Next come the smells, both aromatic and animal.
Add a whirlwind of visual imagery, and you've got the Washington State Fair.
It's the best place to people-watch in the state.
Not only that, it has the best good food that's bad for you and rides that tilt, twist, titillate and twerk.
Before this year's name change, it was known as the Puyallup Fair. You can still "Do the Puyallup," as the old slogan goes. After all, it's in Puyallup.
The fairgrounds, about 60 miles south of Everett, was the site of Camp Harmony during World War II when it housed a Japanese internment camp. Now it hosts one of the nation's largest fairs, with more than a million people passing through the turnstiles.
I wanted to go to the fair to soak in the festive vibes. My husband, Max, wanted to go to eat.
We went on a Saturday, expecting gridlock and mayhem. Instead, it ran like a well-oiled machine, from the parking attendants who ushered our car into place to the game vendors scanning the Fun Cards that replaced strips of tickets.
Fun is right. There's even a section called SillyVille.
Anything goes at the fair. It's like a circus where the spectators are part of the show.
People with spiky rainbow-colored hair -- "fair hair," as it's called -- don't even stand out.
Others stand in line for deep-fried sticks of butter. That's right. Butter.
Or worse: deep-fried bubble gum.
Max wanted real food. One whiff of the pork barbecue smoking on wood pit flames and he was in hog heaven. (Shameless, considering this was moments after "oohing" and "aahing" over the cute baby piggies at the Piglet Palace.)
Max's euphoria continued with a buttery ear of corn the size of a bowling pin, a perfectly tanned scone and a gooey caramel apple.
I don't think he even noticed the woman in a black miniskirt and garter belt strutting her stuff on the midway with a guy in baggy jeans and untucked plaid shirt.
Adding to the fair's Vegas-style glow are the 50,000 bulbs in the Chinese lantern exhibit Luminasia, which is a separate admission ($12, adults) from the fair.
It's an "East meets West" display of 500 luminaries and paradelike floats of a dragon ship, a pagoda, the Space Needle, Mount Rainier and a Washington ferry. It took a team of 40 Chinese artisans a month to weld, wire and stitch up the spectacle.
A stroll amid the two-acre light show is riveting at night. It's a way to capture the magic of the fair without going on a ride that sends you screaming for dear life.
The fair runs through Sept. 22. Luminasia continues on weekends until Oct. 13.
Andrea Brown; 425-339-3443; email@example.com
If you go
Washington State Fair, 110 Ninth Ave. SW, Puyallup, is open daily through Sept. 22.
Times: 10 a.m. to 10 p.m. Monday through Thursday; 10 a.m. to 11 p.m. Friday; 9 a.m. to 11 p.m. Saturday; and 9 a.m. to 10 p.m. Sunday.
Admission: $12.50 adults; $9 for ages 6 to 18 and seniors 62 and older. Free for kids 5 and under.
Parking: $10 Monday through Friday; $12, Saturday and Sunday.
For more information: 24-hour hotline, 253-841-5045. or go to www.thefair.com.
Times: Opens at 2 p.m. daily. On Sunday through Thursday, tickets are sold until 11 p.m. On Friday and Saturday, tickets sold until midnight.
Admission: $12 adults; $10 for ages 6 to 18. Kids 5 and under are free.
Luminasia continues after the fair season ends on weekends only. From Sept. 27 through Oct. 13, Luminasia is open from 6 p.m. with last entry at 11 p.m. on Friday, Saturday and Sunday.
Fun fair facts
- The Washington State Fairgrounds is about 170 acres.
- More than 1.2 million scones and 86,000 ears of corn are sold during the fair. About 80,000 trash bags are filled.
- Washington State Fair has about 63,000 "Likes" on Facebook.
- About 1,900 workers are hired each September for the fair.
- It is the largest single attraction held annually in the state of Washington.
- The fair returns for a four-day spring fair in April.
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