outrageously overpriced things. Here’s how our day went:

2 p.m. – We avoid the $15 parking by driving across the street from Gate 11 on South Fitzhugh Avenue to a sign that reads $5. We park on a grassy lot, where an elderly parking attendant hands us Jehovah Witness material.
Cost: Me $5  Kristen$0
2:20 p.m. – Fair tickets normally cost $17, but we decide to take one of the many routes to a discount. On Thursdays, moviegoers who arrive with a Cinemark ticket stub can get in for free. Just make sure the ticket has the date, time and name of the movie on the stub.
2:30 p.m. – Over the next four hours, we are going to do as much as possible as cheaply as possible. We find a few promotional booths near the entrance where we stuff handfuls of free peanut butter crackers and free 5-Hour Energy drinks into our personal bags. The 5-Hour Energy booth even has free carnival games that resemble a knockoff of the Wheel of Fortune, and we win 10 sets of headphones.
3:48 p.m. – After waiting in a long but brisk line, I hop into the new 2014 Corvette Stingray at the Chevy Ride & Drive. Out of all the vehicles I have test-driven so far, including a 2013 Camaro, the Stingray has the best handling. I can see why people pay $20,000 just to bump their name up on the waiting list to own one. It’s a nice car to whip around corners on a short track before being forced to hand the keys back.
4:17 p.m. – We fly in a free U.S. Air Mission helicopter ride. It was basically a metal box that jiggled a little while we watched bad actors tell us what mission we were accomplishing. The first-person perspective switched from a jet to a motorcycle to a satellite above the Earth. It’s fun for the price I paid for it.
4:20 p.m. – Sometimes observing the actions of others can provide free entertainment, especially when strolling through the fair.

The gong at the top of a high striker rings as flashing lights and Nintendo noises indicate a special occurrence.

“I got a winner. I got a winner. Winner! Winner! Winner!”
The game operator hops up and down before awarding a stuffed creature that resembles a shorter alien member of “Duck Dynasty” to a man bewildered by his sudden success. I’m positive I’ve witnessed a rarity. It’s fun to see someone actually win something for a change.

4:36 p.m. – In a dark, dreary place called the Scary Park, a black woman stands in a Southern gothic dress as if to suggests she could be a witch or voodoo priestess/witch. The fearful atmosphere is disrupted by the sounds of the “Cupid Shuffle” and the voodoo priestess’ subsequent dancing. Funny? Yes. Scary? No. Entertained for free by the random acts of strangers? Yes.
4:48 p.m. – As much as we love free stuff, it’s time to buy some tickets and eat some fattening fried foods.
Cost: Me $20 Kristen $15

Laurie dodd
Two fair attendees scarf down Fletcher’s corn dogs during their trip to the Texas State Fair.

5:04 p.m. – Kristen shares her fried Oreo with me and my mind is blown. I was skeptical, but then an explosion of chocolate, melty goodness made me a believer. For eight tickets, they could have given her more than three. But it seems they are about the only food that costs less than 12 tickets. Kristen also got a bottle of water for six tickets, while I brought my own gallon.

Tickets Left: Me – 30 Kristen – 16

5:07 p.m. – “Black or White” blasts from the Coca-Cola stage and is soon followed by “Billie Jean.” These are not the versions I grew up listening to on my cassette player in grade school. A quartet of singers with troubled vocals do Michael Jackson a disservice and proceed to butcher Justin Timberlake and Prince, too.  But as much of a train wreck as the group’s performance is, it’s also free. Free train wrecks can be fun.

Tickets Left: Me – 30 Kristen – 16

5:54 p.m. – We arrive upon the best treat of the fair, a bowl of funnel cake fries. They are actual funnel cake pieces cut into the shape of French fries and doused in powdered sugar. I sit down and relish the awesomeness that costs a measly 10 tickets, even if it means dirtying up my jeans with powdered sugar. And yes, I let Kristen indulge in the sugariness too.

Tickets Left: Me – 20 Kristen – 16

6:24 p.m. – We check out the Birds of Prey, and it’s an awesome show. A bird perched atop the ferris wheel is called down to the open stage by his trainer. The trainer rewards him by tossing food into the air, which the bird snatches with ease and grace. It breaks my heart to learn that this show will be the show’s final season at the Texas State Fair after 25 years. It will now be joining the Dallas Zoo, which is really cool. I can’t wait to visit the show there.
6:36 p.m. – The trainer brings out a singing parrot and tells it to sing. It vocalizes in a humorous tremor that proves endearing to the audience. Before the parrot exits, it blows a kiss into the microphone.

Tickets Left: Me – 20 Kristen – 16

7:15 p.m. – Kristen and I decide to get pretzels and lemonade to finish off our tickets. I know, I know. We should get exotic food, but after noticing that a Cuban Roll costs 16 tickets and turkey legs costs even more than that, a pretzel with cheese and large cup of lemonade for the same price sounds better. Somehow the lady miscounts my tickets and gives me back seven instead of four.
Tickets Left: Me – 7 Kristen – 0

Laurie dodd
A young girl enjoys cotton candy during her trip to the Texas State Fair.

7:21 p.m. – Kristen notices a large assortment of well-lit floats that are connected and beginning to glow brighter as the sun disappears. They are scooting down the road as hundreds of onlookers begin to huddle along the pathway. I follow the spectacle, which includes a butterfly-winged princess on a Children’s Hospital float and a giant ladybug whose eyes glow in the dark. The parade also includes a replica of Big Tex, cotton candy creatures and a glowing dragon lantern. The coolest thing, without a doubt, is the stilt-walkers, a trio of people on stilts standing at least four feet off the ground, including a friendly-looking scarecrow (think Raggedy Ann on steroids).
7:57 p.m. – I decide to head to the bar to finish off the last set of my tickets. I want a margarita, which costs 12 tickets, but I only have seven. The bartender shows pity on me at the end of the night and gives me the fruity alcoholic beverage. Turns out, the bartender is a former reporter for the Dallas Times-Herald. He saw my photographer snapping pictures throughout the day and me taking notes beside her. It is a nice experience to meet a fellow journalist and swap war stories over a drink.

Tickets Left: Me – 0 Kristen – 0

We’ve had tons of fun, but now the night has dragged on too long. I begin to yawn. Kristen appears ready to go too, so we make our exit out Gate 11. I’ve spent a total of $20 with parking included. Kristen has only spent $15. That means two people can enjoy endless peanut butter crackers, endless 5-Hour Energy drinks, endless test drives of Camaros and Corvettes, endless U.S. Army helicopter simulator rides, an order of fried Oreos, an order of funnel cake fries, two pretzels, one with cheese, two cups of lemonade and a bottle of water for $35 on a Thursday, so long as you bring a Cinemark movie ticket. The bank has not been broken. Our wallets can rest easier tonight.

Laurie dodd
A fairgoer hikes across the Midway with her prize in tow.

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