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County Fair Watch

[whitespace] The Contra Costa County Fair


Contra Costa County Fair
Star Rating: * 1\2 (too small a fair for too big a county)
Dates: July 28-Aug. 1 (but next year, pencil in June)
Admission $6, with extra $3 surcharge for demolition derby; $6 for Hispanic Rodeo.
Theme: "It's a 'Gourd'-ous day at the Fair!" (Illustration shows farmer admiring pumpkins, which are technically gourds.)

Antioch, where the fairgrounds are located, is an old Okie redoubt facing the south bank of the olive-drab colored Sacramento River. The main road in is Highway 4, clogged by commuters; even the extension of BART to nearby Pittsburg/Bay Point has not cleared the situation. Soon all will be a bedroom community for the Bay Area.

Once, however, Antioch was the pipe fitter's paradise. Gambling, fighting and fishing were all convenient. The Bottom Feeders, a book about the famous local boys Jim and Artie Mitchell (known in porno fame as the Mitchell Brothers), vividly describes the more rough-and-tumble days in Antioch.

Nearby, the farms and oaks in Clayton and Brentwood are being bulldozed for housing tracks. Over the hills, away from the water, is wealthier turf. Concord, Walnut Creek, Pleasant Hill have already become a sprawl of malls and $450,000 homes. None of this mentions Richmond, Crockett, El Sobrante, Pinole, Hercules and my own home base of El Cerrito. All contain multitudes and universes untold.

The important question: What sort of county fair could interest the Richmond gangbanger, the Crockett tool and die maker, and the Brentwood lady-of-the-manor alike? Fair 2000 promises to be a rethinking of the Contra Costa County Fair experience, complete with a shift to a new month, June. More on this trend as it develops.

Free-Expression Zone

The fair is small, shaped like a thermometer: a four-block-long midway dead-ends in the bulb, where fairgoers can view the animals' quarters and Shady Oak Grove, circled by the bungalows of the craft exhibits and the country agencies.

On one side of the main drag are the kids' rides; the tiny ferris wheel and the whirling strawberries. On the other are the teenage rides, fun houses and swinging-hammer rides .

By entering onto the grounds of the Contra Costa County Fair you have given up your right to free expression. A sign tells you as much, showing a inch-wide yellow line painted around the fairgrounds: "No Free Expression Activity May Occur Outside of the Free Expression Zone."

Meaning, I guess, that the fair has cut itself off from all free expression. That interpretation is opposed to the easier reading of this sentence: as a demand that everyone in the world outside of the Contra Costa Country Fair Grounds give up his or her right to all free expression.

The sign continues:

"Patrons May not Be Touched or Persued After Indicating their wish to be left Alone."

"Rule #5: Fighting words, obscene, gruesome or grisley words or material are prohibited."

Be sure to pay homage to the statue of JFK by the main gate. The eternal flame, looking like a fire in a wire wastebasket, flares up at a level high enough to sizzle the president's crotch. Ask not what your county fair can do for you, ask what you can do for your county fair!

Fudge Economics

Sandy's Candy is located at the doorway of the exhibition hall next to the JFK monument. Few people consider the problems entailed in purchasing a quarter-pound of fudge, which always leads to surfeit. An eighth of a pound is really the right amount for even the most serious glutton. County-fair fudge is sold in quarter-pound units, however, at a price that takes fudge out of the impulse-item category. Six dollars worth of candy is a lot of candy in anybody's book.

By the by, tourists who visit the Upper Peninsula of Michigan--where Hemingway's Two-Hearted River is--are referred to as "fudgies" because of their patronage of fudge shops.

Speaking of the Midwest: the Oscar Meyer Wienermobile has Wisconsin plates ("HOTDOGN"). The day I visited, it was giving out free wiener whistles as in the days of yore; one can still sound the "Oscar Mayer Salute" on them: A/C/F/C.

The wurstologists drove in the Wiener mobile as part of the "Share the Smiles Program." What this means is that a Second Harvest logo had been added to the 12-foot wiener. This earliest and most famous of art cars now raises money for a charity that feeds the homeless. There is no sign of Little Oscar, Oscar Mayer's former promotional midget in a chef's toque and smock.

