Tag Archives: State Fair of Texas

State Fair Blues

30 Mar

Howdy Folks!

They say everything is bigger in Texas and in this case I believe they (whoever “they” may be) just may be right.  This week the local BillBraggBigTexbuzz has been all about the dismissal of Bill Bragg, the man who has voiced the larger than life mascot of the State Fair of Texas for the last 11 years.  Some are upset about the way that his boss, Sue Gooding, did the deed, letting him know that they would not be renewing his contract via email, some are upset that this “unofficial mascot” was fired at all.  Petitions are flying around and I am sure the in boxes at the State Fair offices are being inundated with hate mail.

Big Tex originated in Kearns, Texas as the worlds largest Santa, a way to draw in holiday shoppers to the small North Texas town.  In 1952, Tex made his first appearance at the State Fair, an annual “county fair” that draws in hundreds of thousands of visitors to the Dallas area every October, when he was purchased by the Fair president, R.L. Thornton, who commissioned an artist to turn Santa into the iconic cowboy.

Why would the State Fair make such a potentially disastrous blunder as this?  It seems that Mr. Bragg is in violation of his contract with the Fair.  Apparently he liked to tell people that he was the voice of the 52 foot cowboy and he liked to tell them publicly.  He was known to be approached by children at the fair who would ask to have their picture taken with him, he would make speaking engagements with big named charities like the American Cancer Society, where, presumably, they would introduce him as the voice of Big Tex.  Just generally making a nuisance of himself (I hope everyone can pick on my sarcasm here)

So, the State Fair officials made a decision to not renew his contract because he wouldn’t follow their rules.  If this had been 50 years ago the Fair officials would recognize this for what it is, good publicity.  Mr. Bragg is not misrepresenting the Fair, he is not taking business away from the Fair, he is not making money by presenting himself as the voice of the beloved mascot, if anything he is bringing joy to children and fans of the icon by posing for pictures, he is bringing good press to the Fair by making charity appearances for well-known and reputable charities, in my opinion, he is a marketing dream.

So, why would the State Fair officials make such a bad PR move as this?  No one knows for sure, Fair officials are keeping pretty closed mouth about this one.  This leaves one to speculate that maybe this might have something to do with the fire that destroyed Big Tex at the end of the 2012 season.  Talk was for a while after that Big Tex would come back bigger and better than before but that he wouldn’t be the Tex that everyone remembered.  They have diversified Tex in recent years, growing up, Tex only spoke English but in recent years they have made him bilingual and during the fair you could hear Tex exclaim, “Hola Amigos!”  This led many people to wonder if the new Tex would look just a little darker than he had in years past.  Fair officials have denied this claim.

There have only been five men to speak for the giant over the last 60 years or so, Mr. Bragg took over in 2002, everyday during fair season, he would make his way to the booth to welcome visitors and make important announcements.  I have to wonder if, in this age of computers and technology, they haven’t figured out a way to digitally make Tex speak, surely saving the Fair thousands of dollars into the future since a computer won’t charge any residual money and would never break a contract.  Officials would be making a tremendous mistake by doing this, but I doubt that they care about that.

Whatever the reason and outcome, one thing is for sure, State Fair officials have started a firestorm of controversy.  They got publicity, but I don’t think it was the kind they bargained for.

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Fair Day

16 Aug

The cool, early morning air felt exquisite blowing through my hair.  In the
distance I could smell the faint whiffs of the animal stalls as the workers
mucked them out mixed with the sweet smells of hot cocoa and sausage being sold
at the nearby Owens Family stand. The wooden bench was moist beneath me as my
feet kicked at the sand and dirt mixture beneath. The early morning sounds of
the fair were some of my favorite sounds, the rides swooshing loudly on their
test runs, the lyrics of an Alabama song from the speaker of a nearby radio, the
game callers shouts as they heckle the passer-bys on the Midway.

It was October in Texas, the excitement filled the air around me, I looked
forward to this time of year, hay rides and pumpkin patches, sweaters and
shorts.  This day, however, was fair day, the one day of the year that even the
oldest among us could forget about that and feel a little more like a kid
again.  I started every fair day the same way each year, arriving early, before
the crowds arrived to enjoy the peacefulness of the brisk fall morning.  In
fact, the only thing that had changed after all these years was the absences of
my parents and the home made sausage biscuits that mom made each year fresh that
morning and carefully wrapped in foil and stored in the cooler to keep them warm
until time to eat.

