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Fair's Final Act : Event Bows Out After 17 Days of Entertaining Its Public


COSTA MESA — In addition to the traditional animals, corn on the cob and rides, the closing day of the Orange County Fair on Sunday offered a taste of Mexican music, a bit of uneasiness coming on the heels of the Olympic bombing, and a theme guaranteed to bug everyone.

Early admission figures did not indicate whether the closing day, as in the past two years, would bring the highest, single-day attendance. Total attendance was expected to reach more than 680,000 visitors for 17 days, down from nearly 700,000 last year.

Fair officials said people staying at home to watch the Olympics and the weather--a rainstorm on Friday followed by extremely hot temperatures on Saturday and Sunday--were reasons for this year's lower turnout.

But almost everyone, from the head of security to mariachi music fans, acknowledged that the Saturday morning Atlanta bombing that killed two people was on their minds.

"Obviously, I did think about it," said Linda M. Rodriguez, 50, "but oh well, we're in God's hands."

Rodriguez, an office clerk from Whittier, went to the fair's closing day to see the steady stream of mariachis.

Rodriguez sat in the outdoor Arlington Theater, bouncing her legs and playing with her granddaughters.

"They're all together," Rodriguez said of the band, one of 10 scheduled to play throughout the day. "They're all in tune. They give you pep."

Rodriguez's son, Jose Angulo, had driven from Victorville the day before to see the mariachis, a bargain since they were included in the $6 adult admission.

"Too bad they don't do it in Victorville," he said.

Angulo, who was filming the bands, said he thought of the Atlanta bombing before attending the fair's closing day for the third year in a row.

"Yeah, they say a lot of people should be scared about big events," he said, "But Orange County has been safe every year."

Michael Morgan, the head of public safety for the fair, said that he had "examined" the events in Atlanta, and determined that given the preliminary evidence, there was no reason to step up security in Orange County.

"Why was it [the bomb] put there?" he asked. The Olympic games are "a thing of worldwide significance. This was just a local event."

Authorities have not yet determined who placed the pipe bomb in Centennial Olympic Park in Atlanta that went off about 1:30 a.m. EDT Saturday during an outdoor concert. At least 111 were injured.

While the bombing may have been on the minds of families strolling through the Orange County Fair in the midday heat Sunday, there were no major incidents to report as of early afternoon, Morgan said.

He said that on a slow day at the fair, about 120 security personnel report to work, but that about 150 were scheduled for Sunday. He said the increase was due to the high number of visitors expected on closing day.

As it has for the past two years, Fiesta del Mariachi Day closed out the fair in a celebration of Mexican heritage.

But visitors could still enjoy 3-day-old baby pigs feeding from their mother, the rides, the barkers and the food.

"Disgusting," said 11-year-old William Coleman of Cypress as he talked about the piglets. "Otherwise, they're kind of cute."

The Bug Barn, part of this year's sub-theme "We're Puttin' a Bug in Your Ear," drew curious youngsters and reluctant parents.

"Bugs are gross," said Brenda Mujtaba, who was following her children through the exhibit that included Madagascar hissing cockroaches and African millipedes almost a foot long.

And amid the bugs, the farm animals and the food, the need for the espresso coffee?

"We're Orange County," fair spokesman Russ Kibota said. "We have to."

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