One of the most American things Sean and I did on our trip through the west was go to the Puyallup (pronounced “pyu-WALL-up”) Fair with Scott and Emily. It’s the largest state fair in some amount of area and is one of the town’s big touristic draws. As an illustration of how big it is, the website for this fair is thefair.com. They’re big enough to get a domain name that makes them the archetypal fair for a random internet searcher. I suppose fair.com would techincally be even better but it looks like squatters have that domain. Ah, here’s some info from the About Us page:
The Puyallup Fair (officially known as the Western Washington Fair) is the largest single attraction held annually in the state of Washington. The Fair continually ranks in the top ten largest fairs in the world… Situated south of Seattle and east of Tacoma in the shadow of majestic Mount Rainier, the Fair & Events Center comprises 169+ acres, with buildings and land valued at more than $54 million. The facilities are available for rent during the year, making the grounds a valuable community resource. A staff of 55 works year-round. Over 1,900+ employees are hired each September during the Puyallup Fair.
The day we were there, a sunny Saturday which sunburned my neck from at least one direction, the 4H competition for showing cats was happening. There were two big halls filled with decorated cages and their cats sleeping inside. The cages were gussied up according to different themes, like “Pirates” or “A Turkish Harem.” Kids were roaming around waiting to be called up to present their cat to judges, to show off its attributes and answer questions about it. Why cats? A helpful informative sign informed the fair-goer that it was to give kids whose families couldn’t invest in large livestock the chance to learn about animal husbandry. There were people off riding their horses doing vaguely the same thing in a nearby barn, but the cats man, the cats. We sat in the stands for a while and Sean was chatting with a woman who had two kids showing off their cats. Sean gave some applause to her son and was promptly shushed by other non-related cat-parents. We settled for being the weird strangers giving this lady’s kids thumbs up whenever they looked at their mom.
Emily had told me that Funnel Cake is the best fair food so we spent much of our time searching for the elusive beast. While searching we stumbled upon a painfully sad animal show (Mad About Monkeys), cribbage exhibitions, scarecrows, the Republican Party booth, a human cannonball act (oh but he was a showman though), the midway, chainsaw carved wooden bears and Mutton Busting.
Oh Mutton Busting, the cruellest sport. “The Toughest Sport on Wool” they called it. The premise is simple: A child no more than 6 years old and no more than 60lbs is given a helmet and protective vest. The child is put on the back of a sheep and told to hang on as tight as she can. The sheep is released to run terrified across the earth and if the child hangs on for 8 seconds, hooray. None of the (28!) children we saw made it 8 seconds. There were three year olds whose parents agreed to this, not only agreed, but paid to give their child the opportunity for pain and humiliation of jerks laughing their asses as they faceplanted into the ground. The announcer made a big deal of how no child was forced to do anything they didn’t want to do, and any child too small would be picked off the sheep before they could fall (we were instructed to cheer extra hard for those kids so they wouldn’t feel like failures), but everything I heard seemed to go something along the lines of “Okay now we’ve got Janey who’s 5 years old and 47lbs soaking wet and… what’s this? She doesn’t really want to do this? Oh no, but her dad says she’ll be okay. And she’s off!” Twenty-eight kids did this. That’s 56 signatures from parents. It was insane. The best mutton buster got the chance to compete that night for a belt buckle in the big rodeo, but parents could buy a buckle if the kid didn’t win too.
We did eventually find Funnel Cake which I enjoyed. It was just deep-fried dough, but when have I ever disliked deep-fried dough? By the end I think it was a more enjoyable diversion than going to the Huskies game would have been, especially given the agonizing way they lost to BYU.