Buyer beware at state fair

By CHARLES CORDER GUEST COLUMNIST,

MADISON – The Mississippi State Fair will begin its annual run in Jackson on Oct. 2, for good and bad.

Good because children of all ages love the fair.

There’s the judging of livestock, food and crafts. That’s what fairs were originally about.

There are the rides, which are the main draw for many, especially the young. The rides can provide amusement and inspire prayers, as in “Lord, please don’t let this ride fall apart right now.” The rides can also produce terror both in those who ride them and those who watch their children ride them.

There are the foods, some of which are only available at fairs and all of which are a nutritionist’s nightmare. Fried Twinkie, anyone? The Corder family never ate at the fair when I was growing up, but no trip was complete without buying a box of taffy. This was almost the only candy I ever saw my parents eat. It took at least two weeks to chew up all of that taffy.

There are the free concerts. Most of them are acts past their prime or on their way up. The only act I’ve ever heard on this year’s lineup is the Bar-Kays, the legendary soul/R&B/funk group founded in Memphis in 1966. Not surprisingly there’s only one original member still playing with the group When I was growing up, there were sideshow attractions along the midway, including a “freak show.” (Not a politically correct term.) These sideshows seem to have faded in popularity, but there were some that sounded enticing, including “The Ape Woman,” “World’s Smallest Horse” and, a personal favorite, “Giant Sewer Rats of Paris.” I later saw nutria and it was a dead ringer for a Paris sewer rat. Hmm.

But there are parts of the fair that make some people consider it a public nuisance, if not a public menace.

You hear a lot of stories about what goes on in Jackson during fair. A person I once knew got involved with a traveling midway company employee or “carny.” (Another un-PC term.) Thank goodness he didn’t marry her. There’s also anecdotal evidence that property crime increases in Jackson during the fair.

The real crime occurs on the fairground. Friend, you will never win that teddy bear. Even an NBA player couldn’t get a basketball in that too-small hoop. And the prices they charge for concessions and rides are highway robbery.

A few years back, the city of Jackson claimed that it cost $300,000 a year for police costs associated with the fair. That figure sounds high. To prevent anarchy, the state Fair Commission agreed to start paying some of the costs. I feel certain the state isn’t paying $300,000 a year.

When I was growing up in Jackson, my family went to the fair every year starting in 1965 or so, usually on a Friday or Saturday. Sometimes, relatives came to town and went with us.

After arriving at the fair, my parents would first make my sisters and me go through the exhibition halls and livestock barns. Maybe this was out of nostalgia for their childhoods on Carroll County farms. After that educational nonsense, we got to the good stuff: the rides.

Later, I took my two daughters to the fair. And I made them go see the exhibits and livestock before I let them go on the rides. Parents try to make everything educational, you know. Later, the girls and my money would go to the fair with their friends.

One difference between my parents and me is that they kept going to the fair after their children grew up. They went to see the exhibits and livestock, of course. They also got a free biscuit with syrup and bought a box of taffy.

One of my first memories of the fair came on a Friday night, of course. My father parked the family car on East Amite Street near the War Memorial Building. (I don’t know if I’d recommend doing that now.) We walked down the street and over the crest of a hill. Suddenly I could see the fairgrounds spread out before us with glittering lights of seemingly every color. It looked magical.

Unfortunately, the coming years would teach me that not all that glitters is gold, especially at the Mississippi State Fair.

Charles Corder has been a newspaper editor and writer for more than 40 years. Contact him at ccorderjr@outlook.com

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