I’m not sure I’d go to the Sarasota County Fair if I wasn’t a mom who does mom things like take my kid to the fair, but after two years of sticking to smaller crowds (or none at all), it was a thrill to walk among a generous mix of humans when my son and I visited the fair Friday night.
It seemed like every 10 minutes or so, I bumped into old friends I hadn’t seen since before the Covid-19 pandemic. Some of them were parents I’d connected with while we waited for our kids’ hip-hop class to wrap up. Others I had met on the playground and chatted with as we pushed our kids on swings. Or maybe we had sat next to one another to watch our kids perform at summer drama camp. I even saw old coworkers who had quit service industry jobs and started their own businesses, and ran into friends who worked as nurses who talked about burnout and maybe going back to school.
No matter who I ran into, we all asked each other the same questions. “How did your family do in the pandemic?” “Did you get Covid?” “Is everyone OK?” We talked about family divides caused by politics and public health, discussed career changes and shared how awful it was to homeschool while working from home. We talked about how we haven’t seen anyone in so long and how we had adapted to staying in more, but how good it was to be out. For everyone, there had been changes.
But the fair itself remains the same. It’s a curious collection of people–a locals’ destination where all types of residents converge. Between catching up with old friends and oohing and ahhing over how much the kids had grown, there was a flurry of eye candy to take in. There were beards, fanny packs and cowboy hats, and families, teens and young couples holding hands and sharing cotton candy.
The ’90s seemed to be resurfacing, with emo kids wearing black Doc Martens and eyebrow rings. Long, spidery fake lashes are apparently still a thing, and tattoos, jumpsuits and ripped jeans abounded. The air was heavy with a mix of the thick, sweet smell of doughnuts and fried oil bubbling around pickles, Oreos and funnel cakes.
The rides were the same classics we grew up with: the zipper and the pirate boat, the carousel, the Ferris wheel and a Gravitron named Alien Abduction for an extra layer of terror. The smooth pitches of game workers punctuated the blaring Top 40 music, promising the prize of a huge stuffed bear with plastic eyes no one needs, or a glowing saber that will stop working within hours. A petting zoo sold cups of freshly sliced carrots that alpacas nibbled from your hands. There were goats, calves and a kangaroo, too.
We missed the whip-cracking contest and the pig race, happening later this week, along with a roster of other performances on the schedule. We stuck to the rides, the food and the people. In this dusty venue, most of them seemed happy. I was, too.