You don’t need a consumer confidence report to know that the economy is on a rebound trajectory. Instead, just open your eyes to what’s going on in Pasco County, where change, once more, is afoot.
You can scarcely swing a surveyor’s plumb bob without whacking evidence of our resurgence. Earth movers are moving earth. Grimy guys with signs are redirecting traffic. New construction is erupting like mushrooms after a summer thunderstorm.
Entire parts of the county are hardhat zones, and it’s all pretty much good, this investment in things that bring new jobs and opportunity.
Amid the flying dust, the big machines belching smoke and the sense of anticipation that attends it all, humans are naturally grateful for what is reliable and unchanging. It’s why we celebrate efforts to preserve vast swatches of virgin land and lovely old buildings. It’s also among the reasons to cheer the return this week of the Pasco County Fair.
The county fair is our annual Brigadoon, a touchstone that remains virtually the same one year to the next, despite all the change that swirls around it. And, we not only count on its constancy, we are reassured by it.
There may be a connected city — whatever that is — surrounding jaw-dropping manmade lagoons back up the road. Traffic engineers might be spellbound by the prospect of a “divergent diamond” interchange at State Road 56 and Interstate 75. Riders can access Wi-Fi on all county buses now. In short, we’re so cutting edge you could lose a finger.
But, just beyond the ticket-takers at the county fair, it might as well be … well, frankly, you can pick your year. Because, with the exception of a detail here or there, it never changes.
Pasco’s fair week — always the third week in February, always nestled between the Florida State Fair and the Plant City Strawberry Festival — is a comforting little slice of yesteryear, where the familiar abounds: Pig race, poultry preens, cities, towns and communities boast, young pageant princesses seek their first crowns, and performers with unusual talents bring fresh meaning to the term “side show.”
Where, besides a county fair, after all, are you likely to run across the self-proclaimed “only traveling ‘Lumber Jill’ show in North America?” Or, a psychologist who promises to “explore the hilarious side of hypnosis” in a “wacky show that rivals reality television”?
This year’s opening day event is history, of course, but as a past participant, I would be remiss if I did not throw some love in the direction of the goofy opening-day “Celebrity Milk-Off.”
Nevermind that the annual descent into bovine mayhem is that variety of celebrity events in which, as humorist Dave Barry observed, all the celebrities require name tags.
In truth, almost nobody comes to see Pasco hotshots ineptly yanking on poor heifers’ delicate faucets. They come, instead, to see which cow will relieve herself smack dab in the middle of a squeeze duel.
In this way, the milk-off is a lot like the Daytona 500.
What else? With the possible exception of a rickety rollercoaster, the county fair’s midway offers all the rough-and-tumble kinetic experiences sufficient to eliminate weak-stomached NASA astronaut applicants.
Speaking of stomachs, fairs are pretty much the originators of food trucks, although you aren’t likely to be able to find a barbecue sundae, corndogs or fried, well, everything at the Taste of New Tampa or those downtown Tampa food-on-wheels roundups Mayor Bob Buckhorn fancies.
And, a bellyful of fried-everything is exactly what is needed when you board a ride in which you will spend substantial moments suspended upside down.
Then again, you don’t have to eat fair fare. Up at the Madill Building, they’re grilling juicy hamburgers that will transport you to 1957. And, at the next window, you’ll find strawberry shortcake that’ll save you the trip to Plant City.
There’s also this to like: At 30-odd windswept acres atop a hill overlooking State Road 52, the Pasco County fairgrounds is contained. Compare that to the Florida State Fair, which sprawls across a daunting 330 acres.
The county fair is relentlessly doable, then, and that, also, is to its credit.
Its midway, resembling a droopy barbell, is as organized as such things can be: big-kid rides in a big grassy plaza on the north end, little-kid rides on the south, and connecting them an avenue of games of — *cough-cough* — skill.
Just the way it’s always been. And, that’s just the way county fair-goers like it. Familiar. Comfortable. Traditional.
Something reliable to hang onto in this time of hurry-up upheaval. This is the week to lose yourself in yesteryear. Our changing world will be waiting when you get back.
Published February 22, 2017