DADE CITY — The Mega Drop hovered above the entrance. Teasing.
The Pasco County Fair wasn't set to open for an hour, and already a line snaked more than a hundred feet from the ticket booth to the portable toilets in the dusty parking lot.
For best friends Mary Beth Huskey and Terin Spence, this was part of the tradition.
Since high school, or maybe it was middle school, the two women have attended the county fair together. Always on opening day, and always as early as possible.
Back in the day, the fair was a place to smoke cigarettes Spence pilfered from her mother and to flirt with boys.
"It's a lot different now," said Huskey, 23.
In the double stroller at her feet, her 2-year-old son, Ayden, munched on a cookie. His brother, Aaron, 5, chased after Spence's son, Cordell, 4, while Spence's niece practiced her aim with a rock from the gravel parking lot.
Huskey still lives in their hometown of Dade City. She works at McDonald's and has a fiance now, a man who says he loves her kids like they were his own.
Spence, 23, has since moved to Tampa and is a stay-at-home mom. She smokes her own cigarettes — Marlboro Red 100s — now. This year she will scan the fair crowd for men, not boys.
Thirty minutes passed. The kids told their knock-knock jokes. Twice. Ayden's cookie was gone.
"We want to go on the rides," Cordell said to his mom.
At 2:28 p.m., the line finally began to move.
Spence and Huskey rushed their group through the expo hall, into the grounds, past the Old Time Photo Booth and the House of Oddities. They could not be stopped by the lures of game booth attendees or enticing wafts of fair food-scented air.
Up a hill. To the left. Finally, the midway appeared.
The women let the kids go on a few rides before leaving them with Huskey's fiance and sprinting toward the haunted house.
Spence couldn't go in, the attendee said. No sandals allowed. She waited by the exit for Huskey, who popped out a few minutes later, looking unimpressed.
"That sucks when you're by yourself," she told her friend.
Helen Anne Travis can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (813) 435-7312.