Sunday, February 17, 2008

Fairs in February

February brings the Florida State Fair back to Tampa. We'd stopped there once before but found a lot of spaces we hadn't discovered on the previous visit so it was a worthwhile day, besides I had a thought of curly fries in the back of my mind. The fries were good. Very good. But no matter how many fairs I visit, I find the sausage sandwiches never taste as good as they smell. I am not sure why that is true, but I am determined to research that point until I figure it out.

The parade through the fair grounds had some pretty neat stuff, not the least of which was the "doggie style" stage coach. I think of a stage COACH as the western forerunner on today's RV's. Why else would they have called it a "coach?"
Florida has a history of cattle ranching that few are familiar with. In this part of the state especially, there were entire communities that built up around that business and the process of driving the cattle, in the fashion of what most know as the old west cattle drive, to market. Because, like their counterparts, the Florida cowboys rode horse and cracked their whips to get the herd to move, they became known locally as "Crackers." The first time I saw the sign of the "Florida Cracker Trail" highway that makes its way past Wauchula, Florida, I thought maybe Nabisco had a biscuit and cookie plant nearby- WRONG. Anyway, the State Fair memorializes this history by maintaining an entire Cracker Village on the premises, complete with authentic, restored buildings from the area, most of which were originally constructed in the 1800's. The village comes complete with re-enacters, all of whom are in the costume of the time, and most of whom really do know the various aspects of the life at that time and carry out a living demonstration of those activities. So real is the experience that at the camp cook house, all the food for the "villagers" is prepared over an open fire in the yard. When "soup's on," all come running with their own plate.

Nowadays we think of Florida as a state with open access to salt water and hence a lot of salt- but in the late 1800's salt was in scarce supply. To remedy that, the vats in the photo below were filled with salt water from the sea and boiled down, thus creating an early process for yielding "sea salt."
But back in the midway, a sliding board is still as popular as ever! Just a little bigger.
Flags and bright colors and wafting smells draw the visitor down food alley...
and right past the turkey leg smoking operation...
A type of goat with four horns on display in the animal tent, not the freak show- this is the way all of this species presents.
Talk about good timing! We entered the cattle area just as Elsie here went into labor. They put her in a special birthing pen and about an hour later, a very cute little critter came into the world through the back door of the stall so to speak. Here he (or she) gets his (or her) first bath. It's not that I can't tell them apart (the his and hers thing) just that you have to have the right angle to figure it out- and we didn't.
Some fairs have celebrities. Would you believe that we met Larry King at the fair. No, No, No, not THAT Larry King. Who cares about him. I mean Larry King as in King's Kettle Corn from, Island Grove, Florida. The competition for Kettle Corn is steep these days, but Larry and Betsy have the neatest display, the best sights and smells, and by a landslide the friendliest folks working the wagon. So our Blue Ribbon for Kettle Corn goes out to them! And judging from the size of that kettle, if popcorn ever shows up in short supply, Larry should be able to turn a buck making sea salt for Florida cowboys.
When I was a kid at the fair, we lined up at the squirt gun booth to shoot at the target, fill the tube, and make the horse race across the track- to win the prize of our choice- so long as that choice was the really small one on display and not the really big one that lured you in in the first place. But nowadays, you shoot to fill the tube to help Spider Man climb the web to the top of the booth so that you can win Spider Man himself! Or that big wizard bear. My guess is that those stuffed prizes can now be made so cheaply in China that they can afford to give out the big prizes a lot more freely. So much for the good old days, huh?
And I used to ride Bumper Cars. Now it's Bumper Boats and the attendant wades around in the pond to make sure no one drowns in the shallow ride. Carnival OSHA.
Then on to Ybor (rhymes with Igor, and yes I spelled it correctly) City. This historically Cuban section of Tampa, where the cigar rolling operations moved when they departed Key West, reminded us a lot of a small New Orleans. Same architecture, balconies with lots of eateries and bars. Even Coyote Ugly has a bar here. We took the self directed tour on a Saturday morning, so there wasn't much going on. One shop attendant described the action as "the calm before the storm," as Saturday night is a whole lot different than Saturday morning.
The trolley, or Street Car, was not named "Desire." But I would like to see the place again some day when it's really hopping!

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