I’m embarrassed to admit in my 8 years of living in Southern California, I have never once been to the LA County fair. This year I decided to make one last hurrah before parting with good ol’ America to my study abroad program in Europe. What better way to make a memory in the heart of California than LA’s beautiful fair?
That being said, the subject matter for me has never been when or where or how, but rather— why. Why do people visit the LA County fair every year? What makes it so unique that hundreds of people flock to this event almost religiously? Even now, standing amidst the cheer and fervor amongst numerous vendors selling all sorts of greasy junk foods galore; popcorn flavors I’ve never heard of, sandwiches and foods I never knew existed, I continue to ask myself why. Why do people visit the fair— furthermore, why have I, myself, chosen to participate in this uniquely American ritual?
I’ve always been a slow thinker who liked to ponder on my own thoughts. I didn’t know the answer.
During my time there, I stood by a young couple that looked to be in their early 20s. The first girl, who stood tall in a cream sunhat and strawberry pink heels, cheered her girlfriend on as they took turns at a cheesy carnival game. They strolled away with a small prize toy (SpongeBob, to be exact) as I continued to stare, absolutely gobsmacked. I saw hundreds of wheelchairs push pass, I saw men and women of all shapes, sizes, and colors. I bumped into similar starry-eyed, lost and confused college students gazing up at the Ferris wheels in awe and fondness.
And… I continue to be without answers.
By midday, my roommate and I met by the pig races, and I was brought out of my daze as she pulled me along to “ooh” and “ahh” at gigantic live giraffes and the tiny zebras with their stubby short legs. The rest of the fair was a whirlwind. We chatted and we browsed and drooled at every food stall we passed. We ordered a whip cream covered funnel cake and sat at a side table. I felt a sense of home being there— not like the cheesy “home is where the heart is” kind of home, but the sense of home when you realize how familiar and singular fairs are.
If this isn’t answer, then I don’t know what is.
The LA county fair isn’t special. I don’t mean that in any negative way at all. County fairs happen everywhere; it’s practically the fabric of America. I can bet you that there is no county fair that could outdo the ones in America. No other country can match the unhealthy amounts of popcorn and grease handed out on paper plates, the hand-petting zoos we just have to see, the carnival games we never seem to win.
My roommate commented that the smell of the fair was one you would only find in the US. She was right. Smoked meat, the sweet scent of chocolate. If you concentrate really hard, you can even smell the churros. Mm, churros.
Before I left, I spotted the same couple from before. They were sharing a bag of popcorn and waiting in line for a ride and just like that, I smiled knowingly.
It was our last hurrah before we set off to Italy, and it was a good one.