A CALIFORNIA GIRL AT THE ALASKA STATE FAIR: Cream Puffs, Dead Turtles, and Beach Boys

On one of the closing days of an Alaska summer, my husband and I take his sister and her husband to the State Fair in Palmer. When I lived in the Last Frontier, I enjoyed the fair year after year, even though it’s small – because it’s small. This will be a perfect way for siblings and in-laws to enjoy an activity together, regardless of differing interests.

Dale’s brother-in-law, Nathan, and sister, Luann: the Alaska State Fair is a perfect place to enjoy an activity together, regardless of differing interests.

My sister-in-law, Luann, has suggested we go to The Beach Boys concert at the fair. A California Girl flying from Denver to Alaska to see The Beach Boys? That’s too much irony to pass up. However, I wonder, “Aren’t they Beach Men yet?”

Musical acts are often well past their prime, and minus a few dead members, by the time they reach Alaska. But even if only one Beach Boy shows, we could do worse than an afternoon at the fair topped with tunes about fun in the sun. I remember listening to tapes of The Beach Boys with an old middle-school friend, in the camper of her parents’ truck, on long drives from Downey, California to Big Bear Lake. For me, those songs are forever linked with snowy mountains instead of beaches, eight-track tapes instead of iPods, and the final chorus of innocence.

When we hit the fairgrounds, we immediately agree, “First stop: food!” None of us have eaten, because all of us have been holding our appetites for fat-filled fair food.

Cream puffs with vanilla cream and berry sauce: I wonder if I can make these goo and carb sandwiches myself.

I order a tamale with spicy jalapeño cheese and sweet corn. It’s tasty, but I miss the meat filling I’ve come to expect from more traditional tamales. Luann’s husband, Nathan, introduces Dale and me to our favorite treat of the day: cream puffs with vanilla cream and berry sauce. I wonder if I can make these goo and carb sandwiches myself. Dale only takes a bite. He’s saving room for the perfect something…

If only a giant rubber ducky balloon floated behind my yard.

Meanwhile, we tour the experimental garden, where Dale and I get new ideas for our garden back home. I love the layered look. If only my flowers would achieve the height their labels promise. If only a giant rubber ducky balloon floated behind my yard.

The giant cabbage makes Dale look like a dwarf.

We hit the metal barn to check out the competition fruits, veggies, and animals. Dale, Luann, and Nathan laugh at phallic squashes, while I marvel at the giant cabbage that makes Dale look like a dwarf. An 800-pound pig the size of a chubby black-bear makes me rethink the cream puff. Soon the smell of turkey manure and sweaty llamas gets to us, and we scoot our urban hides out of there.

This prize-winning pig weighs 800 pounds.

Apparently the bear-pig has given Dale a craving, but, much to his disappointment, the most popular barbecue stand is out of pork ribs. I suggest we look up another rib joint in Luann’s fair guide, but she’s thrown it away. Minutes later, Nathan hands me another guidebook.

“Where’d you get it?” I ask.

“Some guy was walking by with one in his pocket and I pulled it out.”

“You’re a bad man.”

The other stand doesn’t do pork, so Dale and I share spare ribs, instead. They’re tasty and tender, but still he sighs: “I was really looking forward to those pork ribs,” prompting my oft-repeated marital refrain, “Poor Dale.”

I look at Alaska Native carvings I’ll never buy, and my in-laws look at snow machines they’ll never buy. Then we all wait while Nathan buys a giant brick of potato chips. I’m not a chip fan, but a bite of these thick curls hot out of the fryer almost converts me.

Nathan buys a giant brick of potato chips.

After that, I coax Dale onto a midway ride: the Apollo. Two hammerheads spin us in vertical circles like the hands of a mad clock: backwards, forwards, upside down. Who knew that a tame little fair-ride could cause such disproportionately giant terror? I drop multiple F-bombs on the teenyboppers suspended below, and scream, “No more no more NO MORE!” I’m not kidding.

I drop multiple F-bombs on the teenyboppers suspended below.

We make a depressing trip to the Reptile Pavilion, where Dale assures me that, yes, one of the alligator turtles floating in the center tank is quite dead. Vanilla ice cream bars hand-dipped in chocolate and toffee almonds cheer us right up. Cupping our hands to catch any stray chocolate, we stroll to the Bluebell Pavilion to see the Beach Boys.

Massive Pioneer Peak presides over the fair like an arm-flexing muscle man.

What a perfect spot for an outdoor concert. Distant fair noises drift to us, as dusk slowly settles on Pioneer Peak, the massive mountain that presides over the fair like an arm-flexing muscle man.

The Beach Boys are more like two Beach Geezers, two Beach Stand-ins, and a Beach Son.

Much as I suspected, The Beach Boys are more like two Beach Geezers, two Beach Stand-ins, and a Beach Son: Bruce Johnston, Mike Love, What’s-their-names, and Love’s son Christian. Christian Love? That’s right. The entire band is so talented and energetic that it doesn’t matter if Johnston and Love suck wind now and then, and it’s exciting to see two originators of that unique beach sound. The hits just keep coming: Little Deuce Coupe, Barbara Ann, Catch a Wave, Fun Fun Fun, Help me Rhonda, Hot Fun in the Summertime, Surfin’ USA, In My Room and Surfer Girl (which are almost the same song, but a good one).

Mike Love (L) and Bruce Johnston (R): the entire band is so talented and energetic that it doesn’t matter if Johnston and Love suck wind now and then.

My favorite is the slightly psychedelic Good Vibrations. I also dig the snarky lyrics of Sloop John B:

“Let me go home.
Why don’t they let me go home?
This is the worst trip I’ve ever been on.”

Not that I’m having a bad trip. Nathan and Luann are different from Dale and me, yet the music erases all that: we stand, we sway, we sing along. It’s that kind of music.

“Steve, The Pretty Good” does bad card tricks from atop a flightless flying carpet.

As the concert ends, the sun sets, the temperature plummets, and the crowd thins. The bright lights of the midway tempt us to linger. But we’ve done it all. I even enjoyed “Steve, The Pretty Good,” who does bad card tricks from atop a flightless flying carpet. What can I say? At the fair everything seems better, except maybe the dead turtle.

“Beach baby, beach baby, there on the sand, give me something that I can remember…”

One thought on “A CALIFORNIA GIRL AT THE ALASKA STATE FAIR: Cream Puffs, Dead Turtles, and Beach Boys

  1. Jared

    It’s awesome you got to visit our state fair, but the Apollo isn’t that….. Wait, that was your F-Bombing? That was hilarious. Anyway I remeber going on the Apollo and siting in the seat behind the front. The guys in front went “Don’t scream too loud!” At the ride’s fastest point, they were screaming like a little kid at a horror movie, and I let out a small, “Wee.” But yes, the Alaska State Fair can be a very good time, especially sense (might be the wrong sense lol) it is across the street from Sammy’s Pizza.

    Reply

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