The Alameda County Fair is popular.
I've gone three times this year — twice for work and once for fun — and it's been packed each time. When I went two Sunday's ago it took about 30 minutes to go from the freeway to the parking lot.
I find this interesting because there isn't really anything "cool" about the fair. Nothing is new and hip. You're not going to find an Apple booth in the convention hall. I first went to the fair around age 8, and 20 years later very little has changed.
The food is tasty and the opposite of healthy (two-foot corn dogs). The same janky rides are still run by workers that give you the creeps (nobody had the guts to go on the "Zipper" with me). Like they've always been, the carnival games are for the suckers (I fall for the free throw game every time). Some of the musical performers would be cool if it were 1995 (Salt-n-Pepa).
My theory is the fair remains popular precisely because nothing changes. You know exactly what to expect. The fair gives people the chance to think back to their own childhood fair escapades. Call me a jerk, but I think nostalgia is for the weak. That said, I get it. In a zeitgeist that demands you stay up-to-date on the latest tech tool and fashion style, there's something refreshing about going to a place that never changes. The fair is old-school fun.
What epitomizes the old schoolness of the fair was my assignment Friday — horse racing.
Watching horses run around a track hasn't been a popular sport in the United States since the 1930s and it hasn't really penetrated American culture since Secretariat did this. When HBO recently created a show centered around horse racing, most critics liked it but it predictably flopped. (It didn't help that the horses kept dying .)
But if you go to the track you will have fun (it helps if you like to gamble). I assured the of this fact when she joined me on Friday. It took about two races before she started asking questions about odds and who we should bet on next. Watching little men ride abnormally fast horses with money on the line is extremely exciting.
The highlight of the day came in the fourth race. The No. 5 horse was named Benicia Sea Breeze. I usually try and come up with a better reason to bet on the horse than the name, but there was no way I wasn't going to put some cash on BSB. I grew up in Benicia and it's still home. I was emotionally invested, forget logic.
Benicia Sea Breeze stayed closed to the frontrunner for much of the race, before pulling away in the final stretch. Until, in the final 1/16 of a mile, some horse named Blazing Reflection sprinted to the finish for a photo finish. No worries though, good ole' Benicia held on by a head.
Maybe that doesn't sound terribly exciting, but as it was happening I was saying, "Come on Benicia! Go home! Go home Benicia! Oh no! OH NO! Yes! Wait! Did he win? Yes! YES! YES!!! He did win! There you go Beniciaaaaa!"
Like I said, horse racing can be extremely exciting.
After BSB made my day, I went to cash the ticket. Instead of going to one of the people for my winnings, I went to one of the betting machines which spits out a money voucher. But when I arrived at the machine there was already a voucher innocently sitting there without an owner — worth $155.
"What should I do?" I asked the Newark editor.
I do have somewhat of a moral compass. I knew what I should do without asking the Newark editor — give the little white sheet of paper worth $155 to track authorites so the proper owner could claim it — but it was $155! It wouldn't be the first time in my life I didn't exactly do the right thing.
"You need turn the ticket in," the Newark editor said.
"Yeah, I know," I said.
And I did. It was the old-school thing to do.
Sunday, July 8, is the closing day of the Alameda County Fair. If you plan to go, check out Alameda County Fair: A How-to-Go Guide.