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In Pasco County, not the usual fair

Nothing about the 47th annual Pasco County Fair is exactly what it seems.

And that's good. As I had just been to the Florida State Fair about two weeks ago, my expectations weren't very high. I assumed I would see the same things I always see at fairs and carnivals: the same rides, the same games, the same food and the same exhibits.

I'm happy to admit I was wrong. The Pasco County Fair is an unusual mix of old and new, traditional and modern, which I found highly entertaining. Armed with $50 from petty cash and a directive from my editor to "make a day of it," I set out to review the fair Thursday.

Here's a breakdown of what I did, what I liked and what I didn't like. Follow me through the fair, from the lemonade stands to the Beebop Express.

The rides

At any fair, there are "adult" rides and there are "kiddie" rides. Yet there are points at which the line between the two blurs. The results can be unexpected.

Take the Ferris wheel, for example. It looks harmless enough: a slow ride to the top, a few moments to enjoy the view and then back to earth. But this fair has the "Sky Wheel" _ a contraption that looks like two wheels joined together, spinning around a common center. It starts out gently but gets progressively faster until it feels like you've just reached the down side of a steep hill. This is not your father's Ferris wheel.

On the flip side, the Ghost Train _ decorated outside with pictures of gory ghosts and scary skeletons _ is little more than a two-minute train ride through darkness. It should be strictly for children.

The obvious adult rides are easily identified by their names: Wipeout, Kamikaze, Gravitron. The most intense of the adult rides, though, is something called the Typhoon. This ride is not for the faint of heart.

There are plenty of rides for children, too _ with benches placed conveniently nearby for tired parents.

The games

Midway games have changed very little throughout the history of county fairs. Anyone who wants to still can toss pingpong balls to win a goldfish or throw non-regulation basketballs at a non-regulation hoop in the hope of winning a giant stuffed animal. Those are the kind of games I usually avoid, however.

I was intrigued by one, called the Ring Game, which was more of a test of memory and skill than the usual fare. The challenge is to pass a metal ring through a slowly rotating steel spiral. If you succeed, you reach the end of the spiral and win a prize. If you fail, by letting the ring touch the spiral, a buzzer sounds and ends the game.

The carnival barker makes it look extremely easy and even explains the theory behind his technique. But I spent $3 on four attempts before I realized it would take more money than I had with me in order to win.

The food

My colleagues at the newspaper all assumed I would begin my fair feeding frenzy by wolfing down cotton candy and corn dogs. I realized, though, that I could do that at any old fair. So I tried to do something different.

I started with a spare-rib dinner from Johnnie's Bar-B-Q. I had never been to the restaurant on Martin Luther King Boulevard, so I was glad to try the food. It was excellent _ tender ribs and warm baked beans were just right for a cool evening.

Since Dade City is the cattle capital of the county, I sampled a cheeseburger with the works from a booth run by Cattlemen/Cattlewomen of Pasco County. Dessert was a hot cinnamon apple bun, with real fruit and a warm syrupy sauce.

My advice: Don't ride the bumper cars immediately after eating. I'm still recovering.

Exhibits

I especially enjoyed the Pasco School 2001 and the Youth Art exhibitions. Both highlighted the skill and creativity of students from county schools at all levels, from preschoolers to high school seniors.

Did you know that when it says "poultry exhibit" it means roosters? I didn't. I went into the tent expecting to see cages full of chickens, ducks and geese. Instead, I found row after row of loud, proud roosters, each trying to be heard over the other. I wonder who decided the sound should be spelled "cock-a-doodle-doo"? That's not even close.

Arts and crafts of all styles also are on display, from American Indian beadwork to hand-tooled leather. And don't forget to check out the indoor exhibits _ if you need a rust-proof wind chime or a ceramic pull for a ceiling fan, this is the place to go.

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