Anticipation adds to a cherished tradition: Christmas. birthdays. The first day at school. Tilt-A-Whirl’s first tour of the show.
As locals and visitors descend on the Central Washington State Fair this week, my brother Kyle Shields has been there on day one, just as he has been for the past decade or so.
Barring the COVID-19 related shutdowns, Kyle hasn’t missed the first day of the show in years. He doesn’t remember when he started doing his fair annual adventure, but now it’s a tradition.
“Meet me at the north end of the target parking lot. The bus stops there first,” he said, referring to the spot across the street from Bob’s Burgers and Brew.
This was the first tip of many that I’ve flagged to share his fair tips with the experts. The exhibition runs through Sunday.
Take the free bus
Yakima Transit offers free shuttles from the Gateway Center on North First Avenue. Meet and drop points are located across the street from Bob’s, 121 N. Fair Ave. , where we went, and in front of Target, 12 N. Fair Ave. There is free parking.
The shuttle drops fair visitors at the main gates to State Fair Park, 1301 S. Fair Ave.
It’s 11:30 a.m. on the day of the show’s opening and there’s no stranger in the shuttle line. Cale starts conversations with those around him, and asks them uncle excited.
“Hootin ‘Leads to Hollerin'” was written on his T-shirt, an early indication of the excitement in the air.
The people in line are excited and the chatter is interrupted when Kyle signals the approaching bus. On the bus, everyone is elated, and Kyle continues to talk to the people.
“Which ride are you going to go first?” He asks the women next to him. They laugh and tell him they are too old to ride a horse. While mocking their response, one of the ladies told him how she vomited on a trip last year.
“I’m still waiting for that to happen to me,” he said.
The bus stops at the second pick-up and drop-off point in front of Target. Only a few people in line can get on because the bus is already full. Kyle points out that this is why using the North End spot is better to avoid disappointment and having to wait for the next bus.
Plan ahead to get discounts
The first day of the fair offers discounted parking and entry fees during a limited time. Kyle saves money that way. He’ll tell you that’s why he’s gone, but it’s really for the ride.
Once inside, he buys a wristband for unlimited rides and heads straight to Tilt-A-Whirl, a classic Carnival ride that never disappoints.
It’s early and the crowds are small and there are no queues for rides. Kyle notes that most kids are still in school, which gives him full access with little to no waiting. He practically runs to the ride, one by one.
“Pop music never sounds as good as it does on the show,” he says, singing as he cycles between carnival rides, enjoying current pop songs mixed with ’80s and ’90s hits.
While waiting for the roller coaster, Kyle cheers up a boy and his brother. The younger brother is nervous and asks the ship’s steward and Kyle if it’s a scary trip.
“You’ve got this! He answers
As he watches the carnival riders scramble in search of the perfect wagon or seat, he lets them know which side of the wagon to sit on for top speed and the best spin. “I haven’t studied physics, but I know fair physics,” he says.
Adds speed and spin. The pace can’t keep up, so Kyle takes a break to calm his stomach.
Kyle heads out to buy his first souvenir, trying to choose between a large photo button or a custom hat. It’s all about efficiency and capitalizing on the size of the crowd.
There is no streak in the airbrush holder. Kyle orders a hat knowing he can pick it up later in the day and doesn’t have to worry about carrying it.
it’s time for food
Stomach settled, it’s time to eat. It’s easy to find a favorite Young Life barbecue sandwich rack at your local fair. The booth is always in the same place and Cale knows exactly where to go.
“I love to support the local stalls, and this is the only time of the year I can have this sandwich. It’s an easy choice,” he said.
He takes a drink, a sandwich, and some extra napkins, and puts them in his pocket for later.
Far from the Young Life platform, Cale was looking for a seat in the shadows, indicating that you might need to walk a small distance to get to the right spot.
fairs and animals
Take it from an expert: The prettiest toilet on the show is in the quilt barn.
“Visit the quilt barn and be sure to vote for your favorite quilt. Candidates will be grateful, and the quilt barn has the best bathroom,” he advises. “It’s a quiet building and the bathroom is out of the way, less used by crowds, clean and no queues.”
After recharging, Kyle is ready to visit the animal pens. He says going out for fair food and watching cute animals is a win-win.
He wanders around the barns, and stops petting cows, horses, and goats, if they let him.
“I was going to trim my beard this morning, but I didn’t. Alpacas are attracted to it; I think it might look like straw or hay,” he jokes while imitating a tacky face. “I want them (the alpacas) to come to me.”
Standing in front of a horse, caressing the side of his face, Cale moves sideways to a family. Read information about a horse to a child standing in a wheelchair.
Kyle is a big kid at heart, swinging and swinging on fluffy bunnies. Excitedly, he waves his arms, pointing to the next animal to get his attention.
“The fair is a special time of the year and we have to share it as a community. That noise makes me dizzy,” he said.
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