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Calories Don't Count at Fairplex

Recreation: L.A. County Fair, which begins today, adds deep-fried Snickers as part of this year's push for self-indulgence.


More than a million visitors are expected at the 80th L.A. County Fair, which opens today in Pomona.

The event, which continues through Sept. 29, is the largest county fair in the nation, costs $20 million to mount and points to such great moments in its long history as the introduction, in 1934, of the Frisbee.

On Thursday, 55-year-old Joann Eldridge of Pomona walked through the fairgrounds with her 11-year-old grandson, while workers rushed to get ready for today's opening.

For the last four years, Eldridge has worked behind the counter at one of the fair's nearly 300 concessions, Macpherson's ice cream.

"I love watching them set up during the weeks before, watching this mini-city grow," she said. "When they finally set up the chuck wagon, you know it's just days away."

When Eldridge isn't scooping ice cream, she visits a different fair building each day. Her favorite spot is a little hill behind the Flower and Garden Pavilion, covered with lights after dark.

"It's peaceful and beautiful, and it gives you the feeling that you're in another land."

Wendy Talarico, spokeswoman for the fair, said the most popular activities aren't the pig races or even the Spam cook-off, but shopping and eating.

Deep-fried Snickers bars are new this year and are among the 3,000 food offerings.

Eldridge, in fact, said she and her neighbor "literally eat our way through the fair.... At the fair, calories don't count."

The advertising campaign for the fair this year targets the idea of abandonment, or getting "in touch with your inner hick," as one ad reads.

Fair attendance had stagnated, said Cary Sacks, president of Ideaology Advertising of Marina del Rey, which has the fair account. So the agency decided to promote it as an antidote to daily life in Los Angeles.

They proposed a campaign that would speak to people who are more likely to assume Holstein is the name of a hot L.A. club than a breed of dairy cow. Their pitch includes such slogans as "Who needs anti-depressants when there's corndogs?"

"We've made hay--no pun intended--of the L.A.-isms," said Sacks, who cites as an example: "Laugh now. Botox out the laugh lines later."

"The whole notion," Sacks said, "is if there's any place that could really use a county fair, it's Los Angeles."

This year's attractions include contests in tortilla tossing, bubble-gum blowing, butter churning, spaghetti eating and bean spitting.

For 50 years, visitors have been meeting at the central clock tower and then spreading out to visit favorite attractions such as the children's area (called Camp Wilderness), the agricultural exhibits (Fair View Farms), the carnival midway with a Ferris wheel taller than the Statue of Liberty, the cooking and crafts building (Tapestry of Traditions) and the thoroughbred racetrack.

This year, a 40,000-square-foot building has been titled "Lights! Camera! Science!" and offers more than 100 hands-on activities related to science and the entertainment industry.

When the fair began in 1922, it was held on 43 acres that had previously been planted with barley and beets.

That first fair attracted 50,000 people and put broad smiles on the faces of Pomona hoteliers, who had to post "No Vacancy" signs. Besides handsome swine and comely poultry, the premier fair had wing walking and chariot racing.

As the fair grew to cover 487 acres and became more sophisticated, adding big-name entertainment and other urban amenities, some people thought it had lost touch with its agrarian roots.

As a result, said Talarico, "we started last year integrating more agricultural elements into the fair. Last year we planted a peach orchard and a citrus orchard and something called a Taco Farm. It's in the shape of a taco, a crescent, and growing there is everything you find in a taco--tomatoes, lettuce, peppers, corn, and then next to it are beef and dairy cows."

While this year's fair recalls its rural past, it also reflects modern realities.

"We're doing bag checks at all the gates," said Talarico. "We have an increased number of security personnel on the grounds, and we are doing other things, but we can't really talk about them because that would jeopardize security."

Another visitor Thursday was Inez Vargas, 58, a nurse who each year takes blood-pressure readings at the fair as a volunteer.

"Last year, we ran into a lot of people who had a terrible headache and didn't know they had high blood pressure," she said. "We told them, 'You have to see a doctor immediately.' A lot of them called us back and said, 'I'm on medication now. Thank you so much.' "


The L.A. County Fair begins today at 11 a.m. and continues through Sept. 29 at the Fairplex, 1101 W. McKinley Ave. in Pomona. For information, call (909) 623-3111.

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