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Coursey: Good news, bad news and fair news

The bad news is the Sonoma County Fair is closed today. The good news is it's open tomorrow, and through Sunday.

In a world where terrorists threaten to blow up embassies, where lunatics drive their cars into vacationing beachgoers and even our National Pastime is beset by another cheating scandal, the fair stands out as an oasis of wholesome fun.

Not so wholesome that you can't kick up your heels, down a few drinks and drop some cash at the horse races, mind you. But as wholesome as you want it to be.

A recent headline said the Sonoma County Fair offers "something for everyone," but that really isn't true. If you're the guy or gal looking for guns-and-gore shoot-'em-up entertainment, you'll need to head to your local movie house and not the fairgrounds. If you want a quiet acre of serenity, you won't find it at the fair.

But you'll find pretty much everything else. If the dizzying heights of the Ferris wheel leave you gasping for breath, head to the oxygen bar for replenishment. If you overdose on petals and greenery at the Hall of Flowers, find some balance in the dusty confines of the Chris Beck Arena. If the power, speed and grace of thoroughbred horse racing overwhelms your senses, duck into the Fur and Feathers building and gaze upon a humongous rabbit in obese repose.

The fair presents a kaleidoscopic assault on the senses. The smell of caramel corn and garlic fries. The clatter of the Olympic Bobsled Coaster. The humid mist inside the butterfly exhibit. The dirt and dung of the racing paddocks. Rock and roll from the Park Stage. Mariachi from the Mexican Village. The pitch from the pitchman: "Honeymooners? No? Well, let me send you on a honeymoon!"

Some visitors prefer to eat their way through the fair, returning for perennial favorites or gobbling concoctions they avoid in other seasons. The Pasta King's pesto. Funnel cakes. Turkey drumsticks that conjure images of Barney Rubble. This summer you can also find lobster corn dogs and Krispy Kreme bacon cheeseburgers. All the food groups.

If that's not enough to make your stomach churn, head for the carnival, where a variety of rides will send you spinning, whirling, twirling and tumbling until you're blue in the face and green in the gills. Test your skills along the kitchy midway, and spend the rest of the day lugging around a giant stuffed animal.

Better yet, take in the real animals. Kids love the petting zoo, and city slickers can lift a loafer to the bottom rung of a wooden pen to inspect the sheep and pigs and goats and cows brought from the farm to the fair each summer by fresh-scrubbed 4-H kids. With a little bit of imagination, those visitors can figure out where their food comes from.

It's become popular in recent years to complain about the cost of the fair, and to be sure, it can get pricey. Six-ticket carnival rides, $10 admission fees and all those lobster dogs can take their toll on a family budget. But the fair has responded to those concerns with a whole bunch of ways to cut visitor costs. Tuesday and Wednesday, for instance, $20 gets you in the gate and a wristband for unlimited carnival rides. On Thursday, seniors 60 and older get in free, and on Friday, kids 12 and younger get free admission. (More details at www.sonomacountyfair.com)


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