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Benefield: Watermelon knives, mini donuts and memory lane

We started with the Hall of Flowers.

Because at the Sonoma County Fair, one starts with the Hall of Flowers. That’s just the order of things.

When I was young and our family made the annual pilgrimage to the fair, we always started with the flowers.

I didn’t always like the flora and fauna like I do today. As a kid I remember it being hot, humid and of zero interest to my young self. But more crucially, the Hall of Flowers was the thing that kept me from the thing I really wanted to see: The midway.

But I’m officially old now, so my 2022 fair visit started with the Hall of Flowers.

Sunday marks the final day of the Sonoma County Fair, so I was grateful to have gotten in an evening filled with all of its uniquely, and oddly timeless, joys.

Because of the pandemic, I hadn’t been to the fair since 2019. And I missed it. There is a feeling of timelessness that I find deeply comforting. Everything looks the same. It even smells the same.

It’s a multi-sensory memory lane.

As a teen, I worked in food booths each summer. I sold candy and popcorn in the racetrack.

I worked in a hot pretzel stand. We weren’t allowed to sell broken pretzels, so sometimes I’d tug a little too hard so the pretzel would tear and I could eat it.

One year, I was stationed at a stand across from the Chris Beck Arena and I swear I lost some measure of my hearing after night after night of monster trucks, demolition derbies and motorcycle acrobats.

So I look forward to the fair each year. For years, we brought our kids. Today, they have nothing to do with their parents, so my husband Charlie and I went solo.

As soon as we finished looking at the flowers, we went to Grace Pavilion to look at all the things for sale that we’ll never need in a million years.

Like a knifelike thing made specifically to cut watermelon. Just watermelon. Or a macramé plant hanger. Or a bucket hat with marijuana leaves on it.

After looking at more garden wind spinners than any human should, I was tired.

So we went back to the fancy massage chair guy.

The salesman saw us circling the strange, space-age La-Z-Boy looking things. I told him we were not going to buy a $7,000 chair but would he mind if we tried them out?

By all means, he said.

But he had to instruct us how to actually sit in them. These are not normal chairs. They look like space pods. There is a process for entry.

First, you have to take your shoes off. Apologies to everyone in Grace Pavilion Wednesday night.

Then you have to tuck your limbs into the deep folds of the chair as the salesman dials in a few bits of information.

And then, like a ride, I’m being tilted backward and the squeezing starts. Imagine a sort of blood pressure cuff on your entire body.

Then the knotting massage things start going after my lower back. It was very unnerving. Did I mention that you feel locked in? I was actually squirming. Things are poking at me from inside the chair.

Over in the next chair, Charlie is in heaven. He is not shaking and jiggling like I am. The gnomes working inside his massage chair seem like a way gentler sort than mine.

The salesman says to me more than once, “You should see your face.”

I survived, and when we emerge from the chairs, he’s right. I do feel lighter.

Until we go looking for food.

In no particular order, we had a gyro, a chicken sandwich and mini donuts. I actually did not eat the cold fries with a super weird collection of knots of bacon on top. Because, well, that’s gross.

Stuffed to the gills, it seemed like a good time to ride rides.

At this stage in my life, I don’t really do carnival rides, so it was my job to find the most nauseating-looking rides and put my husband on them. Just to see what would happen.

We started with the Orbiter — one of those spin within a spin rides. After a gyro, a fried chicken sandwich and mini donuts, I thought this was a particularly inspired choice.

He got off looking woozy, but was still smiling defiantly, so I tried again.

We walked to Spaceship 3000.

Picture the Jupiter 2 from “Lost in Space,” only way jankier.

A panel on the side folds down, and people pay good money to walk up the ramp, buckle up into god knows what kind of safety harness and then proceed to be spun in circles in the dark.

Charlie was the only person who wasn’t an employee who went into the contraption, which I found a bit unnerving.

But he expressed no qualms about Spaceship 3000.

He did, however, look a little qualmy when he emerged. (Qualmy is the official term for a person’s stomach after a gyro, chicken sandwich, mini donuts and two dizzy-making rides).

He’d had enough. I had broken him. But I had a few more tickets to use up, so he insisted on playing a carnival game.

We’ll call this game “Lose Your Money.”

Three darts, one star. Hit any part of the star and you win a dirty stuffed animal.

Charlie’s first toss bounced off the board. The second one came exactly nowhere near a star. The third one came kind of close, but the smiling man who ran the booth just smiled bigger and picked up the darts.

He actually said “Very close” as he laughed.

His job was done.

So we went to see the goats.

The baby goats were adorable, but I felt like I had a deeper connection with the bigger ones because they were braying loudly and crying to go home. They, like me, seemed tired.

But they were also actively (and aggressively) antagonizing each other, which made me miss my kids and the days when they used to come to fair with us.

So I talked to the goats for a while. Then I noticed that Charlie had started walking away, which is what he does when I talk to the animals for too long.

One thing I missed out on was picking up a souvenir. I didn’t get a dirty stuffed animal, or a leather belt with my initials stamped in the back, or a framed mirror with Snoop Dogg smoking a giant joint etched in the glass.

We did get a strip of photos from the photo booth. A tangible memento from the 2022 Sonoma County Fair.

Stomach aches subside, but photos are forever.

You can reach Staff Columnist Kerry Benefield at 707-526-8671 or kerry.benefield@pressdemocrat.com. On Twitter @benefield.

Kerry Benefield

Columnist, The Press Democrat

Have a story that is wild, wacky, bizarre or beautiful? Tell me about it. Have a question that starts with, “What’s the deal with…?” Let’s figure it out together. This column is about the story behind the story, a place to shine a light on who we are, what makes us a community and all of the things that make us special. With your help, I'll be tackling the questions that vex us: (the funny, the mundane, and the irritating.)

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