By Anthony Pignataro
(With assistance from Jen Russo, Tommy Russo, Scrappers and Anu Yagi)
1. If there’s one thing on Maui that brings all the island’s disparate groups together–the farmers, ranchers, bar owners, hotel managers, housekeepers, servers, activity sellers, realtors, boat captains, park rangers, canoe paddlers, hula dancers, pawn shop guys, land developers, hippie activists and even visitors–it’s the Maui Fair (this year, after 89 years, the fair board of directors dropped the “County” from its name, presumably leaving Lanai and Molokai free to develop their own fairs). Going is basically a rite of passage, a tradition steeped in the glory of past generations and carried on with great pride. Also, it’s a really fun way to spend a day or just an evening out. When you go (there is no if), you will eat unhealthy food that tastes delicious, go on creaky rides and see plants, farm animals and even old friends you haven’t seen since, oh, last year’s fair. So get out there and enjoy yourself!
2. And we’re not the only ones who think this way. In a Sept. 13, 2011 Maui Family Magazine blog post, blogger Liza wrote, “Sure, it can sometimes be hot, dusty when you come during the day. Sure, it can get quite expensive when you start adding up the expense of ticket rides, food, and craft fair purchases. But even with the dust and the expense, for me it’s worth it. I just look at the smiles on my kids’ faces and the delight in their eyes as we walk into the fair, I just listen to the laughter we share–not only with family but also with friends–then I know that the time and money [spent] at the Maui Fair is well worth it.”
3. You know what’s really worth it? Orchidland. That place is like another world. Orchids are delicate, wondrous things of beauty. Read Susan Orlean’s The Orchid Thief if you want just a taste of how obsessed people can get over these always intricate, often spectacular flowers. We would love to have orchids all around our home, but we have a tendency to kill them–we think we water them too much. You can’t do that. Anyway, Orchidland (located in the War Memorial Gym) is the largest display of the flowers on Maui. A product of the Maui Orchid Society’s love and labor, Orchidland will make you want to take one home oh, about five seconds after you walk in. Just remember–go easy on the watering!
4. Actually, the whole War Memorial Gym is a gem. Plan on spending a long while there.
5. There’s a kind of creepy goodness that comes from visiting the gym on the fair’s last day. The fruit’s starting to go bad by then, and it’s kind of disorienting (though not necessarily in a bad way) to see a flies buzzing around a moldy papaya that’s showing off a blue ribbon.
6. Also the fair board’s reasons for changing the event’s name–“Organizers hope rebranding the event, ‘The Maui Fair,’ will be part of a larger change, including a new generation of leadership, a fresh flavor and different experiences at the fair,” reported The Maui News on July 22–were delightfully ironic, given that the fair’s theme this year is “A Timeless Tradition.”
7. You know, most people will keep calling it the Maui County Fair.
8. Eighty-nine years is a long time, you know.
9. Which reminds us: there’s a lot of food at the fair. A LOT. And though all of it is bad for you, you probably should stuff as much of it down your gullet as you can. This is special, unique food–food available at the fair and at no other time. Everyone always says, “get the chow fun,” “the chow fun is so good” and so on, and you should try the chow fun, which is sold by the Wailuku Hongwanji Mission. But we always gravitate towards the Smoke Meat plate (not “smoked”–“smoke”), sold by the Kahana Canoe Club. Who knows what animal(s) all those smokey little bits of flesh were once attached to (and don’t even bother trying to calculate the amount of salt, fat and cholesterol in even a single chunk–trust us: it’s high). But it is also incredibly tasty, and that’s what the Maui Fair is all about.
10. Well, that and POG, sold by Iao United Church of Christ. Gotta have POG.
11. Did we mention tickets are just $7? Or that kids 5-11 are just $3? Or that kids under 5 are FREE? That’s all way cheaper than a movie ticket.
12. Want more entertainment than a mere movie? Walk over to the EK Fernandez Joy Zone (Thank heavens they didn’t change that name) and stand next to the Zipper or the Fireball or the Wave Swinger or the Dragon Coaster or the Super Sizzler or the Traffic Jam or any of the other scary/fun carny rides and play Vomit Watch. Even just a little bit of Smoke Meat Plate can go a long way.
13. Ditto flying saucers, sold by the Maui Veterans Association.
14. One year we saw someone in the food area serving Pepsi in Coke containers. Or was it Coke in Pepsi containers? Whichever it was, it was surprisingly cool to see.
15. The Maui Fair runs from Thursday, Sept. 29 through Sunday, Oct. 2. Like previous years, it begins with a parade at 4:30pm on Thursday–pretty much the best parade (sorry, Makawao) on Maui. And like all great parades, this one has floats (as well as an insane number of pit bulls–go figure), the best float being (in our opinion) Mr. Newspaper Man, which is just a tall guy who walks around in a giant inflatable newspaper, representing The Maui News.
16. We cannot think of a better place on the island to see art–paintings, sculptures and other stuff, too–created by school kids than at the fair. We can’t help but be inspired when looking at the talent showcased by children (it’s mostly because we SUCKED at art in school, but even the artistically skilled around here find a lot to admire at the school art exhibit).
17. Plus free keiki IDs!
18. And now, we’d like to take a moment to thank the EK Fernandez Co. They sponsor the EK Fernandez Joy Zone (love that name!) and, when the fair isn’t running, operate the arcade chain Fun Factory, one of which is located in the Maui Mall. Since 1903, the family-owned company has been providing midway entertainment and shows throughout Hawaii. All the carny and circus greatness known on the mainland–elephants, The Flying Wallendas, human pyramids, lion tamers, clowns–all came to Hawaii by way of Edwin Kane Fernandez and his succeeding generations. “From white tigers to racing pigs, from flying trapeze artists to a family puppet parade, we constantly strive to provide exciting entertainment and attractions,” states the EK Fernandez website. “It is this commitment to quality family entertainment and attractions that results in hundreds of thousands of island residents annually attending our events to experience the thrill and excitement found only on an E. K. Fernandez Shows midway.”
19. Like corn dogs? Then try Pronto Pups, sold by the Boy Scouts of America. They’re hot dogs, but dipped in a tempura-like batter.
20. Ditto taco bags (we’re not sure what the actual name is–we just call them taco bags because, well, they’re tacos that come in a bag).
21. Oh! Oh! Those waffle cakes that come topped with ice cream and fruit that the Future Chefs of Maui sell! Mmmmmmmm!
22. One of the cute (and very quaint) little perks about going to the fair on opening day is seeing Miss Maui. And she–Maya Ida, the 2011 title holder from Central Maui–will make an appearance after the 6:30pm opening ceremonies.
23. In fact, the fair entertainment as a whole is pretty much always good. This list of bands, musicians and entertainers is impressive, and includes Keali‘i Reichel, Jimmy Mac and the Kool Kats, Ekolu (with special guest star Josh Tatofi), Nuff Sed, Kalapana, Conscious Roots and the Ukulele Pops Band of Maui. Granted, that’s spread out over the fair’s four days, but still. Damn!
24. You know those little plastic bottles shaped like dinosaurs and filled with grape drink? They store them in a big tub of ice. Mom always said we couldn’t have one, but now we can.
25. Chicken fried bacon, sold by the Maui Cheer Babes.
26. Walking through the livestock portion of the fair, we’re always amazed at the giant neon pigeons on display. They’re like fluorescent colors, as though someone tripped on acid and Magic Markered them. Anyway, they are very, very cool.