I went to the Texas State Fair over the weekend! It’s a real cultural experience. I arrived as early as I could (read midday) and stayed until 8pm (making it a full day). The photo album is available on Flickr. Big Tex (pictured on the right) is the official mascot of the Texas State Fair. As I walked past, he was making an announcement for ESPN with a deep booming country twang.
I spent the first few hours just walking around, making sure I got to see every part of the park. It’s a massive complex in downtown Dallas, built around the “Cotton Bowl” stadium. I bought some coupons ($10 for 20) and got an ice cream for 6 coupons. I realised I would need more coupons.
All over the park, a number of shows were staggered throughout the day. Bagpipes, pig racing, dog shows, car shows and bunnies. All the things you would expect from a county fair. In this way, it made me remember fondly the times I had spent at the Royal Easter Show back in South Africa.
My first circuit of the park took me past a Chinese acrobat show, just about to start. I was delighted. People had recommended I catch this particular show. The show consisted of little girls and boys, with ages ranging from 12 to 15. They performed amazing feats of contortionism and athleticism that had the crowd gasping. The image shown here is of the girls spinning carpets on almost every appendage, while balancing on each-other’s teeth.
What was truly encouraging, though, was the children really did seem to enjoy what they were doing. I usually dislike this sort of show because I worry about exploitation. For this reason, I didn’t patronise any of the “freak shows” that had the world’s smallest horse, two headed snakes and some large alligator. I find that sort of thing distasteful.
The place has a decidedly “carnival” atmosphere. Everywhere, there are carnival people, doing their best to fleece the general public of their money. Still, though, that’s what a carnival is all about. I tried my hand at a dart game and got a stuffed puppy as a “booby” prize. I guess the guy knew how much I seemed to suck.
The game depicted on the right here consists of a large roulette wheel which employs a little soccer ball instead of the traditional silver one.
For all intents and purposes, though, it’s roulette. I watched in fascination as people bet real money on “silver” or “red” while the ball fell on “harvest” or “gold”. I have never understood gambling. Even more, I understand less how they feel that, although gambling is illegal in Texas, this was an acceptable alternative. The odds were decidedly worse than roulette.
What was far more interesting was to watch the man at the wheel working the crowd. It’s an art and a form of showmanship which you can’t help but feel a little respect for. “Place your bets! If the ball lands on your-colour-your-colour-your-colour, you’re a winner!” he said as he spun the ball. “Aww sorry folks, it was ‘autumn’ this colour over here, what happened?” he would say as he scooped all the money into little holes in the counter top.
A lot of the stalwarts of American culture were also there on display: corn dogs, chilly dogs, funnel cakes and deep-fried everything else. One of my stated goals was to buy some “deep-fried coke”. I had heard about it on the radio and I wanted to give it a go. After waiting in an incredibly long line and paying my 12 coupons, it turned out to be (disappointingly) nothing more than deep-fried sweet batter, smothered in coke syrup and covered with a dollop of cream and a cherry. It was tasty, but I couldn’t finish it, it was simply too rich.
Apart from that, I also had a sausage on a stick. The phalic nature of the sausage was not entirely lost on me, of course.
I rode all the rides that appeared interesting, as well as the fabled “Texas Star”.
The Texas Star is the largest Ferris wheel in the United States, standing 65 metres (212 feet) at its highest point, and cost 12 coupons per ride. You can certainly tell you’re high up when you have vertigo as I do. The wind blows stronger and colder up there too, quite an experience. I have a number of pictures from the top in my gallery.
I also went on one of those rides where they drop you from a great height. I realised, as I reached the zenith of the ride’s ascent that this was a very bad idea for someone who is scared of heights. I screamed all the way down, as usual. :p
One of the things that surprised me was the visible and obvious police presence. I guess they have a lot of trouble with pickpockets. I asked this stereotypical African-American police officer if I could take his picture. He acquiesced, and very carefully straightened his hat before I took the shot. There’s something decidedly resplendent about the American police uniform, and something very unique about how the American police officers carry themselves. They do seem to fit the stereotypes for some reason. I guess it’s because putting on that uniform is like putting on a costume, you can’t help but play the role people expect you to play when you’re wearing the costume.
I was particularly excited to be treated to the sight of a real live rodeo. The cowboys they had included a “veteran” who was apparently pretty old for the sport (at 26) I cringed inwardly at this. What does that make me, senile? The youngest bull rider was an 18-year-old who also happened to be the only one to stay on his mount long enough to get any points. Admittedly, his bull looked a little smaller than the others. It was a real treat to see the cowboy culture alive and well. The rodeo clowns, as always, were the real stars of the show, keeping the crowd enthused while the cowboys licked their wounds and remounted. I hope to see more rodeos sometime in the not too distant future.
One of the most fascinating shows at the event was the card stacker. It was not entirely lost on me that the main exhibit of the African American museum was a white man who stacked cards, but I let that pass. After all Marilyn Monroe paraphernalia was the attraction at the women’s museum.
The card stacker was very busily making a replica of downtown Dallas. I must say it’s rather faithful. Mouse over the images below to compare the real Dallas and the replica made entirely of stacked cards.
Move your mouse over the thumbnails below to see the larger version, or click to see an even larger version!
I have a lot more to say about the cultural, social and aesthetic experience, but that will have to wait for another day.