Fried mushrooms or pickles? I’d never really thought about it before. But at the South Carolina State Fair, it seems like an important decision to make. While I ended up going with an ice cream cone instead, the pervasive scent throughout the vast sea of flashing fluorescent booths was definitely one of sizzling fat in hot fryers. I’m pretty sure my clothing and hair soaked it in, or maybe I was just imagining it in a cloud around me when I fell into bed, tired after hours of wandering the unlimited aisles.
It was my first time going — the past two years, I’ve just looked at the lights and spinning rides from afar. It seems so clean and quiet from half a mile away. I’ll admit I was a bit scared to go and shatter the illusion. I’m from Ohio, and my main association with fairs is volunteering with my grandmother at a booth selling smoothies for her church and winning a live goldfish. The fairs were full of Amish children with their 4-H projects.
I’m not really sure what changed this year, but I ended up with a friend waiting in line for a ticket. From what people had told me, I almost expected it to be full of people wearing overalls with thick Southern drawls and pitchforks. Instead, what I found was a happy community brought together by the draw of food and music — and cows.
Wandering around, I felt overwhelmed by all of the sensory input. The sweet cloying smell of funnel cake, the random people bumping into you and the neon stuffed animals begging you to try and win them all somehow created a very human experience. I’m pretty sure that state fairs are the distillation of everything we don’t want to admit about ourselves, but when we do, it’s actually pretty fun.
And the cows were actually really cute, although much larger than I expected.
The highlight of the evening was when a voice came over the loudspeaker to say, “Dawn Staley, please meet the women’s basketball team by the rocket.” We just looked at each other, then ran and secretly took pictures of them.
We also wandered into an Aloe Blacc concert just as he was singing “The Man” and “Wake Me Up,” coincidentally the only two songs of his that I know, and it was almost surreal with Williams-Brice Stadium lit up in the background through the stage frame.
Here at the university, I don’t really interact with Columbia or South Carolina much at all, perhaps subconsciously because of all of the negative stereotypes about the state. That’s part of what kept me away from the fair until this year. What I found instead was a lot of fun, and it made me wish I went out into the city more. I felt like I was actually a part of the community rather than just of USC's campus. Though I don’t think I’ll ever really like fried food.