Star of Texas Fair & Rodeo

Yesterday I took my family to the Star of Texas Fair & Rodeo. It’s an annual thing in Austin, but this is the first time we went. I’m so glad we did. Weather was perfect, time was right.

The Kid In Me

I went to county fairs and rodeos all the time when I was a kid. My Dad had to campaign in various counties in Nebraska, and county fairs were good places to meet with the public. So Dad would be there all day pressing the flesh, and we kids would get to run around and enjoy the fair all day. I’ve got lots of fond memories of those times, from all the midway games I’d play, to the rides (I still will not ride The Zipper… not into things that make me throw up), to even the people I’d meet. A lot of the same carnival groups would be at the various county fairs, so I got to see a lot of the same carnies over and over. I got to actually know a couple fairly well because hey… I loved the “pop gun” booth (little pump rifles that shot small corks out the end… you’d shoot the corks at these little wooden stands and when they flipped off the back of the rail you won the prize) and spending so much time at that booth I got to know the lady running it. I also recall that’s how I learned about the band Bad Company; talking with another carnie, he told me to check out their album (their self-titled) and eventually I did and glad I did.

And of course, growing up in Omaha, there was Peony Park.

So with many fond memories in my head, I always wanted to take the kids to some sort of fair. There’s frequently a fair running in town, but I can never find out when they’re here. It’s one of those where I’m driving in town, I see it in the distance, “OH man!” and then we can’t go for some reason. But now we had a plan!

The Joy of Mobile Internet

Of course, I look up the fair online and find out they even have an iPhone app just for the fair! The iPhone app had a few rough edges, but it was pretty useful. I thought the best part was how they used the GPS services on the map to say “here’s where you are, and here’s where you want to go” to help you get around the fairgrounds. Nice!

But the real treat? I found out you could buy a carnival wristband for $20 online, which included the gate entrance fee. Sounded like a winner to me. But when I got there, yes it was an online-only deal. If you bought at the fairgrounds, $7 for adults $4 children to get through the gate, and $25 for the carnival wristband. Man… that online deal is a deal. So I went back to the car, sat down, pulled out my iPhone and purchased online right there in the parking lot. 🙂 That saved some money… or so I thought. It’s only saving money if you’re going to ride a lot of rides. Most rides cost 3 tokens and each token was $1. So you’d need to ride 8 rides or so to make it worth it. Was it worth it? No, because we didn’t ride that many rides (more on that shortly). The thing was, I was under the impression you could only do the carnival if you had a wristband. That is not the case. The wristband is only good for carnival rides, and you can pay tokens for rides as well. So if you’re all about the rides and expect to ride a lot of rides, a wristband can be the way to go. Else, just pay tokens as you go. Live and learn.

The Rides

For me, a big part of a fair are the rides. I did not know what to expect with my kids… would they like these rides? Would they not? The first ride? The Tilt-a-Whirl. That’s one of my favorites. I have many fond memories of riding that at Peony Park with my Dad while growing up. All 4 of us climbed into a car and off we went, tilting and whirling. I saw nothing but smiles on the faces of my kids. We have a winner!

I saw on the other side was a “scrambler”, tho this one was called The Scorcher. We climbed into that one, Youngest and I in one car, and Oldest and Daughter in another. Off it went. This one went a bit faster than I remember them going, so the G-forces were pretty strong. It was fun, we all enjoyed it, but we all also had the same thought: geez… this is getting boring, can you stop now? It just got old because it ran for quite a while. But I was happy the kids enjoyed it…. tho Oldest didn’t like it as much as he would have because well… I told him to sit on the out-side of the car so he had his sister squished into him the whole time. 🙂

Then… the bumper cars.

I’m glad this wasn’t a “modern” bumper cars where everyone was told to just drive in a circle and not run into each other. Yes, I’ve encountered those and what fun are those? The whole fun about this is to bump into each other. Head-on collisions are what makes bumper cars fun. 🙂 Daughter climbed into a car, Oldest into a car, and I took Youngest in a car with me. I gave them a briefing on how they work (e.g. press the pedal down and don’t let go, if you turn the steering wheel all the way around you’ll go in reverse), and off we went.

So while the kids and I were having fun bumping into each other, Wife was standing at the railing taking pictures. And boy, was Wife taking a lot of pictures. She was heavily interested in taking lots of pictures. Why? Because the carnie working the bumper cars was being very friendly with her. Not too friendly, but friendly enough that Wife did her best to be polite yet tried her best to make it clear she was more interested in her big husband than him. Oldest got mad that some other man was trying to hit on his Mom but he saw me laughing and not worried about it… but I can’t argue with my son’s desire to defend his mother. That’s a Good Thing.

