Despite the carnival rides, comedy acts and other festivities intended to amuse Ventura County Fair visitors, some fair-goers on Wednesday couldn't help but grimace.
In one of the highlights of the fair's opening day, about a dozen children and eight adults sucked partially diluted lemon-juice concentrate from baby bottles in the annual lemon-juice drinking contests.
Simi Valley resident Diane Zorick, 39, was the first grown-up to guzzle her last drop of juice, making her the winner in the adult competition for the second year in a row.
After triumphantly raising her empty bottle, Zorick puckered her cheeks, then stretched open her mouth.
Her sour expression had nothing to do with the taste of the lemon juice, she said.
"The taste was fine," Zorick said. "The sucking is the hardest part."
For fair-goers seeking something tastier than lemon juice, the fairgrounds are lined with refreshment booths offering all the usual fare.
For some, food is more than just a sideshow at the annual festival.
"It's of utmost importance," Ojai resident Retta Kossow said as she and her husband got up from the picnic table where they had been eating fresh-baked cinnamon rolls.
"You eat junk you would never eat any other time of your life," she said. "Calories don't count."
Kossow and her husband, who came to the fair for her quilt-making demonstration Wednesday, shared their picnic table with another Ojai family.
Bob Jones, 44, agreed with Kossow that food takes precedence over carnival rides, musical entertainment and all other fair activities.
His favorites? "Traditionally, it's the curlicues, the cinnamon rolls" and chocolate-dipped ice cream, Jones said as he polished off a plate of curlicue french fries.
But not everyone comes for the food or the food contests.
Sergio Perez, 16, said he and his three friends came to the fair Wednesday for one reason only: to "look at girls."
One of Perez's friends, Tyrone Brown, an 18-year-old Oxnard resident, said the four youths want not only to see girls, but to meet them, "to fill our pockets with phone numbers."
The boys may not have much trouble.
As they swaggered through the fair looking for prospects, four teen-age girls sat near the fair entrance waiting for a group of guys they had planned to meet at the front gate.
Giggling, the girls said they plan to come to the fair every day it is open, mainly with the goal of meeting new boys.
"If they're cute, we go up and talk to them," said Shonna Kofoed, 14, of Camarillo.
Although some groups of teen-agers dawdled at the fair Wednesday afternoon, the opening day was dominated by mothers and fathers with small children, many of whom were drawn by Wednesday's discount prices for families.
Donna Dowden of Camarillo said she and her sister decided to come with their children Wednesday because there would be many other young families like them.
"We just didn't want to have too many teen-agers around," she said. "Little kids sometimes get lost in the shuffle."