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40,000 Greet Opening of County Fair

July 14, 2001|ANDREA PERERA | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Just minutes after the gates opened at the Orange County Fair, Gina Le Blanc and boyfriend Chris Duncan rode to the top of La Grande Wheel. They had to be the first to try the fair's biggest ride.

"I've lived here all my life and I've never seen a view like that," Duncan said Friday as he climbed from one of the Ferris wheel's 36 gondolas.

Duncan had driven by for three weeks, watching as the 150-foot Ferris wheel structure emerged, whole and intimidating, above the Costa Mesa fairgrounds. It was the only ride Duncan and Le Blanc wanted to try. Afterward, they hit the exhibits. He wanted to see the latest gadgets and gizmos. She held out for the Alaskan pig races.

It was opening day, and the 111th Orange County Fair offered early birds 57 rides and more than 12,000 exhibits. By 6 p.m., fair officials estimated that more than 40,000 people had wandered around the grounds, sampling everything from cotton candy to corn dogs, line dancing and face painting.

Sisters Katie and Kayla Gibson, 9 and 10, respectively, were vacationing from Mesa, Ariz. Standing in line for the Yo-Yo, a kind of revolving super swing, Katie said she wasn't afraid. After all, she'd tried a similar feat at Knott's Berry Farm in nearby Buena Park.

"It takes you up in the air and it feels like you're flying," Katie said.

The girl with brown braided hair peaking out from a blue baseball cap did indeed resemble a bird on the Yo-Yo. As the swing twirled, she extended her arms straight in the air and kicked her feet.

Past the terrified screams emanating from rides named Tornado, Zipper and Inverter, the Carnival of Products tent hosted a more sedate throng of would-be consumers. Julie Glenn, who came from Kansas City, Mo., to attend the fair, walked past the familiar Ginsu knives and jewelry displays. Her quest: a personality reading for $3.

The Televac Personality Analysis claims to chronicle personality traits by using a person's signature and astrological sign. Glenn's analysis: She is bossy, loves to travel and enjoys hanging out with glamorous people. She said it was 95% true, adding, "If you do this for entertainment, it's a lot of fun. But I wouldn't decide my day based on it or anything."

By 3 p.m. Friday, Tisha Horton was exhausted. The visiting mother from Dallas had taken 3-year-old son Kyle to Disneyland on Thursday and was in need of a break. But there would be one more ride for Kyle--on the back of a 7,550-pound Asian elephant named Dixie.

Kyle liked the elephant ride, but remarked that the pachyderm had "tried to eat that metal stuff," referring to the fencing around the tent.

The fair runs through July 29 at 88 Fair Drive, Costa Mesa. Hours are noon to midnight Monday through Wednesday and 10 a.m. to midnight Thursday through Sunday. Admission is $7 for adults, $6 for seniors (55 and older), $3 for children (6 and older) and free for those 5 and younger. Information: (714) 708-FAIR.

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