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Florida State Fair spins and fries until we turn silly

The day I played hooky to go to the Florida State Fair turned out to be the same day as the traditional Governor's Luncheon.

As I made my way up the midway with my cup of greasy french fries, here came the local muckety-mucks in suits and heels, headed for the big hall.

The annual luncheon is particularly well attended when politicians are gearing up to run for something, so on the steps beforehand was much glad-handing, hugging and slapping of backs. From the barns nearby drifted the scent of fresh manure. (Hey, just reporting the facts.)

But don't you love the fair and all it says about us?

On this particular day, the sky was impossibly blue, the temperature as fine as February gets and the crowd big enough to be festive but not overly sweaty.

We wandered past horses, pigs and livestock taken care of by earnest young students. Parents pulled wagons that spilled over with kids sticky with cotton candy. Teenage boys laid down dollars to shoot baskets, trying to win gargantuan orange Elmo dolls for the girls beside them.

On the midway, Bozo was perched above the dunk tank lazily taunting a couple walking by, the man maybe a tad older than the woman.

"Nice of you to bring your dad to the fair," Bozo cracked over the loudspeaker. This was a clown who knew his audience. The gray-haired man reached for his wallet.

On the midway, everything was a little bright, a little loud, banjo music and beer tents, the world's smallest horse and anything edible that would fit on a stick. After a while you would not be surprised to see rattlesnake or radicchio, battered, fried, skewered, sugared and handed to you with a flourish.

Food?

We passed Walking Tacos and Hot Wisconsin Cheese, strawberry shortcake, turkey legs, and roasted corn, all mingled with the sweet smell of searing sausage. Where to start.

Or stop.

Now, I am up for nearly any midway ride, ones that drop, dangle, hurl, flip or spin you from great heights, but I am not brave enough for chocolate-dipped bacon — this year's notable fair fare, given that deep-fried Snickers are so last year.

Around every corner was a surprise. We found a teeth-whitening salon. Jacuzzis for sale featuring bass-thumping sound systems and underwater disco lights. An oxygen bar. You never know at the fair.

We wandered under the shady oaks of laid-back Cracker Country through the old-timey traditional Florida buildings. Sated, we popped quarters into something called a Footsie Wootsie and got the jarring foot massage of our lives.

Don't we all need a little fair about now?

A postscript: The next day at work, I heard the Governor's Luncheon included not just the standard chicken-and-salad fare, but also candy apples and cotton candy. Turns out they started adding fair food last year because apparently, even the buttoned-up luncheon crowd has a taste for the midway. Corn dogs and elephant ears went fast.

Oh, and Elvis sang them the national anthem. Well, of course he did. It was the fair.

The Florida State Fair continues through Monday in Tampa. For more information call (813) 621-7821 or toll-free 1-800-345-3247, or go to floridastatefair.com.

Florida State Fair spins and fries until we turn silly 02/10/09 [Last modified: Tuesday, February 10, 2009 11:09pm]
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