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When you really think about it, the fair offers decidedly less exciting rides in comparison to amusement parks, and it certainly doesn’t hold up to any competition with zoos if animals are what you’re going for. And nowadays, it’s no cheaper going to the fair than to either of the other alternatives. Yet somehow when you throw in fried foods, endless arcade games, and a lot of hometown pride, the fair becomes something 100% American.

Once I knew that my cousin would be arriving during the California State Fair, I knew I had to take her for an authentic American experience, fried Twinkies and all.

And so off we went along with another cousin, my wallet stuffed with cash and an ambition to stuff her with as much fried foods as possible, starting with the most traditional. First came the funnel cake with raspberries and whipped cream. It was a little different from funnel cakes I’ve had before, so soft the whole concoction just melted in my mouth.

And then there was the double whammy of the fried Twinkie and the fried Snickers. Believe me, I felt sick just ordering them. The Twinkie was actually not too bad, perhaps even better than the un-fried original, while the Snickers felt like a combination of gagging on extra-heavy syrup and being punched in the gut by my non-existent personal trainer.

I had planned on getting us other fried mysteries as well, but by then neither my wallet nor our digestive systems could stomach (pun very much intended) anymore fair foods. And so we spent the rest of our time at the fair playing games, riding a few rides, and halfheartedly strolling through the exhibits until we had to leave.

We had the fried foods, we played the arcade games, we went on the rides, and we viewed the livestock, art, and food entries, yet something was lacking. I had grown up with the Del Mar Fair, now known as the San Diego County Fair, and I remember a conviviality, a demonstration of pride. Maybe fairs are no longer like that or maybe the California State Fair just lacks that crucial ingredient, because all I felt was an air of commercial gain. Remind me again, are we celebrating California or the money Californians can give to the government through over-priced everything? I know budgets are tight for everyone (and state), but please, leave this American tradition alone.

One thing that hasn’t changed? You should never leave the fair without having won some sort of new toy. Everybody, meet Mr. Geoffrey the Giraffe (and I don’t care if that name is trademarked.)