Hooray, it's County Fair time! Oops, I mean it's Maui Fair time! Hooray!
Our biggest and best-loved community event is in transition, reorganizing to better meet the needs of 21st-century Maui. The newly formed Maui Fair Alliance has taken the torch from the Maui County Fair Association, which got it from the Maui County Fair & Racing Association more than 20 years ago.
While the 89th Maui Fair will feature a few changes and additions like the family-focused Take the LEAP (Live Healthy, Eat Well, Be Active, Live Pono) contest, the theme is "A Timeless Tradition." Indeed, the MFA has kept all our beloved traditions intact . . . except for the one most deeply ingrained in my heart - the name itself. It's not just a matter of habit. The phrase "County Fair" rolls right off the tongue; it feels good. It shouts nostalgia and homegrown, old-fashioned fun. I guess that's the point of the name change. Can't survive in the future by wallowing in the past.
I'm sincerely trying to embrace the new name. I'm looking at it as a coming-of-age thing. Like when my son Jimmy moved to Michigan and became Jim. He's still Jimmy to me, but in public, I call him by his preferred name. So it will be with the Count . . . I mean, the Maui Fair.
What's in a name, anyway? We longtime fairgoers survived a much more drastic change in 1988: the demise of the "permanent" Kahului Fairgrounds. For 70 years, the MCF&RA ran the greatest show on Maui there, before Safeway and the surrounding industrial area sprang up. The 67th Maui County Fair was the first held at the War Memorial Complex. (If you're doing the math, there were several years in which no fair was held; that's why it's not the 89th annual Maui C . . . uh . . . Fair.)
If you went to any of the first through 66th, you can't say "County Fair" without thinking of the aptly named grandstand which, through the years, housed thousands of horse racing enthusiasts, football fans, treasure-hunting kids and more. I remember watching a diving mule, a stunt motorcyclist, biddy boxers and closing night fireworks from that grandstand. Fresh boiled peanuts were sold near the entrance; a little farther away stood the beer garden - forbidden territory. The palm fronds and plywood meant to obstruct our view only served to create vivid images of debauchery in our young minds, scenes far more scandalous than anything we would have witnessed, had we peeked over the high walls. One adventurous classmate did steal a look through the cracks: nothing but grown-ups sitting around talking story, he reported. Bo-ring!
It was a short walk from the beer garden to the much more exciting, enticing midway with its games of chance. Beyond that, on the airport side of the Fairgrounds, the stables housed the large livestock exhibit. Rabbits and poultry had their own barnlike, sawdust-floored building. Other structures were home to exhibits like Orchidland and the Photography Salon. And, of course, the grand old Territorial Building, lost to fire in 1984, served as the perfect backdrop for the magnificent quilts and hand-sewn garments of the Homemakers Exhibit.
I think my happiest County Fair days came during my adolescence, when scrip was 10 cents each and rides were 40 cents. And that was for the good ones, like the Scrambler and the Tilt-a-Whirl! We giggled our way through Saturday night, watching the high school boys win giant stuffed animals for their girlfriends, dreaming of the day when we, too, would take home such a trophy, proof of our future boyfriends' undying love. As it was, we literally threw away our money, tossing dimes at Lucky Strike targets and coming up empty-handed.
At least the food booths were no gamble. Pronto pups, flying saucers, red candy apples, all had their own permanent huts. Then, as now, the fair allowed Maui nonprofit groups to raise funds as food vendors. My favorite cause, Mana'o Radio, will be selling BBQ pulled pork plates and sandwiches at the 89th Maui Fair. It's our seventh year, almost long enough to declare our pork a Timeless Tradition, like the classics mentioned above.
I've always loved the stomach-churning rides, but these days the food court is my favorite part of the fair. I indulge myself in all my old favorites and make it a point to try the new, healthier offerings too. Knowing that I'm helping my community with every bite makes the comfort food taste even better.
So the name change won't faze me. I do believe a fair, by any other name, would smell as sweet . . . as long as that scent includes lots of hot grease. I will gladly take the LEAP into the new era of the Maui Fair . . . but don't nobody mess with those flying saucers!
* Kathy Collins is a performance artist, broadcaster and freelance writer whose "Sharing Mana'o column appears every Wednesday. Her email address is firstname.lastname@example.org.