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Stop the Big Gouge at the State Fair

By Cap'n O

SEPTEMBER 22, 1997:  There are a lot of sick feelings in life. One is the churning in your stomach when you're lying in bed drunk and your head is spinning.

Another is finally realizing that you'll never be independ-ently wealthy and that you will have to work for the rest of your life. One of the sickest feelings is knowing that you've been taken advantage of in a big way--that you've been a sucker.

Right now I feel like a sucker. The New Mexico State Fair is to blame. For years I've gone to the Fair, dutifully paid my $2 at the gate and then walked into the Fairgrounds to perform my civic duty of being gouged by food vendors and by the rip-offs who run the midway.

And I had planned this year to attend the Fair and waste a paycheck on overpriced food and other goods because I also felt it was my responsibility to help the Fair reduce its $8 million deficit.

But the Fair finally went too far. It turns out that last year, out of 1.7 million times people walked through the Fair's turnstiles, they paid only 400,000 times. That means that of the 1.7 million attendees, 1.3 million got in free! The Fair gave out free passes faster than Democrats can write proposals to increase taxes. Every politician, government hack and hanger-on must have gotten one. Even a friend of a friend of a friend of a friend must have gotten a free pass.

Everybody got the passes except mopes like me and the people on my block who are so lacking in apparent status or political connections that we actually have to pay for things. No wonder the Fair is $8 million in the whole. If those 1.3 million attendees had paid their $2, the Fair would have an additional $2.6 million. And you can believe that many of those who got in free also had passes for free rides. And you know that this has been going on for years.

What's particularly insulting about this is that two bucks was not a lot of money. I gladly paid it. Who can be so miserably cheap or so pathetically in need of an ego-boosting deal that they can't afford $2? This year, the Fair has raised the admission fee for adults to $4 and will require that everybody pay to get in. I won't be paying it; I won't be going to the Fair this year or probably ever again.

At one time the Fair was a pleasant event. There was a heavy emphasis on agriculture, teaching kids about farms and animals and family fun. Prices were reasonable. Nonprofit organizations operated food stands where a round of sandwiches didn't empty a wallet.

But the Fair has been corrupted. It now exists so that vendors can make lots of money and so that Fair officials can boast about the high priced musical talent they bring to town. I thought it was supposed to be a state fair, not a series of concerts. Last year vendors cried because heavy rains kept attendance and their profits down. The only talk was of money.

That's wrong. A state fair, or any government produced event, should not be run as a type of turkey shoot that allows a few merchants to gouge the public. Fair officials should change the emphasis and get the event back to what it originally was. De-emphasize the money. Rent vending spaces cheaply so that vendors can set up and sell food at reasonable prices. That'll force the other vendors to lower their prices.

Junk the concerts. Bring in more animals. Shrink the midway. And eliminate the admissions fee or make it minimal, like a buck. Do that, and you'll draw crowds. And you'll make enough to break even, too.

I suggest that others who are sick of the Fair's crass commercialism stay away this year. Send a message. And don't worry. You'll still be able to teach the youngsters all about cows, lambs and other farm animals. Just take them down to the butcher shop.

--Cap'n O


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