There are few things more eerie and seemingly disorganized than a fairgrounds before the fair opens.
Earlier today, California State Fair Media Center staffer Elizabeth Guyer and I cruised Cal Expo in a battery-powered cart for a behind-the-scenes look at the pre-fair goings-on. The fair opens Thursday.
The Midway was devoid of the masses that will congregate there during the fair's 18-day run, a strange, empty sight. Most of the food stands were still being assembled and hosed off. Trucks whizzed by carrying construction gear, pieces of pavilions, and piles of pastel-colored plush toys to be handed over as prizes at the carnival-type games. Workers moved slowly in the mid-morning heat. The whine of electric saws echoed in the distance.
We stopped at Birds In Paradise, a strategically forested retreat beneath a blessedly cool, airy, high-ceilinged tent. Parakeets and macaws fluttered, colorful finches tweeted, and peacocks strutted and shrieked.
"I want to set them all free and see what kind of havoc I can cause," Guyer joked. Perhaps we should start by liberating the cardboard cutouts of pink flamingos, which would look great in my front yard.
We scooted over to The Farm, which has grown about 40 California-centric crops on its 3-1/2 acres - tall corn, peppers, zucchini, cotton. Look for the Farmer's Market, Insect Pavilion, Petting Zoo and Hen House. Along with goats and pigs, milk cows and pony rides.
In the Aquaculture Tent is a tank of 30-pound sturgen, three to four feet long, which you can touch - if you're quick. Other tanks hold crawfish, catfish, bass and baby sturgeon. In The Farm's "aquaponincs program," some of the fish water is used to water and fertilize some of the flowers and crops, which seem to thrive on it.
Our last stop was Toytopia in Expo Center Building 5, a clutter of boxes and paint cans that will be transformed into a marvel of toys and games of all sorts.
It houses the world's largest operating Etch-a-Sketch. The giant classic toy looks to be about six feet high and nine feet wide. But after you etch a sketch on the screen, how do you pick up the toy and shake it to get the screen back to blank?
We rode back to the Media Center, dodging people, pickup trucks and other carts. "We had almost nothing here four days ago," said Guyer, on summer break from Wittenberg University in Ohio. "Then it exploded."
We can't wait to see the finished product on Thursday.