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Large Crowd Bids Its Fairwell

Recreation: The 105th Orange County Fair wrapped up Sunday with an estimated 784,356 passing through the gates over its 17 days.


COSTA MESA — Tommy King, 8, clutches the safety harness of the Skyscraper, America's tallest portable carnival ride.

The youngster from Hemet tries to stay calm at 160 feet, eyeing the Orange County Fair below, which looks more like Legoland from up here than real barns, rides, booths and stages. It's hard to see his parents, but they're watching.

"I think this is fun because of how high we go," he says.

Then the thing starts twirling at 60 mph and the ride imitates a windmill--a fast and strong windmill, one that feels like it could power Villa Park.

"I am scared, I am scared, I am scared," he says as the ride pushes 6 Gs. "I am about to throw up."

It stops, and joy replaces fear. Tommy hugs his parents as ride attendants call him brave and "a little man."

Just as scary rides end with a mixture of excitement and relief, the 105th Orange County Fair completed its 17-day run Sunday with a mariachi festival, ballet folklorico, a performance by comedian Paul Rodriguez and enough latecomers to break attendance records.

Though final numbers become available today, an estimated 784,356 went to the fair this year, well above the previous record of 698,976 set in 1995.

Single-day attendance Sunday was 76,765, just below the single-day record of 78,656 in 1995.

Fair spokeswoman Jill Lloyd attributed the increase to the improving economy and the new rides and attractions.

"It went so fast," she said.

Revenue was up to an early estimate of $12 million. The state-run fair cost $11 million to stage, and the goal is to break even, Lloyd said.

Troublemakers also had a strong showing this year. There were 150 mostly alcohol-related arrests, double that of last year, Lloyd said, even though beer sales dropped 14%.

Food sales increased 14%, and judging from the fried offerings, so did cholesterol levels.

"I know it's fattening, but it's so good," Dustin Johnson, 24, of Anaheim said as he waited in line for his favorite treat. "What it is is potato wedges they dip in batter and deep fry. It's excellent. . . . Next year, I'll come back for more potatoes."

This year's fair--themed "We're Going Tropical: Nuttin' but Fun!"--also provided the cute: two litters of 19 piglets. The fun: contests for the best beehive hairdo and the best farmer's tan. The healthy: smoking banned in the Arlington Theater. The rocking: shows with Jars of Clay and the Gap Band. The strange: "The Hularena," a mix of hula and wedding-reception staple "The Macarena."

Latino culture reigned Sunday with the performance by Rodriguez and shows by Mariachi Reynes de Los Angeles and Mariachi Sol de Mexico de Jose Hernandez.

"Generation after generation is here," Gilbert Vasquez, 60, of Stanton said. "We all follow it, it's part of our heritage. It does relax your mind."

On the other side of the fair, at Centennial Farm, the children were excitedly viewing piglets born July 18 and Friday.

"They snuggle," Erin Weld, 3, of Norwalk said. "You can go to the fair all day."

Not until next year, when the theme will be "Fiber and Fuchsias."

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