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Orange County

17-Day Fair Has Its Finale

Events: Attendance at the annual county celebration may set a record, and an 'I Love Lucy' tribute was a hit.

July 30, 2001|DAVE McKIBBEN | TIMES STAFF WRITER

The final day of the 109th Orange County Fair, which organizers of the 17-day event say might well have set attendance records, brought out fair veterans, rookies and exuberant "I Love Lucy" fans, some with long faces because it was all over.

Belinda Chavez said she probably wouldn't have made the drive from Chino Hills to Costa Mesa if not for the antics of the late Lucille Ball, which were on display at the "I Love Lucy" attraction that celebrated the television show's 50th anniversary.

"We're not fair people," said Chavez, who was with her boyfriend, Martin Herrera of Santa Ana. "We're not ride people. But I wanted to see 'I Love Lucy.' I heard they were showing some of her old shows. I had to see the exhibit before the fair closed."

Through 16 days, attendance was 785,058, about 34,500 ahead of last year's 16-day gate. Total attendance for this year's fair will be released this week.

Karen Chavez--no relation to Belinda--also spent some time in "I Love Lucy" land, reenacting one of the show's classic episodes stationed at a makeshift chocolate factory. Chavez, a fair regular, did her best to pick chocolate candies from the conveyor belt and stack them as they raced by.

"Stuff like [the "Lucy" exhibition] makes this fair so great," said Chavez, of Fullerton. "My sister e-mailed me from back East about this. I had to catch it before it left."

Every year Chavez and her three children make at least two trips to the fairgrounds. This year, the family came home with two blue ribbons, for her husband's model ship and their Dutch rabbit, Sweetie Pie.

Chavez, who brought her children and two of their friends, said she was sorry to see the fair end. "I was driving up here today, feeling kind of sad that it was the last day," she said. "It's fun to watch all the people and smell all the smells."

"Most of the smells," her son Peter corrected.

Billy Erickson, whose country band finished its last set in front of a small but vocal following, wasn't quite ready for his next gig in Reno.

"Every year we get a bigger following here," said Erickson, in his fifth year as a fair act. "This is one of the nicest fairs I come to. The people are great and it's so well-organized."

But not everybody will be sad to see the fairground empty. Brittney Nguyen, 16, of Westminster was trying to stay cool while working the last few hours of her shift at the main mall's gyro stand.

"I'm kind of glad it's over," she said. "It's tiring and it's been real busy. A lot of the customers give me a hard time."

But Nguyen, who is working her first job, said she probably will be back.

"I got some nice tips," she said. "That makes it worth it."

Nguyen's stand was busy, but it was not the most popular. A fair representative said barbecued beef and chicken were the top-selling food items, followed by funnel cakes, cinnamon rolls, corn dogs and lemonade.

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