Of course, what trip to a fair would be complete if there wasn’t a ride that was a little too much. There was a ride called The Orbiter. Didn’t get a picture of it, but this Wikipedia entry is close. The cars were more enclosed cars and it didn’t go 90º (maybe 45º??). The thing was, when we saw it earlier it seemed somewhat gentle, so Daughter and I went on it. Youngest wanted to go but Oldest didn’t and you couldn’t have single riders, so only Daughter and I went. Well… that was a mistake. The sensation was really weird and the G-forces very strong… because of the angles you were put at, the resulting angle of the G-forces just did not sit well with Daughter and she was most unhappy. I just cradled her to keep her from banging into the car, and eventually the ride ended. Cross that one off the list for the future. Me? I thought the ride was OK… it did mess with my equilibrium a bit (I had “sea legs” for a short while after getting off the ride), but how could I enjoy a ride while my child was hurting? Ah well… it was a good experience no matter how you slice it.

The Food

What can you say? If you can fry it and put it on a stick, it’s carnival food. Oh, and expensive too.

Actually the food was pretty good. Of course fried, greasy, salty, huge portions, and just horrible for you… but no question it was delicious. If it wasn’t so darn expensive we would have eaten more.

The one bummer? I didn’t get a funnel cake. I love funnel cakes. But at $7 a cake? Sorry… my wallet was hurting. I had to pass this time around. *sigh*


There were a lot of cool fair attractions.

They had some small bands playing free shows on a back stage. There was a ZZ Top cover band called Cheap Sunglasses that were playing when we arrived. They were actually pretty good! I enjoyed them a whole lot. Later that evening another band was playing… I don’t know who they were, but they were doing a horrible job butchering Bon Jovi’s “Bad Medicine” and I couldn’t stand it.

We wandered through the livestock barn. Lots of cattle and pigs, a few goats and rabbits. Spent a little time watching the judging of a youth cattle show. All I could think to myself was how much tasty beef was out there. Eventually we had to leave as the smell was overwhelming everyone.

Of course, there was a petting zoo with llamas, goats, sheep, some sort of deer… and again, I just kept staring at those deer, finding that kill zone. Now that I think about it, I should have used that as a time to talk kill zones with the kids! I mean, I had a live sample right there and could have walked right up to it and pointed everything out! Missed opportunity.

Concealment, not cover.

There was a cowboy shootout. Not a lot of action, but the comedy was funny with 3 bumbling robbers and eventually the sheriff coming to break up the party. They shot blanks, which were pretty loud so everyone would jump when they shot. I did think it was cool how they ended it tho: having all the “dead” robbers get up to show that no one was really hurt. But they also talked about how they used blanks and that blanks can still be dangerous (they shot an empty soda can pointblank and you got to see it blown apart). Then saying to be thankful for the police so we can live our lives today without us each having to carry around 6-shooters ourselves. Uh huh. 😉

One more thing on the shootout. Those guys had terrible trigger discipline. But I’ll chalk it up to old-time realism because Jeff Cooper wasn’t invented yet. 😉

We missed the “Swine Sprints”, but we did catch Whiplash. Whiplash is a little money dressed up like a cowboy that rides on the back of a dog. The show actually started off with a young man doing roping tricks, which was pretty impressive. Then onto the show. A little money, in a cowboy suit, on the back of… a border collie. That’s important. What was the show? Three sheep were released into the area and Whiplash the monkey cowboy (or is it cowboy monkey?) herded them around. But the reality? The monkey was just the attraction that put the butts in the seats. The real work was the dog, and the dog was on. The moment those sheep were let out of the carrier, the dog was locked onto them. It was so cool to watch how tuned in he was. And the sheep were huddling together, because they knew there was something out there with fangs. And the dog went to work, and the monkey just held on. Wife and I didn’t care about the monkey, just the dog. He was awesome.

Heading Home

So a long afternoon and evening spent at the fair. No, we didn’t get to see any actual rodeo, because that cost a lot more money. Apparently there’s a rodeo in Marble Falls in July and we may go check that out.

But still, we had a good time. Got to see animals, got to see some shows, got to ride rides, got to learn all about carnies, got to eat terrible but delicious food. The kids had a great time, and Wife did too (tho she wishes she had worn her Ariats and not her Luccheses). For me? Reliving some childhood family memories and making some new ones with my own family? All worth it.

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