Monday, August 28, 2006

Our State Fair is a Pretty Good State Fair

As I mentioned in the comments, we spent the day yesterday at the Oregon State Fair in Salem. It was a good day, and we enjoyed the fair, but while I wasn't exactly disappointed, neither was I blown away.

Before yesterday, I'd never been to a State Fair. My only experience with fairs had been the Twin Falls County Fair & Rodeo (in Filer, ID), the Douglas County Fair (In Roseburg, OR), and the Del Mar Fair (San Diego's county fair). Each had a different flavor to it.

The Twin Falls County Fairs is amazing, especially considering it's held in a sparsely populated county in one of the least populous states in the Union. But it is also in a county that is an agricultural wonder -- when I was a kid it was the nation's center for the development of new strains of beans, and was in the heart of Idaho's sugar beet country. Farms there are so big that there are people who make a huge success out of the business of "Custom Farming" -- they own farming equipment but no land, farm owners pay them to help with the planting and harvesting. The 4H and FFA programs are huge there, and each had its own building as big as the entire livestock barn at the OSF. The rodeo, which is held concurrently with the fair, is a major stop on the PRCA circuit. Quilting, baking, canning, as well as several other crafts and hobbies, each have their own small display buildings.

The Dougls County Fair was a smaller version of the same thing, with more of a focus on arts crafts and a smaller livestock exhibit.

The Del Mar Fair was huge, as big as a State Fair, but it was far more commercialized, with several buildings taken up with vendors (who only had one building each at the other two fairs I've mentioned). It seemed far more commercialized than the other two.

I'm not sure what I expected from a State Fair. I didn't like being funneled from the entrance through the carnival just to get to the exhibits -- just the opposite of the layout of the county fairs I'd attended, where the rides and games were off to one side. But while the exhibits by competitors were smaller, I realize that's because only the best from each county fair makes it to the State Fair, and I was impressed by their quality -- especially the woodworking and photography exhibits. There was a cedar strip canoe built by some high school students that was absolutely GORGEOUS! I also was impressed by the statewide talent competition, at least the little bit we got to see while eating our food. And of course, it had all the fair food items we considered required eating -- grilled corn on the cob, bratwurst from Mt. Angel (a German community near Salem), elephant ears, bedspring fries, caramel apple. There was a barbecue being held, with two huge pit smokers that made Old 97 look like a Weber Lil' Joe, but I figured I can throw down the 'Q as good as anyone, and opted for items you only get at the fair.

I was also proud of the fact that most of my fellow fairgoers made good use of the trash and recycling receptacles dotting the grounds, as well as the way people treated each other. I may not always agree with the popular politics in my home state, but Oregonians are, on the whole, a polite, respectful, considerate bunch, and they showed it yesterday.

We left early, because The Lad was getting tired, so I missed the art exhibit, but on the whole, it was a good day. No, it wasn't a seasonal, homespun Disneyland experience, but it was the most fun I've had in a while.