By the time you pay for admission, parking and a corny dog… a day at the State Fair of Texas is getting pricey. Throw in a few attempts at a midway game and you can practically hear the dollars flying from your wallet.
There’s just something about trying to knock over milk bottles with a baseball or scoop a prize duck from the pond that’s hard to resist.
Bells and whistles of the midway aside, the game operators themselves are pretty chatty. They pick on tall guys, daring them to sink a basket. Or heckle parents with kids in tow, promising a prize for the whole family.
A game operator named Andre Evans has been at the fair for a quarter century. Today he’s manning an old favorite, that game where you try to smash a plate with a baseball. He’s so charming, he’s got a lot of takers and his philosophy is pretty simple.
“What I want my people to do is have five dollars worth of fun, win, lose or draw,” Evans says. “So I’m going to give you an example ok? Hey! Watch this pretty girl right here! Watch this! She’s about to tear up something!” Evans shouts at the top of his lungs.
In case you were wondering, the pretty girl in question missed.
Over at Kentucky Derby, a game where how accurately you roll a ball into a hole determines how fast your racehorse charges, Lucy Jones was lucky number 2.
“This is the first time I’ve played in probably 30 years!” Jones laughs.
Her winning strategy? “I threw it fast and often,” she says.
For her prize, she chose a stuffed Gizmo toy. You know, the good little creature from the 1984 movie, Gremlins.
Hisham Elsherbini scored a Gizmo too, after breaking a plate to smithereens with a well-aimed pitch.
“Well, I went back to my baseball, peewee baseball days. I used to be a catcher. And did I ever tell you guys I played high school football too?” says Elsherbini.
The array of plush prizes at this year’s fair is diverse, to say the least.
Texas Longhorns dressed in head-to-toe burnt orange. Fluorescent penguins in snow caps. Oversized Curious George dolls, chubby cows, even giant stuffed bananas wearing lipstick.
Elizabeth Correa wasn’t going to quit squirting water at a target until all three of her kids had pink and white unicorns as big as toddlers.
“You have a lot of chance, 10 percent you’re gonna win. So keep trying until everybody gets one,” says Correa.
That’s what game operators are banking on. As long as fairgoers have a stuffed Scooby Doo or inflatable sword in their sights, there will always be someone to ring the winner’s bell.