Although it took us twelve years to finally make it to the Puyallup Fair, I sense it’s going to be an annual end-of-summer family tradition. There’s nothing like utter hedonistic sensory overload to make you crave the return of cool, damp, sedate weather.
We’d been on the fair grounds for about fifteen seconds before Alex homed in on all of the really cool stuffed animals at all of the carnival game booths. Even Molly was impressed by the huge lifelike stuffed tigers they had at the ring toss. I wasn’t looking forward to explaining to him that because carnival games are rigged, he shouldn’t count on ever getting one of those cool toys hanging from the ceiling. Molly spared me that agony when she discovered the ultimate kids’ carnival game. You pay your money, then pluck a rubber duck from a swirling pool of yellow plastic. On the bottom of each duck is written an S, M, or L, and you claim a small/medium/large prize based on the duck you grab. No tears, no frustration.
This year, Alex got a big kick out of the rides. While he was scared just walking by the big roller coasters, once we got to the kiddie ride area he was in heaven. He didn’t have to run more than 20 feet to get to the next ride, and we were there early enough that there were never long lines. Carousel! Giant Slide! Airplane ride! Obstacle course! Alligator ride! He bounced from one spot to the next without a break. By fortunate coincidence, he declared, “I want to go see the animals!” just as we ran out of our $30 worth of tickets. That spared us a meltdown from Alex. We weren’t so lucky with Patrick. Although he can’t talk, he made it very clear with his body language that he thought the you-must-be-two-years-old-to-ride rule was very unfair! (In case the body language was too subtle, his screaming let us know what he really thought.)
We didn’t get to spend as much time with the animals as I wanted. Seeing all of the kids with their 4-H horses, goats, and chickens is what separates a rural county fair from a corporate amusement park. The kids and their families were all so obviously proud of the work they did with the animals.
Finally, no trip to the county fair is complete without gorging on sugar and fried food. While Michael Pollan has conquered the Seattle food culture (every restaurant seems to emphasize its local, sustainable, seasonal ingredients), fair food remains an unapologetic celebration of cheap, processed calories. We got lunch from a stand that advertised At the fair since 1923!, and I’m sure the menu has changed little in the intervening 76 years.
We all ate our fill of curly fries and corn dogs. I’ll admit lunch was our low point of the day. Alex was tired and cranky, and this caused me to get short-tempered. In the challenge of navigating crowds with two corn dogs in one hand, an open cup of Dr. Pepper in the other, and somehow pushing & steering the stroller with my pinkie, I hit a bump and spilled Dr. Pepper all over the baby bag and my camera. Luckily, unlike the encounter with the wave at Cannon Beach, the camera has survived the sugary splash. But we still knew this was our cue to leave, while we were still mostly having fun. Both kids slept hard in the car on the way back to Seattle, and we were able to round out our day with a pleasant, low-key, Indian Summer afternoon.
I still haven’t made it to the fair during the rodeo, and I still haven’t seen the fairgrounds lit up at night. There’s enough happening in Puyallup to keep us coming back for years to come.