As the leaves detach from the oaks and the spring heat returns, upon us once again is that great seasonal melange that beckons us east, that alluring temporary city so full of danger and joy and risk and funnel cake: the Florida State Fair.
If you've made the trek before, if you've passed your chicken on a stick to a friend and wedged your deep-fried Twinkies into a cart to be twirled top-speed along some metal freeway while Def Leppard scrapes your eardrums, perhaps you've thought about death. Perhaps you've wondered whether all the pilgrims before you escaped unscathed.
Your safety-minded correspondent did. So we went in search for the real State Fair story, the mayhem behind the pie contests and giant stuffed animals.
Deep inside the state bureaucracy there exists a little-known collection of 15 inspectors and analysts known as the Bureau of Fair Rides Inspection. These unheralded folks inspect amusement rides at fairs and carnivals and permanent parks for "structural and operational integrity" — no small task in a state with 180 permanent amusement parks and more than 222 traveling amusement companies.
We asked for five years of records pertaining to injuries at the Florida State Fair in Hillsborough County to get a look at the unseen consumer bloodshed. The highlights:
A 10-year-old hit her back against the seat on Zyklon. A woman in flip-flops cut her big toe on the Super Himalaya. A man twisted his ankle stepping off the Tornado. Perhaps the worst injury was a fractured leg sustained when a boy's foot slid off the bag on the Giant Slide and his momentum twisted him sideways.
That's it. In five years, inspectors have filed reports on just nine injuries. Three hundred and fifty thousand people attended in 2010 and not a single lost limb among them. What are the odds?
Perhaps we've unearthed some counterintuitive fodder for marketing. Those bolts just feel loose. You're welcome, Florida Safe Fair.
Ben Montgomery, Times staff writer