A hot time at the ol’ Whidbey Island Fair on opening day

LANGLEY — Long lines and high temperatures greeted visitors on the opening day of the Whidbey Island Area Fair. And the weather is expected to be just as bright and sunny this weekend.

A bustling crowd led to a line 40-people deep at one point Thursday, all waiting to buy tickets for the nine rides at the Island County Fairgrounds in Langley. Several were multi-fair attendees who claimed the first day was their preference because of a smaller crowd compared to the rush of weekend visitors.

Fewer people made for shorter lines at the rides — once they opened after a safety inspection delayed some rides’ start by about an hour. That suited 11-year-old Langley resident Parker Duncan just fine because he had a mighty appetite for the Super Slide, which he claimed (and to which his mother, Sherry, attested) he rode 20 times.

“I like the slide,” Parker said.

He also had a tip about the Mardi Gras fun house.

“We know a secret button,” Parker said, elaborating that there is a button on the third mirror from the end that triggers a special sound.

The slide was the safe bet after a day full of fair food. Between Parker and his mom, the Duncans consumed classic carnival fare like curly fries, shaved ice, root beer floats, lemonade and an elephant ear.

Shaved ice and its myriad flavors from cherry and root beer to Godzilla and Tiger Blood, was a major score in the near 90-degree heat. By mid-afternoon, well before the unusually warm temperatures hit, the shaved ice stand had sold about 40 small orders and 20 large orders. Later in the day, but still before the sun dipped behind the western tree line, people carrying shaved ice cups could be seen across the fairgrounds. With temperatures expected to remain in the 80s through the weekend, the shaved ice stand workers predicted more traffic and more sales Friday and Saturday.

The fair is a kid’s paradise. Sugar, fried food, adorable animals and thrilling rides are everywhere. Deano the Clown kicked off the fair’s entertainment and mesmerized more than 20 kids and about 50 adults from the Eva Mae Gabelein mainstage. Dressed in a loose-fitting multi-color jumpsuit and white face paint, Deano rode a unicycle with a seat raised 5 feet in the air, sleepwalked through the crowd and performed magic tricks, all to the trill shrieks of two dozen youngsters.

Performing feats and tricks was a hit across the fairgrounds, where Matt Hoar displayed the annual Chicken Olympics. Chickens that stood from 5 to 10 inches tall spun on a wheel, balanced on a teeter-totter, perched on a rod while Hoar juggled bowling pins — all with more than 50 people watching and laughing. Hoar’s tricks were admittedly more impressive than his jokes: “What do you call a row of rabbits walking backward? A receding hare line.”

Also in the Poultry Barn, 12-year-old Amber Weireich showed her two Nankin chickens. Swak and Ken, the four-month old orange and red fowls, stood only about 4 inches high and were often plucked out of their cage for onlookers to hold. Once out of the cage, it was easier for Amber, a Coupeville resident, to display her two first-place blue ribbons.

“I like it when I win the ribbons,” Amber said, with Swak interrupting with a noisy rooster’s crow.

“He crows with a sore throat sometimes.”

Thanks to a reduction in the choice of rides, thrill-seekers will have less incentive to go hoarse. The fair was without a Ferris wheel and the Yo-Yo circling swing, while multi-ride wristbands remained $30 and were valid from noon to 5 p.m. or from 5 p.m. to close.

For frequent fairgoers, the opening day was an all-day event. The Stonebridge family arrived around 1 p.m. and planned to hang around until the evening to take in all the rides. After Hope, 7, and Andrew, 9, rode the circling planes, the whole family including older brother Skyler, 11, mom and grandma, made for the bumper cars.

At the horticulture exhibits, two teams of three women judges examined flowers on Wednesday. The six National Garden Clubs accredited floral judges came from across the Puget Sound area. Their criteria was set by the National Garden Club, and each team carried a copy of the Flower Show Handbook, which details how each specimen should look.

As the women reviewed the individual entries, they looked for full blooms, healthy leaves, appropriate display. Nothing was more important than adhering to the rules — specifically about how many stems or blooms should be exhibited. While looking at one of the entries, flower judge Helen Allan of Duvall noted that even if the exhibitor had followed the rules, the quality of the petals, leaves and stem were still poor.

“She’s not going to get blue (the color of a first-place ribbon) out of this no matter what we do,” Allan said.

Added Bea Randall, another judge: “If (the handbook) says to have three stems, it better have three stems.”

The fair continues today with the parade at 10 a.m. from downtown Langley into the fairgrounds. The 4-H Auction is at noon. Musical entertainment fixtures The Timebenders play at 7:30 tonight.

Among the Sunday features are the 4-H Parade of Champions at 10 a.m., Chicken Olympics at 12:30 p.m., Bunyon Busters Log show at 1 p.m. and, at 5:30 p.m., “The Magic of Sterling” at the Eva Mae Gabelein mainstage.

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