Arab meets us at Gate 4 in his golf cart, points us into a parking spot 10 meters from the back entrance to the fair. As a favor among old punk rockers, he has allowed us a space in the crew lot.
I watch as he pulls the barricade shut behind us, disappointing a line of cars that have slowed in hopes of joining us here among the tour buses and amphitheater staff cars.
Arab waves them on, sending them to the back recesses of the parking lot, miles from the entrance.
And at my age, this parking space thrills me.
I am tempted to spend the evening in Kimm’s Yukon, isolated and safe from the teeming crowds, cracking the window only to hear Cheap Trick play Surrender in the distance.
Beyond me the lights of the fair rides sparkle in the twilight.
There is the shriek of children pitching down the banked curve of rollercoaster, there is the smell of meat smoking over open flame.
Ghastly concoctions are deep fried in oil and sprinkled with powdered sugar, ingested in the name of Summer, of being goddamned alive and once again at the OC Fair.
It is ritual, this walking tour of Americana nestled within the confines of Orange County.
It is the one month of the year, in the dead doldrums of Summer, that we can drop our cynical armor and march, like mesmerized chickens, toward the bright lights.
We imagine the thrill of the circus come to town, a brief escape from brutal and honest work in the fields.
We can pretend to be the earnest and the good, washed shiny and clutching at our nickels.
Toward the exhibit halls packed with hopeful baked goods and artsy craftsy photographs, past the pens filled with prized chickens and sheep, the best of the county offered to be judged.
It is my second visit to this year’s fair, having gone to see X play a couple weeks back.
I make a beeline for the Centennial Farm to check on the piglets, and am shocked to see how fat the little fuckers have gotten in my absence.
Truffles, a slutty Yorkshire sow lays defeated in the sawdust, eleven greedy children nursing on her chafed teats.
They eat like, well, pigs.
It reminds me to join in their gluttony, and we traipse off toward the food stands.
Oh, the food! they say, your coworkers when you tell them you are knocking off early to go to the fair.
They list their top five favorites and allow you to leave only after you promise to eat one of each for them.
But let’s be honest here; the food is pretty crappy and crazily overpriced.
It is this setting, after all, that makes the food come alive.
Eating on shared benches with open mouthed strangers, the air wafted with goat shit from the nearby 4H exhibits.
We eat corn barbecued black at five dollars an ear.
Pork chops are sold, but with a carnival twist of being on a stick, forcing us to lap with extended tongue as if upon pork lollipops.
Sausages that have been cooking for five hours straight are sold to us for fourteen dollars.
They are oversized, and this being the Fair, each sausage is also wrapped in bacon.
The meat is vicious, dried out and bland, but eating it here on a picnic bench under the purple sky it is delicious.
For dessert there are ungodly treats battered and fried, combinations dreamed up by either madmen or stoned Junior High school children.
Oreo cookies are not only deep fried but again wrapped in bacon, dipped in chocolate, powdered with sugar.
They are served, naturally, on a stick.
I take a bite and it is America, obscene and victorious.
We stumble to our seats in the amphitheater, dazed by the smoked meats and fried sugar, herded into a sold out 8000 seat arena with not a mask in sight.
There is a passable Blue Oyster Cult tribute act on stage, and it take a couple songs to understand that, no, that is Blue Oyster Cult playing.
Two surviving old guys joined by a couple new young guys, a lineup that makes me feel for some reason familiarly queasy.
But god bless ’em, they roll into the set closer of Reaper without a mention of Will Ferrell or doing a cowbell schtick, and then it is intermission.
A beach ball floats over the crowd now, people return to their seats double fisting beers.
We will have a normal Summer, the scene says. Even if it goddamned kills us.
Outside the amphitheater there are roars of terrible hydraulics, another set of hardy riders launched skyward on some insane ride, anything to escape the grim realties of our Earthbound existence.
They are, for at least a single moment, weightless.
A stranger next to be fist bumps me, yells Cheap Trick, whooo! into the night sky.
I try not to think of the odds of airborne virus in this place, the random gift of disease raining down as casually as a beach ball swatted from one filthy hand to the next.
But the people here are happy, thrilled to be out, and I am ashamed of sitting among them with such thoughts.
It is a Summer evening amidst the lights, and for the moment anyway, we can all pretend everything is quite fine, or soon will be.
Cheap Trick come on, the familiar strum of Hello There ringing out and the crowd goes fucking wild.
And though I usually refuse to stand during these things, I am on my feet with the rest of the crowd, shouting Hello There right back to Robin and Rick.
They are joined tonight by not only Rick’s kid on drums, but Robin’s son on bass, who nails each of those pure sweet high notes of his Pop.
Ah, I think.
They have cracked the problem of longevity by simply handing down their setlist to the next generation, able to book shows into the next century with their legacy upheld.
The show ends right at ten.
The curfew imposed by the same neighbors who make the jets take off at crazy angles from nearby John Wayne airport, settling you back into your economy seat of Frontier airlines with palpable G force, your balls squeezed tight as on any badly maintained carnival ride.
As we file out we take one last look at the livestock, check in on the piglets who amazingly have seemed to grow even fatter since we arrived earlier today.
One spotted little fellow roots up close to my Conversed foot, and I dare to reach through the slats and stroke him behind his pointy ear.
He snuffles with glee, and looks up at me with canine affection, and all is right in this world.
Next year, god willing, we will return yet again to the fairgrounds.
Returned to the ritual, the memory of tonight’s heartburn and inevitable nausea long forgotten.
We’ll walk through the same Halls of Products, eat the same salty food, perhaps try the latest deep fried combinaton of chocolate and bacon on a dare.
And we will return to the pens once more, and seek out our porcine friends.
Be they now exhausted mothers themselves, with greedy piglets nursing in a row.
Or perhaps they will be nourishing us further down the midway, gloriously smoked or deep fried.
Impaled in their blue ribbon glory, America on a stick.