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VENTURA COUNTY NEWS

Easing Into It

Fair's Carnival-Less Opening Day a Relief to Some

August 03, 2000|JENIFER RAGLAND | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

Ventura resident Debbie Sortomme showed up before 10 a.m. Wednesday to beat the crowds she was certain would be swarming the gates of Seaside Park more than an hour before the kickoff of the Ventura County Fair.

Her goal was to be first in line at the popular wreath-making demonstration starting promptly at 11 in the Floriculture Building.

The big crowds weren't there--a fact most chalked up to the delayed opening of the carnival and midway on Friday--but 41-year-old Sortomme was first through the turnstile, followed closely by dozens of eager toddlers and patient parents.

"I've been among the first people in every year for 31 years," she said. "That's how long I've been coming to the fair."

Six-year-old Abby Zsarnay of Santa Paula helped Fair Board President Tony Grey cut the symbolic red ribbon for the 12-day fair. Abby's little hands appear in the photograph that graces every poster, T-shirt and banner advertising this year's fair, themed "Visions of Tomorrow."

"She was so excited when we started seeing the posters up in stores, she said, 'Mom, my hands are everywhere!' " said Abby's mother, Lois Zsarnay.

First-day attendance figures won't be available until today, but many longtime fair-goers said the crowd was noticeably smaller than on past opening days.

But some fair-goers were happy about not having the distraction of the carnival.

"That's why I made the decision to come today," said Simi Valley resident Sheryll Fair, with her 6-year-old son, Tarrin. "I don't want him to be tempted by the big rides."

Animals and face-painting seemed to be the runner-up attractions among kids, while gardening exhibits and the commercial building topped their parents' lists.

"I love horses," said 11-year-old Alison Davis of Ventura. "And I like Dots, the ice cream of the future."

Also popular was the Youth Expo Building, where Mad Science, a Montreal-based company that develops interactive educational programs for children, hosted "Taking the World by Storm," a 30-minute, live-action skit that taught kids basic weather concepts while dazzling them with artificial rain, snow and thunderstorms.

Youngsters also played with Oxnard resident Gene West's handmade wooden toys--from Ferris wheels to real-working gears.

Nine-year-old Brandy Byhoffer of Ventura was pleased to see her painting entries--all of them of horses--stamped with winning stickers, one of them for first place.

Outside, there was plenty of walking room, few lines for food and great viewing positions in the exhibition rooms.

"I'm loving it," said Ventura resident Jackie Coffman, who brought her 12-year-old granddaughter, Tiffany Logan, to the annual event. "It's not crowded, parking was fine and I'm much less stressed."

Vendors also didn't seem to mind a carnival-less fair.

"It's too nice a fair to be bothered by anything," said Mike Fizzolio, owner of Camarillo-based Linde's Old World Roasted Almonds.

"I think people like the fact that they can enjoy the other parts of the fair," said Robert Fenn, who runs the Sweet Roasted Corn booth.

It was a slightly different story near the carnival and midway site.

Two teenage boys peered through a chain-link fence, staring longingly as work crews set up game booths, roller coasters and other stomach-churning attractions, although several of the children's rides were operating on Wednesday.

"I guess we'll just walk around," said 11-year-old Trenton Jones of Northridge. "It's pretty boring."

"Hopefully we'll find something," said Jimmy Cash, 13, of Shadow Hills.

Their favorite thing about the fair--after the rides and the midway--is the junk food, they said.

"Is that cotton candy?" asked Jimmy hopefully. "I'm going to get some right now!"

A check with the disgruntled youths later found them trying out the climbing wall and cheering for their chosen sow at the All-Alaskan Racing Pigs track, where hundreds of spectators vied for a pound of bacon.

Maxine and Jess Hernandez of Oxnard were among the winners, thanks to "Dennis Lardman," who led the pack of four sows in the final race.

"I guess we'll have it for breakfast," Maxine said.

Gloria Muskovsky of Van Nuys got to see the action up close when she was picked to help let the pigs out the gate. Her attempt to volunteer her husband, Allan, for the job backfired, but she clearly didn't mind the task.

She admitted: "I'm such a ham."

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