The Coast News Group
The 2018 San Diego County Fair as seen from the Big Wheel ride on opening night Friday at the Del Mar Fairgrounds.
Columns Small Talk

Small Talk: Fun, follies at the fair

Jean Gillette hopes you will enjoy one of her earlier columns, in a sympathetic salute to all young moms today.


feel rather like a sheep dog tonight, but a happy sheep dog. 

I took the kids to the county fair today and we closed down the place. I spent most of the time herding my two wide-eyed youngsters as they tried to see and touch everything. I arrived at the fairgrounds expecting to spend perhaps two hours and $20. I figured the kids would poop out before we hit the time limit or the bottom of my wallet. Four hours later, I was in line at the ATM machine with the rest of the silly adults who’d thought like I did. My only regret was, on an adult level, the enormous cost of everything, but somehow it was still worth it. (Please don’t tell the vendors I said so, or next year we will have to hock the car.)

Without any coaching, it seems that my children will follow splendidly in our family footsteps regarding giddy appreciation of our county fair. We are well-educated, practical, fairly responsible people the balance of the year, but when the gates to the fair swing open, our eyes glaze over, and we being to grin foolishly. We roll in on opening day, ready to listen to every silver-tongued huckster, sign up for every free giveaway, eat deep-fried, sugar-coated everything and to ooh and aah over the fuzzy rabbits, the milking machines and the striped pigs all over again. We throw caution to the wind, so far as our budget will allow, and just wallow in the gem and mineral show, the animal barns, the flower shows and all the zillion little exhibits in between. 

It really is true that after a brisk walk around the fair, certain foods one would never order in a normal restaurant suddenly smell and taste like heaven. This year, for me, it was chili fries. To my amazement, I ate much of it surrounded by the smells of the barnyard. My kids sampled pizza and cheese on a stick, then munched their weight in cotton candy. My primary gastronomic rule of thumb is never order anything I can make at home. Since I do not possess a deep-fat fryer, this leaves a pretty wide menu. 

Our only mishap this year was selecting a midway ride for the kids that looked like a very tame roller-coaster ride. What we didn’t realize was that the thing went 100 miles an hour and then went backward. I felt like I had committed child abuse. My children were already very nervous about the midway (which seems normal to me, since I get queasy going downstairs) but to add to the silliness, my son developed an unshakable terror of sheep. 

We made the mistake of wandering into the sheep pens while some of them were cinched up being shorn. They were bleating loudly at the indignation of it all. This same child who begs to watch Batman, X-Men and Ninja Turtles was suddenly scared silly of sheep. Nothing, and I mean nothing, would coax him into those sheep barns after that. I’m wondering how our next haircut will go. 

It had saddened me a bit over the years that the once-ambrosial taste of cotton candy, corn dogs and kettle corn had begun to fade for me. I loved watching my children step into the gap … even if I did have to miss seeing the sheep. 

Jean Gillette is a freelance writer and fair visitor since she was 5. Contact her at [email protected]