We went to the Orange County Fair on Saturday afternoon. Most years we end up going to at least one of the Pacific Amphitheater’s summer concert series, which includes fair admission, so we just combine it into one trip. This year it was Melissa Etheridge, and we also had another goal: Al’s Brain.
We started by grabbing some water and (in my case) a chocolate milkshake (because I wanted some ice cream, dangit! and drinkable made it easier), then wandered through the arts and crafts displays, where they showed prize-winning jewelry, crochet, display models, dresses, origami, etc.
Then we made our way to the back of the fair, where they had set up a portable theater for Al’s Brain (in 3-D!). There was a huge sand sculpture out front of “Weird Al” Yankovic holding out a brain in his hand. An animated question mark and exclamation point would occasionally pop out the top of his head, and smoke would pour from his ears.
“Weird Al” has actually had a long association with the Orange County Fair, often doing free concerts on multiple nights during the run. We’ve seen him there at least twice, possibly three times. One year there was a “Weird Al” museum of sorts. This year, he got involved in a short 3-D educational film (comedic, of course) about the brain.
There’s a waiting room where staff hands out 3-D glasses and handi-wipes, with displays of various brain facts or various famous smart people (“Brains that Changed History.”) Once the doors closed, they ran a short film in the style of the fake educational films he sometimes runs at concerts — designed to look like educational films from the 1950s, but mixing in truisms (“dirt is dirty”) and ridiculous non-sequiturs (“so never let a dog eat your hair”). This one advised you to never, ever eat ice cream or else you might fall victim to the dreaded condition of brain freeze, the only cure for which is setting yourself on fire.
Then they ushered everyone into the theater to run the film itself, which was maybe 10 minutes long with a mix of live-action and computer animation. Mostly it featured Weird Al and an animated owl answering questions about the brain. Then there was the musical sequence, set to a song that sounded very much like a They Might Be Giants style parody.
Katie picked up a T-shirt for the “Totally Awesome Corpus Callosum,” and we went looking for dinner.
I don’t know if I just hadn’t noticed in previous years, but the deep-fried EVERYTHING trend has gotten completely out of hand. Forget deep-fried Twinkies and Snickers bars. We saw deep-fried Moon Pies, deep-fried Oreos, deep-fried M&Ms…
And then there was the Zucchini Weeni.
It’s a hot dog stuffed inside a hollowed-out zucchini, coated with breading and fried like a corn dog. Katie actually bought it for dinner (and for her one hot dog for the year), and was disappointed that there wasn’t more zucchini.
So, yeah, one deep-fried Twinkie dog a year isn’t going to give you a heart attack. The whole appeal is that it’s so horrendously unhealthy — sort of a rebellion against continuing health food trends. Which also explains the obsession with bacon. And the other item of food that made enough of an impression for me to photograph it (or at least the poster): chocolate-covered bacon. We didn’t try this one, but only because the portions were too big. Though they weren’t anywhere near as big as the “Mexican Funnel Cakes” — basically funnel cakes made from churros — the same booth was selling. They promised that you’d want to eat it all, but wouldn’t be able to…and if you could prove them wrong, you’d get it for free. We saw lots of people buying them, some of them getting double and triple sizes!
Then there was this place that seemed to be trying too hard:
I’m impressed that they’re all-meat (though I really shouldn’t have to be), but I’m not sure I’ve ever seen the words “hot dog” and “healthy” in the same sentence without the word “not” in between. And then there’s the question of what kind of meat is in it. I mean, “meat” is a pretty broad category.
We wandered by a stage with a very impressive acrobatics show. In one act, they set four wine bottles on a table, then set a chair on top of the bottles. Then a woman climbed up and balanced on the chair. Then they handed her another chair, which she stacked on top of the first, and she climbed onto that one.
Then they kept going.
By the end of the act, she was supported by the table, the wine bottles, and six chairs. She then tilted the top chair a bit, and did a handstand. Then lifted one of her hands so that she was balancing on top of the entire tower with only one hand.
This is actually the second time we’ve seen Melissa Etheridge in concert. The last time was right here, during the 2003 OC fair, when Katie came up with a parody of “Bring Me Some Water.” Apparently, that was the last time she was here as well.
It was a great performance — just her and her guitar (or on a couple of songs, a piano). As with a couple of Tori Amos concerts, it ironically reminded me of the scene in one of the Sandman spinoffs starring Death in which Foxglove’s manager insists that beyond a certain sized venue, audiences don’t want to see “a girl and her guitar” — they want a full band. Once you get enough of a following, though, it’s clear that you can go back to just you and your guitar and have it work.
One of the funny parts was when she talked about the fair. In particular, fair food. And what stuck in her mind for her to mention it between songs? The chocolate covered bacon and the Zucchini Weenies. They actually became a running gag.
Another funny bit occurred when she was tossing out guitar picks between songs. The front rows were filled with almost all women, but there was one man up there trying to get a guitar pick. She joked that “it takes a brave man to be a Melissa Etheridge fan!”
After the concert, as people were leaving, the theater made an announcement that our concert tickets were also good for a free ride on the Ferris Wheel over in the carnival area of the fair. Katie was all for it. I wasn’t so sure. (Let’s just say I’m not good with heights.) Usually for things like this we just split up, she’ll do the ride and I’ll check out the games or something, but the announcement mentioned the nighttime view of the fair…and I really like being able to see scenery. I’d love to have the super-power to jump straight up 50-100 feet, hover in place for a while, and float down. It’d freak me the hell out every time I used it, but I’d love to just be able to see.
So after we went back to almost try the chocolate-covered bacon, we started the long trek to the opposite end of the fair and La Grande Wheel. Or rather “La Grande Whee” as the sign proclaimed.
I think it was around 11:00 that we got onto the wheel, and while I did freak out, it wasn’t as bad as I’d feared. I managed to look at the view, pick out landmarks, and even take some photos until the camera started demanding a new battery and I refused to consider changing it for fear that I’d drop it and it would go skittering across the floor and out the 1 1/2″ gap in the door and then land on someone.
Katie, meanwhile, was just fine. Which really helped when we got off and I needed to lie down for a bit, and she went to get me hot chocolate. <3