A stroll through the farm buildings would bring back memories of Spike, the
police horse my mother “adopted” one year.  Year after year in the days that led
up to fair day, mom would constantly talk about Spike and wonder if he would
still be there waiting for her to come see him and each year after year we would
stroll through the barns looking at the pigs and Billy goats making our way
through the maze of stalls until we would at last reach the horse stalls.  The
sign at the door way read “authorized
personnel only” but that never stopped
mom, she would walk on right through the doors and gaze at the names on each of
the stalls until she would find Spike.  He knew her, instinctively, each time
despite all the weeks apart, she could call his name and he would comeright over
and nuzzle his wet nose into her palm.  She could stand there for hours and talk
to him, I always suspected that they were kindred spirits of sorts, it was the
only thing that kept her coming to the fair each year until one year we
came
and Spike wasn’t there, no sign of him, no name plate on the stall door,
nothing.  We managed to track down a worker who gave us the news.  We left early
that year; mom just couldn’t bear the hurt any longer.  That was the last year
mom came to the fair.

When I was a child the midway was my favorite place to be.  It screamed fun
and excitement but the only problem was that I was too big of a chicken to ride
any of them.  It took a couple of years for my dad to talk me into riding more
than just the marry-go-round and the go karts.  It was the scrambler and it
terrified me.  I was six with a broken arm when he helped me into the silver and
blue streaked car.  He settled into the seat next to me and squeezed me close as
they secured the bar in place.  He looked over at me and explained how to get
the most out of the ride, explained how to feel the pull of the ride and just
when to shift so that as the ride spins to make it feel like it was going
faster.  The ride started slowly and I looked up and found mom in the people
standing by the riding watching as it began to spin us backward from our
starting place.  I was laughing while I waved at her, laughing at the freedom of
spinning around in a circle, weightless and giddy, I laughed until the tears
came.  Mixed in with the
joy and exhilaration was trepidation and fear.  I
was six the day I had my first panic attack but I can still feel my dad’s arm
pulling me closer to him, what must have been only a couple of minutes felt like
an eternity to me but finally I heard the buzzer sound and the ride begin to
slow to a stop.  I could feel my dad’s chest heaving up and down as he chuckled
at my reaction to the ride.  As my dad helped me off the ride suddenly there was
a wave of sadness that washed over me, it was a lot like my reaction to the
movie Poltergeist, it scared the crap out of me but I didn’t want it to end.  In
the years that followed the Scrambler would become one of my favorite rides
along with the
Tilt-a-Whirl and the Love Bug.  I never would conquer my fear
of heights but there was something about the thrill of the speed that I never
forgot.  I miss my dad most now on fair day.

Next to Spike my mom loved to walk through the buildings looking at the
exhibits and the arts and crafts.  I remember the dankness of the exhibition
halls crowded with people oohing and ahhing over the colorful quilts and
delicate pies, watching as people peddled their wares, demonstrating their
amazing knives that can slice through silk with ease, the chopping device that
made a perfect red and green Pico de Gallo, Native American artistry, the
tapestry of colors and smells and tastes was enough to send your senses into
overload.  Miles and miles of nooks, a seasonal flea market of sorts that drew
sellers from all over the state to set up stand for a couple of weeks a year
hoping to sell, sell, sell!  As I grew older the midway lost some of its appeal
and the buildings and their inhabitants began to appeal to me. I suspect that my
country roots began to show more as I grew older; these days there is just
something about watching as common people compete to win the blue ribbon for the
best apple pie or the best double stitch or walking to the end of the hall to
see the statue of Elvis made out of butter.  Yes, butter!

As the day grew to an end we would make our way slowly back toward the
parking lot, via the food court!  Cotton Candy and fried everything, fall just
wasn’t fall without a Fletchers corny dog, a yellow cornmeal and beef delicacy
on a stick.  People would stand in line for an hour just to get this small piece
of heaven on a stick then make their
way over to the mustard pump to cover
the crispy, chewy goodness before sinking their teeth into a state fair
favorite.  My love of Fletchers came later on but as a child my choice was
always for a beautiful, mahogany smoked turkey leg, tender and juicy, the smoke
flavor would just explode in my mouth with each bite.  I would savor that lone
turkey leg all the way home.

Home.  Sunburned and tired I was always happy to be home, I would run right
to my room and sprawl across the bed and catalogue my memoires to be thought of
fondly till
the next fair day.