Eight Fair Mistakes

By on 2 November, 2017 in Food, Fun, Kate and Stephen with 0 Comments

You think you know what to expect from the Alabama National Fair – a lot of pretty unhealthy food items, some people harassing you to play games and win stuffed animals, a number of recently reassembled shiny rides designed to move quickly for several days at a time and then be transported cross-country.

We went to the fair for the first time in 2013 and wrote it up in traditional MML fashion (and included a separate post with bonus photos here).

But there’s more to the fair than all of that, as we were reminded this past Sunday afternoon. And the fair runs through this weekend, so there’s still time to see for yourself. Here, we run through several key mistakes that fairgoers often make and explain how to avoid them.

Mistake #1: You Don’t Take the Time to Walk Through Garrett Coliseum. Not only is the Coliseum one of the state’s great pieces of architecture, but it also hosts a bunch of hidden treasures during the fair. The upper level is where the gardening entries and prizewinners are showcased, and it’s a beautiful wonderland of exotic (and familiar) plants in pots and Coke bottles, all impeccably arranged. There are some more sculptural pieces too, for the fancier categories. The day we went, we were able to chat with an award-winner and an ambassador who gave us the low-down on the competitive scene and the local garden club. We might enter something next year – at the very least, we’ve got lots of vines in our yard, and there’s a whole category for vines. Downstairs, there’s a fascinating mish-mash of booths advertising different products (magic microphone, fancy gutter covers, Grandma Advertiser, etc.) and services (fire and police, Marines, drug abuse prevention, etc.). It’s a little taste of the carnival barking that awaits you outside. And everyone’s either having a raffle or giving away some kind of leaflet, tiny bottle of syrup, branded bag, or other stuff. If you take advantage of such freebies, be aware that someone in your group is going to have to carry them around for the rest of the night. Highly worth it, though.

Once you get outside, don’t make Mistake #2: Missing the Antique Tractor Display. These things are amazingly cool, very shiny and imposing as symbols of early industry. Many of them are kept in working condition by fans of the craft, and it’s really neat to see them all in an exhibition hall like this. Take your time and admire their early industrial stylings. Think about how important the tractor is to the modern era.

When you’re done, you can walk straight through the hall to the adjoining one. This will ensure that you don’t make Mistake #3: Ignoring the Arts and Crafts Portion of the Fair. There are all kinds of things you can win a prize for at the fair, in categories from collectibles to cross-stitch. The last time we were there, we were amazed to see prize ribbons attached to things like old magazines. We’ve even got an old record in a frame in our house that once won a prize at the fair. This year, the entries seemed a little more sophisticated, although there was still a healthy touch of the weird. We saw an old propaganda leaflet that might have been dropped during the Korean War, a homemade “time out” chair that might have been the result of forced child labor, and a lot more. Bonus: We got to see the actual awards ceremony for “Cooking With Pecans.” The people who won were so excited! And their displays for their food were so elaborate! Note: We did not get to taste any of the presumably delicious products made by the pecan-centric chefs.

Sure, there’s livestock at the fair. But if you really want to see something interesting, you’ll avoid Mistake #4: Not Looking Backstage. There, we saw the owners of black cows milling about waiting to go into the ring to be judged, at a real competition like the dog shows you sometimes see on TV. The cows were pretty patient, and the owners looked a bit nervous. We even made our way into the ring to see a few rounds of competition. There was an announcer who seemed like this definitely was not his first rodeo (note: This was not a rodeo). There was a throng of surprisingly excited onlookers. On the way out, you can walk through the staging barn and get a sense of what the scene is like – folks carefully grooming their animals for competition, the people who brought signage from home, the people who treat it like tailgating. We guessed that the fair’s infectious theme song is right, and that people do in fact come to the fair from miles around, from the fields and from the town.

Outside, all is brightly colored chaos. People are trying to sell you everything, and plenty of it. You’ll need cash to buy tickets for rides and pay for games (there are ATMs there), and everyone is very happy to separate you from that cash. We played a few midway games – they always seem easier than they actually are. We also saw a lucky young woman win an enormous purple stuffed turtle (or something) for filling a water balloon until it popped. And we learned that it’s super hard to shoot the star out of a piece of paper with a BB gun. Fortunately, we didn’t make Mistake #5: Missing the Ferris Wheel. When a Ferris Wheel, that miracle of modern engineering, comes to town, you’ve got to ride it. It gives a great overhead view of the fair and nice views of the city. And they move it around pretty fast. Too bad the music isn’t better – it was bad neo-country music when we were there. Maybe they play more upbeat stuff at night.

After walking all around, we were pretty hungry. Then we made Mistake #6: Getting the Tater Tot Nachos. Now, this is usually a favorite food item. And we love Sonic’s tots with cheese and jalapenos. But these, covered with beer cheese and dressed up by the sparsely-apportioned fixings bar, lacked the crisp crunch that makes tots truly marvelous. And they kind of melted into the cheese, which was an escort to an unsavory metallic aftertaste. Next time we’ll stick with funnel cake – maybe even the delicious red velvet kind, good enough to give you and a friend a nice case of the sugars. The lemonade we got was supremely good, too. It gave us the energy we needed to avoid Mistake #7: Not Seeing the Shows.

We caught the (curly) tail end of the racing pig show, which we had seen and enjoyed before. They’re awfully cute and they run around the track surprisingly quickly in the hopes of being rewarded with an Oreo cookie. We also stood in line for the World of Wonders show, which is best described as kind of an homage to old circus sideshows. It had an all-human cast performing tricks like feats of strength, amazing hula hooping, knife throwing and fire eating. It was dynamic and entertaining – well worth it, if you can hit the right time, and fun for kids and adults alike. We are already trying to figure out how we can hire the sideshow performers to come to some birthday party or special event. They were amazing!

Finally, we were tired. We’d had a big fair, and we weren’t trying to stay to see Fantasia. We did leave before sundown, so we did make Mistake #8: Not Seeing the Lights Come On. That’s one of the most magical parts of the fair, when it transitions from garish daytime to nighttime wonderland. But there’s always next year.

Kate and Stephen are Midtown residents with one cat, a dog, ten fish, a garden, an old house and a sense of adventure. They write about life in Midtown here and about life in Montgomery at their blog Lost in Montgomery.

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