At the invitation of my friend Heidi, I find myself on this warm Wednesday evening making my virgin voyage to the Pacific National Exhibition to see Huey Lewis and the News perform as part of the PNE’s Summer Night Concerts series. While I’ve never been a big fan of HL&TN, their music was an unavoidable part of my university days in the early 1980’s, so for better or worse, I knew I’d be able to sing along with at least a few of the choruses. Besides, the weather was perfect and I’d have a chance to meet new people and check out a real live Canadian fair, so what was there to lose, other than my street cred in admitting that I was going to a Huey Lewis concert?
As soon as I stroll into the fairgrounds, I sense a distinctly Canadian vibe. In contrast to the few county fairs I’ve been to in my home state of California, I’m struck by how clean everything looks and feels. So child-friendly. Such good ol’ fashioned fun. Hmmm. Different.
Truthfully, I have no idea what’s actually going on here. Just a few feet from the turnstiles, a military band plays TV theme songs from the 1970’s. I stop to watch for a minute, then turn quickly to move on when I hear the first few notes of “The Love Boat” (too many painful memories of adolescence). I pass booths with people hawking the most random items (Hot tubs? Lavender bath products? Bibles?). I’m aware of some huge buildings around me, but I haven’t the faintest idea what’s going on inside of them. Following the flow of the crowd, I accidentally stumble into the concert area and find Heidi and her friends parked on a blanket near the stage.
Experienced PNE-goers, all of them, they try to fill me on what I’m missing. A dog show called Super Dogs (which I noticed were also for sale in the foot-long variety in the food court), the Marketplace (or as Heidi’s friend Delia calls it, the Infomercial Stadium), the pig races and the lumberjack show – these are just a few of the crazy antics I’ll apparently have to come back for to really take in this whole monstrosity properly. This time, though, I’m just here for the show – and, as it turns out, the food.
I am prepared to apologize to Heidi and her friends for arriving without any fancy food to share, as I have wrongly assumed that the custom at this gathering, like so many others, is to bring your own gourmet picnic. Thankfully, I am quickly educated as to the error of my assumption… don’t be ridiculous, my new friends tell me, you don’t bring food to the PNE, for gosh sakes… it’s ALL about the fair food.
Yes folks, we’ve got your international fair cuisine here to the nth degree – the highs and the lows of it, for as far as the eye can see. Standing in one spot and simply scanning, I can see – and smell – the deep fried donuts, battered onion rings, jalapeno poppers, garlic prawns and sweet corn, Korean tacos, pork sliders, Asian spiced fries, the German Sausage Haus, the ubiquitous Donair cart, Luigi’s Fine Foods specializing in Italian food since 1960. We’ve got your hot popcorn, cotton candy and candy apples. Delia has instructed me on the superiority of the sweet red candy apples over the tart green ones with the simple adage, “If it’s round, it’s wrong.” Oh, and there’s the Foods of Mexico cart, the scariest thing this L.A. girl has seen yet. As the perfect compliment, right smack the middle of it all, you can have your future told by the psychic, Mrs. Dolores, Master Palmist (“I see a very bad stomach ache…”).