Last Sunday was the last day of the Arlington County Fair over on 2nd Street! I had hoped to stop by for the fourth day in a row, but I woke up rather under the weather, and spent most of both Sunday and Monday sleeping.
But let’s talk about the awesomeness of these traveling fairs – one of my favorite things about the summer! The pictures below are all from the Salem (Virginia) Fairs of 2005 and 2006, Roanoke’s Drew Expo of 2006, and this year’s Arlington County Fair.
One of the best things about a carnival is the food. It’s the type of lovably greasy fare that I wouldn’t dare eat every day of my life, but will gleefully devour with abandon when the fair is in town. Funnel cakes and elephant ears, corn dogs and cotton candy – gimme!
Frozen drinks such as strawberry daiquiris and pina coladas can often be found. Sadly, these are sold with no alcohol in them. In my experience, they are very watery and the souvenir cup that comes with them is usually ugly and not worth your six to eight bucks.
The giant Polish sausages and bratwursts are extremely tasty and well worth your money. The bun will probably fall apart in your hands, but you aren’t getting this for the bun. Just be prepared with extra napkins.
Well, moving right along. What’s a carnival without a midway?
Carnival games are often (but not always) notoriously unfair and set up so that you only win the big prizes after spending copious amounts of greenbacks. Sometimes, however, you can gain a smaller prize by playing something simple and then declining the carnie’s offer to let you keep playing for more money. My apartment is filled with stuffed animals won at fairs.
The really huge prizes often require that you keeping shelling out money until you either miraculously win or the carnie decides to just go ahead and give you the prize. My friend Liz once paid $40 to get us these giant, polyester-foam stuffed animals. I had to pinky-swear to never get rid of my Champion Care Bear. And he still holds a place of honor in my home!
Sometimes you can find a game that allows you to win a prize every time. These are usually the types of games where you just choose a floating plastic duck, check out the number on the bottom, and then choose the corresponding goody. I’ve actually gotten some decent prizes this way (such as the awesome fish below). These games are meant for kids, but I’ve never had anyone refuse to let me play.
Sometimes the prizes are really dumb. I’m personally not a fan of those inflatable hammers or the stupid framed pictures. And on principle, I avoid almost any game that involves live animals, such as trying to win a live goldfish or the “dizzy rat” games. I think that’s mean and I’m not convinced these animals are well-treated.
On a more positive note, those water squirt games give you a fair shot at some pretty decent prizes. You will have to compete against several other fair-goers, and only the winner gets the prize, but at least you know that someone walks away with something. What you have to do is point your gun at the center of a target. The center moves around one way while the target moves another, and your goal is to keep your little stream of water hitting the target the whole time. As you shoot, you fill up a big lighted tube. Whoever has the best aim fills their tube the fastest, and that person wins!
After you’re done with the midway, all that greasy food you ate has probably had a chance to settle in your tummy some, so that means it’s time to check out the rides. Of course, most smart people probably want to ride the rides before eating any food or playing any games. Getting the rides out of the way first also has the added benefit of keeping you from worrying about losing your hard-won prizes (or your lunch).
Giant slides like this Fun Slide are several stories tall and made out of metal or heavy plastic. The ride operator gives you a potato sack to sit on, and you carry it up to the top yourself. Sometimes there is only one lane on the slide; sometimes there are several so that you can race your friends. (If you do race your friends, sometimes it feels like you are going to fly out of your respective lanes and smash into each other … hahaha) Watch your hands. One time I went down one of these and didn’t realize part of my palm was hanging over the potato sack; I got a nasty little blood blister as a result.
The “sudden drop”-type rides, such as Drop Zone, are terrifying to look at, but incredibly fun to experience. You will not want to wear your flip-flops on this one. (You will not want to wear flip-flops to a carnival.) The ride itself is not the scary part; it’s the moments beforehand in which you wait to fall, then suddenly find that you are. There is no advance warning before the drop whatsoever, and the fall lasts just seconds. Since it’s so quick, your wait in line will probably be pretty fast. I rode this one at Drew Expo at least three times in a row.
Fun twisty rides like the Scrambler and the Sizzler are a blast. I LOVE these rides, and even those who are a little terrfied of rides like this tend to love them. The cars spin in and out of one another at high speeds, whizzing you back and forth and often smashing the rider on the outside into the rider on the inside. and can leave you positively dizzy. So you probably don’t want to be in the situation that Eric and I once were at Roanoke’s Drew Expo. Our friend Liz snapped pictures of us riding while the carnie struck up a conversation with her. He left the ride on for way too long (in my opinion) as we all got dizzier and dizzier. We could all see him in plain sight flirting with her while I was trying not to throw up! He finally shut it off after Liz said, “Um … don’t you think you should stop the ride?” for probably the fifth time in a row!
Carnival attractions like fun houses, mirror houses, and haunted houses aren’t really all that scary. In my experience, all you will run into is something popping out. The loud motor attached to whatever is going to spring up at you will let you know it’s coming way ahead of time. The really scary part is the clanky, jerky feeling of the ride. Buckle your seatbelts!
The “roller coasters” at the fair aren’t real roller coasters, but they are fun nonetheless. Some are small circular tracks meant for the little ones. Others are just a single tall loop in the air, and have names like Fireball or Ring of Fire. I once got rings of fire around my hands from frantically clutching at the ropes at this ride at the Fredericksburg Fair. Those ropes were the only harness on that particular ride. I had no fear!
By far, the scariest ride at any fair (in my humble opinion) is the Zipper! The Zipper is a tall, skinny oval with a bunch of little cages hanging all around. Each car holds two people (standing room only) who are held in by … the door. As the oval rotates at top speed, your cage will swing every which way, and so will you. You’d better pray that door doesn’t open …
If everything I have written about these rides thus far has scared you into a corner, you can always ride the Ferris Wheel! If you don’t like heights, you won’t be a fan of this one either, but at least you know you won’t be going very fast. You’ll even get to stop often while people get let on and off the ride, letting you enjoy a superb view of all the lights and sounds of the fair (as shown in the last photo).
And that’s all I have for right now. In all honesty, I really do love carnivals. Yes, they have their little hazards, but that’s half the fun. Enjoy the food, don’t throw away all your money at the midway, and get your thrills on all the rides that you’re brave enough to try. I’ll be doing the same again this winter at Manassas’s Festival of Lights!