A visit to the infield during the 2009 Fair started at the center ring for all this action, the Coronas of Hollywood Circus. Predictably enough, the action ignites under a big, striped tent with a covered entrance area. Inside, banks of spotlights circle a small ring, with both raised bleachers and floor-level seating, some reserved for handicapped spectators, all non-smoking.
This free show is one of the Fair’s best deals as even souvenirs and refreshments are reasonably priced. Last year’s show featured a terrific acrobat on a gyro wheel, balancing as it rotated up and down, a hoop-twirling young lady, a high wire dude from Columbia who sat on a chair and skipped rope while walking the wire, a horse act circling the ring with precision drills and fancy stepping, a jaunty mademoiselle from France twirling scarves and a whistling clown.
Just outside the circus tent, there’s a free petting zoo, also under a tent. The mulch-covered ground is dominated by two majestic giraffes that take carrots from the hands of generous guests. When they stretch their supple necks and stick out their tongues to get food, it’s impressive. Colobus monkeys, Jack the kangaroo, Stripes the zebra, llamas—both adults and babies—Chiquito the donkey and a few goats also make for a fun time for humans, although undoubtedly less so for the critters.
Animal treats sold last year for $1, but it’s free to just look and pet. There’s a hand-washing station located near the exit to encourage good health habits. Nearby there’s a pony ride where a few sorry-looking harnessed ponies very slowly pace around a small ring carrying tots on their backs. For this there’s a charge; last year it was $4.
Also in the Coronas complex are an inflated circus train with five cars, a rubber gorilla and giraffe and the ever-popular bouncy room, all included in one price, $3. A couple of animal oddities, a “Giant Pig,” and the “smallest horse alive” also carry separate admissions, 50 cents and $1, respectively.
The silly but rib-tickling running of the Hollywood Racing Pigs takes place a few steps away. It’s a free show, held several times daily, as the porkers trot through concentric fences with the action narrated by a good-humored announcer.
The infield is also home to the Quad power jump, where harnessed kids bounce off oversized mattresses. This one is for younger children, say, younger than 10. The charge is $7 per person for three minutes. More adventurous is the rock wall climb where, if you can get all the way up, you can grab a $5 bill that’s attached to the top. A new addition to the infield for 2010 is The Creature, a 150-foot-long inflated monster that kids can walk through for a spooky thrill.
Speed demons can follow a blimp-shaped balloon bearing the words “Go Karts” floating above an oval track where they can climb into one of about two dozen mini-cars, some two-seaters, in various bright colors. The cars mimic real racers as they’re decorated with sponsor names such as DuPont, Budweiser, Crown Royal, Lite Beer, Cheerios, Lowe’s and Goodwrench.
Checkered flags flutter around the short run, maybe a tenth of a mile, as loud rock music blares through speakers. Just so drivers don’t get too intense, there’s a long list of rules, including no bumping, do not stop on the track, remain seated at all times, no smoking and obey all track attendants’ requests. The track announcer reminds patrons, “These are not bumper cars.” The cars don’t really go that fast, but when you’re sitting that close to the road, it feels faster. Last year’s rates were $6 for single cars, $8 for doubles.
Hungry families will find that the infield action is not far from the New York Grill, where they can get out of the sun and sit down to a meal. The restaurant was new last year and featured plenty of Empire State-produced choices from hot dogs for $2 to a half-chicken for $9.
It seems the Fair has long wrestled with figuring out how to get more use from the space available in the infield. Although there are plenty of reasons for families to visit, it doesn’t get as much traffic as the rest of the grounds. Let’s face it, it is a little remote and trams can only get a couple of hundred people there each hour. The keys are easier access and attractions so enticing that patrons will make the effort to get there. One possible solution would be direct, non-stop transportation between the infield and a couple of central locations on the grounds. Just make sure it’s well-publicized and free of charge.