In more meat-related news: at the California Beef Council's booth, be sure to pick up the free two-page coloring book showing the "Munchsters"--Sendakian creatures--in their adventure "The Munchsters Enjoy Beef--It's What's for Dinner."*

The petting zoo is sponsored by Dow Chemical of Pittsburgh.

Calvin Gets Pissy

Remember Bill Watterson, author of Calvin and Hobbes? Remember how he hated merchandising so that he wouldn't sell the rights to Calvin and Hobbes to be made into toys and shirts? Every time Watterson goes for a drive today, he sees that the truck in front of him bears a white sticker showing his Calvin peeing on a Ford logo.

On the fair midway is a stand selling these stickers. We have: Calvin peeing on a big letter "U" (He's saying "Piss on you!" Those are fighting words: grisely, gruesome speech!), a Chevy symbol and the words "La Migra"--(Chicano slang for "The Immigration and Naturalization Service). The newest introduction to these cartoon fountains is Susie from Calvin and Hobbes squatting to pee on whatever it is a lady might prefer to see doused.

No urine must be sprinkled on the K-A Foods logo, your sign of quality. It's a proud symbol of a man's boot kicking a donkey in the rump--i. e. "kicking ass." This symbol stands for first rate $2 corn dogs. Best corn dog I ever et! Look for it at a county fair near you.

I'm used to the sight of young men in groups looking for girls. What's unique to county fairs are the young girls who seem to be watchful, looking back. Maybe it's the all the animal husbandry around them.

South County Fair Park

In the Hobbies Building: Jennifer Warren of Pittsburg won a blue ribbon for her short story "The Turd." In her 250 word opus, a little girl paints a picture of an Indian that is denounced by her classroom enemy as "looking like a turd." Later, in the school yard, she trips up her foe with a jump rope, thinking to herself, "Who's a turd now?" She escapes punishment, because the teacher refuses to believe that a good girl like the narrator would have deliberately done such a thing.

Just a handful of the things I missed by working instead of going to the Contra Costa County Fair for all five days of its 1999 run:

    World Free Style Arm Wrestling
    Tower of Power, playing at a 500-seat pavilion
    The Amazing Harmonatras
    Pee Wee Sheep Class
    Skip Banks, "The Balloon Man"
    Toilet Paper Free Style
Siren Song

The Contra Costa Country Bureau of Weights and Measures has a pamphlet "How to avoid getting burned buying firewood."

Wally Wiseguy is a cartoon turtle with a backward baseball hat. He's the mascot of the CCCCAER--the Contra Costa Country Community Awareness and Emergency Response. The sad truth is that Contra Costa County has a bit of a problem with toxic emissions. Refineries adorn the northwest corner of the county; inadvertent gassing of residents sometimes occurs.

The CCCCAER is trying to address this occurrence with air-raid sirens. Regular palpitation-inducing tests are already held on the first Wednesday of the month in the county. The group plans to use these Cold War­era sirens to teach residents to run into their houses, wedge towels into the windows and doors and wait for instructions from the authorities whenever Tosco, Chevron or whomever drops something.

The CCCCAER is quite eager for public interest. The folks at the CCCCAER booth will gift you with refrigerator magnets and a plastic baby bottle for drinking water when jogging. On the side of these bottles is Wally Wiseguy, smiling and advising folks to "Shelter, Shut and Listen."

Remembering Burt the Turtle from that great documentary The Atomic Cafe, I said, "You know, Wally looks like the duck-and-cover turtle."

The man at the booth replied, "Yes, we also teach school children how to take shelter under their desks."


Next: The Santa Clara County Fair: crown of Northern California country fairs. Endorsed by Supreme Court Justice William O. Douglas himself!

* Answers to the question, "What are the Munchster's favorites beef dishes?": Beef chili, Beef stir-fry, Meatballs and spaghetti, beef pizza."

Note: "Children learn a lot about food through color, texture and taste. As your child to talk about the sound of biting into a taco, the texture and the taste. Talk about and show your child how to use the cheese grater safely. As your child to describe how the cheese looks before and after grating. Ask your child how cooking has changed the way the ground beef looks. Ask your child to talk about other favorite beef dishes."


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Web exclusive to the August 5-11, 1999 issue of Metro, Silicon Valley's Weekly Newspaper.

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