Wharton: What I like about the state fair
The 157th annual Utah State Fair opens its 11-day run Thursday, Sept. 6, at its traditional Salt Lake City location.
Those of us who have attended the fair since we were young have our favorite attractions. Some like the livestock, others the midway and still others the agricultural competitions.
As a kid, the first place I always wanted to see was the venerable wildlife building, usually staffed by the Division of Wildlife Resources with help from State Parks. I loved viewing the different types of Utah game fish that swam in the tanks on the sides of the building. There were times when live birds or animals could also be seen.
These days, the first place I usually hit is the Horticulture Building, which was renamed Promontory Hall. This mission-style building, constructed in 1902 when the fair was moved to its present-day location, marked the era when the fair found a permanent location after being held throughout Salt Lake City, including the site of what is now the Joseph Smith Memorial Building, near Gallivan Plaza and at what would become Trolley Square.
It's not that I am so much into some of the giant pumpkins or vegetable displays inside the building, though I have to admit that the giant sculpture of what are usually cows made from butter inside a glassed cooler is pretty cool. I enjoy going to the fair on the first day, when the sculptors are still putting the final touches on the butter creations.
What I like about that building is looking at the displays from all 29 Utah counties. Many of these are obviously done by dedicated volunteers with little in the way of financing but who are bursting with pride. Though mostly simple, they tell stories of all parts of Utah in a meaningful way.
It's hard to go to the fair without grabbing something to eat. Perhaps my second-favorite thing to do is to see what Utah businesses are represented at the Utah's Own food pavilion, a major step up from the food on a stick or fried Coke batter or Twinkies you sometimes see at fairs.
While my wife has to find a funnel cake, I usually stop at the Morrison Meat Pie booth, where I have mine with a clear broth like Mom used to serve. It's difficult to go wrong in the Utah's Own area, though, with everything from lamb to sausage to ice cream to pizza. The most difficult thing to do is finding a place to sit and then batting away the flies.
When the grandkids join us, letting them ride the live ponies that go around in a circle is often a highlight for they youngest ones. Kids like pigs, too. I've always loved the fact that the livestock growers who show their cows, sheep and pigs are so willing to talk to us urban folks about what they do and allow interactions between the public and the critters.
I often ignore the midway when I go to the fair without the grandkids, but it's impossible to not allow them to enjoy a ride or two if they are with us. That said, I've written stories on the world's largest alligator, world's smallest horse or the tent with all sorts of unusual people in it. They offer a weird charm.
My biggest guilty pleasure at the fair is walking through the dozens of commercial exhibits. I don't know why, but looking at the latest, greatest salsa maker, pots and pans, vegetable peeler, Ginsu knife set, hot tub, miracle arthritis cure or toy is simply fun. Though I can't imagine picking out a casket or funeral plan or consulting a chiropractor at the fair, I do usually buy some weird gadget. The political booths during an election year can be mildly entertaining as well.
I can't remember the last time I waited around for a grandstand show, but some of the smaller events, often involving animals, draw me in. I once spent 45 minutes watching a magician/comedian who was hilarious.
The reality is that the fair seldom changes from year to year. And, in many ways, that is why it retains much of its charm.