That Hand in Your Pocket

Old McDonald is making room at the County Fair for the guys with dollar signs in their eyes

Well, at least they couldn't mess up lemonade.

"Big or small?" the counterman asked. "Might as well get the big one. It's twice as big, and it only costs a buck more." So the price would be...? "Four dollars." Looking at the only digestible food substance in sight, Tailpipe, reeling slightly, forked over the money.

In truth, the fair is a philanthropic organization that turns some of the proceeds over to charities like Ronald McDonald House, the Museum of Discovery and Science, and the Shriners. If Tailpipe is reading the organization's IRS filing right, that amounted to about $21,000 last year, or slightly more than 1 percent of the organization's take, from admissions and a percentage of the amusements. Spend your money generously, folks. But the fair's all-volunteer board of directors has little to do with the down-and-dirty part of running the event. For more than 15 years, that has been turned over to Orlando-based Strates Shows, which brings in about 60 carnival rides as well as 300 or so workers to run the machines, pop the popcorn, and fry the, ugh, sausages. The strictly-for-profit Strates and a few small food vendors really rake in the dough, if the anticipated 340,000 fairgoers actually showed up (final figures have not yet been compiled).

They were a little short on prizes? How'd ya like a framed picture of the Playboy rabbit?
Colby Katz
They were a little short on prizes? How'd ya like a framed picture of the Playboy rabbit?

"This is affordable family entertainment," fair spokesman Chuck Malkus said.

After a little more than three hours at the Broward County Fair last week, the 'Pipes spent more than $90. That included $32 just to get in (no breaks for kids unless they're under 5), $41 for rides, $19.50 for food and drink (after the sausage, Tailpipe got wise and planned a stop at a fast-food place off the fairgrounds), and $4 for dart games and toss-a-Ping-Pong-ball-into-a-goldfish-bowl games.

That darts game, by the way, came toward the end, when one of the 'Pipettes actually popped a balloon target and won a prize.

"Take your pick," the dart man said.

Spread out on the display counter for Tailpipe's 8-year-old were: a framed picture of the Playboy rabbit, a portrait of a barely clothed babe with boobs of steel, and a glass-encased picture of a blood-red rose inscribed with the words, "I love you."

"I'll tell you the truth, we're a little low on prizes," the man said.

Affordable? This sounded to Tailpipe a lot more like high-end entertainment. There are money-saving admission packages, Malkus said, and deals on the carnival rides -- but you have to purchase before the fair even opens.

Finally -- how could Tailpipe forget? -- there was Angel the Snake Lady, who could have served as the county fair's poster girl. "See the girl with the face of an angel and the ugly, scaly body of a snake," her announcer said.

Tailpipe bought the tickets and stepped into the little exhibit booth. There, behind screened windows, was a middle-aged woman, her head stuck through a hole in a table and the stuffed body of a python coiled loosely around her neck. Black cloth was draped over the place where snake and woman came together.

Why am I feeling you're not connected? Tailpipe said.

The woman looked over, flashed a wicked smile, and said: "Oh, I'm connected."

-- As told to Edmund Newton

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