Because I didn’t grow up in the Valley, I don’t have the nostalgia for Arizona State Fair that I’ve encountered in people who did. I went there once with The Wife, more than twenty years ago, as a newlywed, and though we had fun we didn’t feel any pressing need to go again until last summer, when we took The Kid, then ten. We had fun again, but we also noticed, again, how much it cost.
Nonetheless, and even though I was battling a chest cold, The now 11-year-old Kid and I braved the Fair, which winds up tomorrow, one warm Saturday afternoon this October. We picked the day because it offered free admission to Girl Scouts in uniform, and also because The Kid had filled out a form describing three books she had read, in return for which document she could get three free rides. I, who have read Shakespeare, George Eliot, Melville, Tolstoy and Dostoyevsky, got zero free rides, of course.
This particularly stung because…I dislike rides. The ones that lift you to dizzying heights and then plunge you back to earth, the roller coasters and drops and the like, terrify me. The ones that furiously spin you around close to the ground, the Tilt-a-Whirls and such, don’t frighten me especially, but they do make me queasy. So neither kind is high on my list of favorite amusements.
The Kid, on the other hand, loves rides of both kinds, and so, wishing to be a good dad, I agreed to go on three with her. She was reasonably merciful to me in her choices—first we did the Cliffhanger, which whirls you around lying on your belly and gives you some sense of how Superman must feel. Then we went on the Crazy Coaster, a relatively mild-velocity version of a roller coaster that didn’t cause me too much discomfort of either the existential or the intestinal variety, and finally the Alien Abduction, a flying saucer that spins so fast that centrifugal force affixes you to the walls when the floor drops away.
I needed to sit down on a bench for a while after these three, but I was okay. Then it was dad’s turn—I dragged The poor Kid into Star Trek: The Exhibition, a show of props and costumes from the sci-fi franchise. I’ve seen similar exhibits over the years, at the Arizona Science Center and also at the Vegas Hilton. This one wasn’t quite on their level, and, as I’m an Original Series man, there were inevitably fewer props and artifacts from my preferred vintage than from the later series. But it still had some great stuff, plus I got to see my kid sitting in the Captain’s chair on the replica of the original series bridge.
After that we checked out the ostensible reason for the Fair’s existence—the livestock and other agricultural exhibits. We saw pigs, cows, chickens and ducks, and we saw a sheep being fleeced. I could empathize with him. Even with all of The Kid’s freebies, after paying for parking, for my own admission, for three rides for myself and for admission for two to the Star Trek exhibit, I couldn’t help but feel that, while it had been fun, it might have been possible for us to find something even more fun to do with a Saturday afternoon at a fraction of the cost.
Before we left the Fairgrounds, we treated ourselves to some funnel cake topped with sliced strawberries and whipped cream. It was incredibly delicious. Dollar for dollar, it probably was the best part of the experience.
Then, as we were getting into my truck in the parking lot, I saw a man loading what looked like his grandkids into a shabby old car. He caught my eye and smiled.
“I feel a little lighter in the wallet,” he said good-naturedly.
“Me too,” I said. Then we both drove away, happy kids and all.