For many people, fall arrives when the fair comes to town.
Open fields are transformed into flashing, whirling, color-filled carnivals. Diets get tossed aside for a sausage dog or funnel cake. Grown men walk around with bags of cotton candy.
From the Ferris wheel to the rows of giant stuffed-animal prizes -- the fair is a special place for the young and the young at heart.
On the eve of the 76th annual Augusta Exchange Club Fair, we asked folks at the recent Aiken County Fair what they like best about it.
AIKEN RESIDENT COKE THACKER, 42, has come to the Aiken County Fair since he was 12. He remembers feeling the same excitement he now sees in his 6-year-old son's eyes.
"Now I come here to bring my son and to see old friends," he said. "I also came for the sausage dogs smothered in peppers and onions. I love 'em."
After watching his son Josh and his wife, Lynda, 38, make their way through a maze of mirrors, laughing and smiling the whole way, Mr. Thacker seemed to think back on his younger days.
"I'd come to the fair even if I didn't have children," he said with a grin.
ELIZABETH DUNAGAN, 11, of Aiken, said she woke up the Friday morning of the Aiken County Fair looking forward to one thing.
"I wanted to lose my stomach," she said, giggling with her sister Alicia, 6.
Her favorite ride, the Gravitron, does the trick, she said.
"You spin around, super-fast, and your stomach goes up and down."
Her parents, Karl, 31, and Sharon, 33, said the girls bugged them about the fair for two weeks. The only stipulation was that they cleaned their rooms, Mr. Dunagan said.
Their father said it was special to watch the girls run from ride to ride because he remembered doing the same thing when he was a boy.
"I remember coming here with $10 and having nothing left 30 minutes after I got here," he said. "My friends and I would have to stand around for hours after that waiting on our parents to come pick us up."
THE HITE FAMILY traveled 20 miles from Batesburg to come to the Aiken County Fair. Steve, 51, and Rebecca, 46, had their hands full of cotton candy and tickets, trying to ensure that their three children enjoyed themselves.
"We like this fair because it's easy to keep up with our kids," they said. "It's not as big as the state fair, but there is still the same wonderful atmosphere."
Eight-year-old Elizabeth said she came for the food.
"I love cotton candy!" she screamed before heading to the bumper cars.
Farrah, 15, steered the car for her 6-year-old brother, Steven, who's only goal was to crash into his sister Elizabeth.
Besides "the lights, the people and the rides," Farrah said the fair was a good place to spend time with family.
COUSINS RACHAEL BOND, 13, and James Moore, 15, both of Aiken, said they've been coming to the Aiken County Fair since they were "little." Now they ride everything except the "kiddie rides," they said.
"When the weather starts getting cold, we know it's time for the fair," Rachael said.
"We look forward to the fear we feel on the rides," James added.
Upon arriving at the fair, they did a quick walk-through, surveying this year's array of stomach-churning rides.
"We look at which ones go upside down and which ones go 'round and 'round," James said.
They decided, after much thought, to ride the Twister.
"This is what it's all about," Rachael's father, Alan, said, as he watched them jump in line.
"The fair isn't as much fun as it used to be because I've grown up," said Regina Durham, 30, Aiken. "Now I just sit back and watch my kids have fun."
"The fair is a big meeting place," said Mandy Burdette, 12, Aiken. "The fair is all about meeting friends and riding rides. It's just fun!,"
"The fair brings fun to the community," said Don Dickinson, 56, Aiken. "The food is terrific."
"I wait all year for the first bite of a funnel cake," said J.T. Reynolds, 48, Wagener. "I could eat 'em all night."
The 76th Annual Augusta Exchange Club Agricultural Fair opens Friday at 5 p.m. Admission is $15 with unlimited rides or $5 at the gate. Children 5 and under admitted free. Advance tickets, available now through Sunday, Nov. 14, at Pump 'N Shop, are $10 and include admission and unlimited rides. See Friday's Applause! section for more fair information, or call the fair hot line at 722-0202.
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