Armchair Peregrinations

November 4, 1998

It's been a long time since I've been to the State Fair in Columbia, a county fair, or any fair, for that matter. Today, I got in the car, and, despite gray and sometimes rainy skies, headed north to Ladson for the Coastal Carolina Fair, a huge annual extravaganza in the Lowcountry which sprawls across acres at the Exchange Club Park. Every year in autumn I tell myself, "Got to get to the fair this year." This year I finally did.

Upon paying my admission, I walked through the gates and beheld a scene that brought back a rush of memories: a ferris wheel and assorted rides in the distance, a cacaphony of sounds and smells from innumerable vendors selling Polish sausage and onion sandwiches, Fiske French Fries with vinegar (which I later thoroughly enjoyed), and the barking of carnies managing their game booths as well as the incredible variety of rides. Walking around the midway, I kept turning my head from left to right, trying to absorb all the sights, sounds, and colors: gaudy and garish, music that was awful to listen to at times, and a general babble to it all that eventually threatens to overrun the senses and send you packing to a quiet corner by the arts and crafts exhibits.

It was fun to be with a friend from work and his family, taking pictures and watching the kids go on rides. Packs of teenagers ranged freely over the grounds, going from one ride to the next in a seemingly endless loop of novelty-seeking, as must the young whenever they are at a carnival such as this. The tackiness, vulgarity, and sleazy come-ons from the booth barkers are all of a piece with what I've come to expect from these fairs. It doesn't matter so much because it's only once a year and people seem willing to throw two bucks away at will as they lose game after game. The rides all had a mixture of bored, happy and thrill-seeking kids in them, looping in circles, in and out, round and about until they were done, the kids discharged and new groups let in to begin the cycle once again.

I have to say, the hot Fiske French Fries I had with salt and vinegar on them were about as delicious as I remember them from 25 years ago at the State Fair in Columbia. I also could not resist that delectable fried dough patty covered with sugar and cinnamon called an Elephant Ear. I regretfully had to pass up the Polish Sausage sandwich, terriyaki on a stick, fried mushrooms, grilled chicken, barbeque, hotdogs and all the other wonderfully taste-tempting confections from the steaming grills lined up all along the midway.

The photography exhibit was really quite good. I was astounded to see literally hundreds of matted black and white and color photographs linedup on wall after wall, each one a proud entry from some local amateur photographer. I really couldn't criticize too many of them because I well know what it's like to take a bad picture, but overall there were many of excellent composition, even if fewer of them were actually thought-provoking.

On the drive to the fair, the skies began to improve, with bright patches of blue showing throuigh the gray. After about 45 minutes at the fair, the clouds just went away all together and the whole tableaux became bathed in the most wonderful and mellow autumn light. By 5:30 it was getting dark and time to head back to Charleston, but at least I got a good look at some of the rides all lit up and spinning in multi-colored animation and revery.

All in all, it was an enjoyable experience, although it really is domain of the very young. I can only take crowds for so long. They don't seem to mind at all.

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