The Central Washington State Fair, like all fairs, is a dizzying mixture of down-home wholesomeness and total insanity.
There’s a Ferris wheel. And there are FFA and 4-H kids showing rabbits and sheep. There’s corn on the cob and live music and quilts.
But there’s also a whole SunDome full of hucksters urging you to “Feel the most comfortable pillow!” and buy their “Big Game Meats.” There are rows of vendors selling (presumably) unlicensed Disney princess T-shirts, on which the princess are engaged in decidedly un-Disney activities. And there’s deep-fried watermelon.
That’s the part of the fair I like, the part that’s weird — not necessarily untoward or even tacky, but weird. For instance, it’s weird that there are multiple hot-tub sellers at the fair. Do people go to the fair to shop for hot tubs? Or is the hope that the heady, overstimulating atmosphere of the fair will make manifest whatever latent hot-tub desire exists in regular workaday people, people who under less surreal circumstances wouldn’t think to buy one? Best not to ask. More fun just to wonder.
With that kind of weirdness in mind, staff photographer Evan Abell and I hit the opening day of the fair on Friday. We were looking for anything weird. Did we find it?
Here, ranked on a scale of 1 to 5 fried Twinkies, with 1 being least weird and 5 being most weird, is a list of some of our favorites:
Giant and tiny animals
Rating: 3 fried Twinkies
Harley the Hog, a 1,300-pound Poland China pig, is truly a sight to behold and only costs a dollar per glimpse. Like the giant horse and the tiny horse displayed a few feet away, he’s owned by Arkansas-based Specialty Animals. The best thing about these is not their size, though that is impressive; it’s the old-school patter their handlers use on passers-by. I’m convinced Harley’s handler, Harold Flint, could get a 1,400-pound pig to pay $1 to see his 1,300-pound pig, just by virtue of his constant, charming sales pitch.
Rating: 4 fried Twinkies
In the past 20 years I’ve had fried Twinkies, Snickers, Oreos, peaches and even Pepsi (seriously) at the fair. It’s 2019, and the whole “fried things that aren’t normally fried” bit is no longer shocking in and of itself. But somehow they keep finding new things to fry. This one — three chunks of watermelon battered, deep-fried and sprinkled with powdered sugar — is counterintuitive and sounds like just another gimmick. But it’s probably the best deep-fried fair food I’ve ever had. Megan McCormick, the Yakima woman who sold it to me, said not many people buy fried watermelon. They should.
Hang Time Challenge
Rating: 2 fried Twinkies
You hang from a bar for 100 seconds, you get $100 courtesy of Butler Amusements, the company that runs the rides and games on the fair’s midway. It costs $10 to try, but the promise of that Benjamin combined with the simplicity of the task is pretty alluring. Brandon Fetz, the guy working the game on Friday, told me he’s only seen a couple of people win.
“Everybody falls off around 70 seconds,” he said.
That only made me want to try it more. But I want to practice at home first. There’s a hundred bucks on the line.
Princesses off the clock
Rating: 5 fried Twinkies
The T-shirts vendors sell at the fair are a goldmine for weird stuff. This year, among the standard Tupac Shakur and Marilyn Monroe shirts (including the Photoshopped one of them sitting side by side), there’s a selection of Disney princess shirts crazy enough to thaw old Walt’s frozen head. There’s a tattooed Ariel, the little mermaid herself, wearing a Jack Daniel’s shirt. There’s Cinderella, covered in tattoos wearing a black choker and big hoop earrings. And, the piece de resistance, there’s Snow White smoking weed out of an apple. I’m not judging. But that’s weird.
The SunDome bazaar
Rating: 5 fried Twinkies
The wholesome-insane juxtaposition is in sharpest focus inside the SunDome, where relatively serious booths from political parties and health care nonprofits share space with vendors selling airbrushed Oakland Raiders masks. There’s one booth that appears to sell only hats and knives. And not, like, camping knives and hunting hats but wildly decorated baseball caps and kitchen knives. (“Oh, you’re a vendor at the fair. What do you sell?” “Hats and knives.” “Hats and knives?” “Hats and knives.” “Huh.”)
That level of weirdness is almost exhausting. Kind of makes me want to just relax in a hot tub.