Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Santa Barbara fair opens to the public


With the clatter of a roller coaster car, a wafting scent of corn dogs, barbeque, and French fries, and the hawking calls of carnival game operators, the Santa Barbara Fair & Expo hits full stride within minutes of opening its gates to the public.
Some make a beeline for amusement ride staples — the Tilt-a-Whirl, Ferris wheel, merry-go-round and bumper cars. Others opt for the newer features, such as the daunting Fire Ball, a pod packed with screaming souls hurtling in a huge loop, their hair frozen for a dangling moment as the car pauses at the apex before crashing back around.

At the main entrance, through a maze of photo booths, palm reading stations and caricature artists, two young boys listen intently as their parents emphatically rehash their family meeting spot in case they get separated.
Nearby, a young girl hauls off with a huge white teddy bear slung over her shoulder, its massive plush form nearly as large as her body.
Down a pathway toward the livestock area, Goleta resident Laury Oaks is snapping photos of her 5-year-old daughter, Marissa, as she plays with llamas and goats in the petting zoo.
Having frequented the event for the past few years, Oaks says she has seen her daughter grow up through the lens of the fair.
“It used to be that we had to go on every ride with her,” she says. “This year she said, I want to go on all of them by myself.”
Splayed along a nearby wall, canvasses with artwork crafted by local students play off the fair’s theme of Peace, Love & Unity.
Some have “peace” scrawled in various languages — salaam, paix, shanti — surrounded by Jackson Pollack-inspired paint splatters. Others are merely colorful abstractions adorned with a peace symbol or heart.
A little further along the pathway in the midst of the kids-only carnival, Dolly Lawrence watches as her 5-year-old grandson, Jack, takes a spin on the Jumping Jumbos, a fleet of flying elephants rolling up and down as they carve out a slow, swooping circle.
“I think Grandpa just bought some popcorn with the little one,” she says, referring to 3-year-old Dash.
“We’ve been coming every year,” Lawrence adds. “Well, ever since they were born.”
Beyond the kids carnival and the stalls of steers and heifers, near the rear entrance, is the ubiquitous pony ride. As the mustachioed rancher hoists one young boy into the saddle, the youngster’s face divulges a look of momentary concern. One lap later, a grin stretches from ear to ear and he slaps five with the cowhand.
Back in the humming hub of action, a group of young musicians are spinning out a tune on the Surf’s Up stage as fairgoers rest their weary limbs on the grass and chomp on churros.
Beyond the stage, wheelbarrows rim the entrance of Flower Power hall, filled with dark earth sprouting leafy plants and colorful flowers. Their sides are adorned with bright, hand-painted decorations, another project by local students.
Inside the California Dreamin’ hall, the walls are lined with photography, artwork and crafts, already adorned with red and blue ribbons. A few boast the prestigious purple ribbon — the “best in show.”
As the sun begins to cast long shadows from food stands and ticket booths, two young boys wander away from the carnival, their faces too stuffed with cotton candy to talk. Their afternoon has been an unquestionable success.

The Santa Barbara Fair & Expo remains open at the Earl Warren Showgrounds on Thursday from 4 to 9 p.m., Friday from 4 to 10 p.m., Saturday from 11 a.m. to 10 p.m., and Sunday from 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. Admission is $6 for adults, $4 for seniors (60+), $3 for kids (6-12), and free for those 5 and younger. More information on events and attractions is available at or by calling 687-0766.

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