The animal fair
Reporters dig for gold at the Silver Dollar Fair
Going to the fair on opening night means two things: You’ll be among the first to see the animals, play the games, ride the rides and reap the all-around fun. And you’ll wait in a long line.
CN&R reporters Laura Smith and Devanie Anderson joined photographer Tom Angel for a pre-Silver Dollar Fair people-watching session from the line of cars entering the fairgrounds.
We rated Wrangler butts for about 15 minutes before snagging a parking space and, circumventing the long, winding admission line via press passes, entered the Silver Dollar Fair.
One of the first fair-goers to greet us was the monkey, whose organ grinder makes do with recorded music nowadays. The little monkey, leashed and wearing a red cowboy hat and vest, was named Zuni, his handler told us. He was 11 years old and had been working the carnival circuit for seven years.
“He’s a good monkey,” the handler said. Other than that, he didn’t have much else to say, other than to explain Zuni’s purpose at the fair.
“He’s like the greeter,” the handler said. “And he takes quarters from the kids.”
Indeed Zuni did, and with gusto. It worked something like this: Little kids held out coins and Zuni, ever the primate capitalist, snatched them and put them into a little pocket sewn into his vest. For a dollar, Zuni even shook hands, much to the delight of one little girl.
“He touched my hand, Mommy!” she exclaimed. “He’s like a little guy!”
Surveying the crowded arteries of the fair, we noticed not one but two reggae-related booths offering fragrant incense and 420 shirts.
There were ears to be pierced for $10 and T-shirts to be airbrushed and fair food booths everywhere.
Tom is known for his skill in fair basket shooting, despite the admitted nonregulation-size hoops. “I’ll hold your corn dog! I’ll hold your camera!” barked the carnival worker (carnival workers must be described as “barking"—it’s the required adjective).
In an interesting role-reversal, it’s become popular in recent years to heckle the carnival worker rather than the other way around. As Tom paid up $4 to miss two throws, some guy challenged the worker: “I’ll play if you go five for five.” “Michael Jordan couldn’t even go five for five,” was the answer.
Also spotted barking was Dalton Blake, the heavily tattooed (note: two tattooed teardrops on his cheek and spider on his neck) “carnie” trying loudly to convince fair-goers to play his game. It’s easy, Blake explained. “Just take this ball, knock the blocks off the stand, and you win. Everybody wins something. Guaranteed.”
We watched a pre-teen girl give it a try. She didn’t knock the blocks off, so we took the downtime to ask Blake about his job. Turned out he was from Tennessee and had been in the carnie business for 10-plus years. He’d been working the East Coast circuit most of that time and had just started for Butler Amusements last month. He loved it.
“This is the best company in the business,” he said proudly. “They make sure we’re all clean and drug test everybody. It’s the best place.”
We made several local-celebrity sight- ings this Wednesday evening, mostly inside the commercial building: Judge Stephen Benson, Judge Darrell Stevens, Chico school board Trustee Steve O’Bryan and 5th District County Supervisor Kim Yamaguchi, among others.
Yamaguchi, who was working the crowd in slacks and a tie with his wife, Lorraine, showed us his one-and-only fair purchase: a custom license plate frame that read, “We Know
“Wow,” we said.
The Yamaguchis seemed really excited by their new frame.
“We’re going to put it on our R.V.,” Lorraine said. “When we’re going uphill, we get the dirtiest looks from people!”
The animals at the animal fair seemed comfortable despite the heat. Some of the sheep even had on little Jazzercise outfits: purple and pink Spandex-looking fabric suits. They were really stylin'. “That’s a Richard Simmons sheep,” Laura commented.
A cute little girl with chocolate ice cream dripping down her fair outfit leaned into a couple of goats. “He licked-ed me!” she exclaimed.
Thus made hungry, Laura bought some cotton candy and a shaved ice. For her flavors, she picked fruit punch and tiger’s blood. Devanie asked, “What’s in the tiger’s blood? Is it real blood?” That fell about as flat as when she asked whether Disney licensed the stuffed Winnie the Poohs.
A bunch of little kids—especially girls—were loving the pony rides. The folks who offered the rides, Ron and Lucy Boeger, were from Durham. They’d been doing fairs since 1967, said Ron Boeger, who seemed a little worried that we were going to say they were hurting the ponies or something.
Actually, Boeger explained, the ponies work in shifts—five at a time for four or five hours a day—and walk freely on rubber mats, not chained to bars. The kids, he said, “like the fact that they can ride by themselves. … It’s probably the most exciting thing they’ll do in their lives until they’re 5 years old.” Or, the grown-ups can stand next to them. They take digital pictures of all the riders and people can buy them if they want. There were a couple of ducks paddling around, too.
While Devanie ordered frozen lemonade, Laura spotted a man sitting in a booth that advertised custom-made caricatures. Still slurping her shaved ice, she sat down in the chair and commissioned this artist to do his magic.
The picture turned out pretty good, and Barry Harding, the artist, was a really nice guy. He was from Nevada City and had been setting up shop in fairs like the Silver Dollar for years and years.
He was a little put out, though, when we asked if he follows the fair, like the carnival workers.
“Actually, that’s a really old concept,” he explained. “I’m an independent contractor. I go where I want.”
We were kind of bummed that we missed the sea lion show, not to mention the Aaron Tippin concert. They were mopping up the wet stage when we finally got there (to the sea lions, not Tippin). But an announcer was promoting the upcoming bear show: “You’ve seen them in movies and read about them in books—bears!” Of course, that really cracked us all up, and we spent several gleeful minutes cracking jokes about bear shows. Sitting in the caged bear exhibition area was a dirt bike, and we wondered if the bears actually rode it, like in cartoons and such.
By about 9 p.m., the fair was still bursting at the seams and showed no signs of slowing down. Madonna’s 1980s hit “Material Girl” boomed from huge speakers, the air smelled of greasy corn dogs and popcorn, and the parking lot was still packed. As we left, we passed three teenagers trying to bust into the back entrance by squeezing through and jumping over a fence.
“Hey, did you see that chick in there with the white shorts?" one of them asked a friend who was perched on top of the fence. "We got to get in there, man."