Walk through the gates and enter your childhood: You’re at The Fair.
In the late afternoon of the 62nd opening day at the Miami-Dade County Fair & Exposition, a warm breeze bring with it the scent of roasting meat, cotton candy and axle grease.
The rides change from year to year, along with the shows and the fashions of the fair-goers. But the greasy fare of elephant ears and corndogs, crooked carnie smiles and daredevil teens stay familiar.
Near the Ferris wheel, a man named Griff Gillette peddles sweet treats, including a bacon-topped dish of ice cream called Pig in the Mud that he offers with the promise you’ll enjoy it.
Fifty yards to the north, a man with exactly one tooth invites passersby to step right up and throw a baseball into a tin milk jug, while the prizes — 50 life-size stuffed raccoons with wide plastic eyes — leer from the ceiling of the tent.
“Come on, you know you want to try it,” the man says, hands outstretched, as a group of middle school-aged girls shy away, giggling.
Behind the milk-jug game booth, the sun is dipping low over a metal arch that signals the entrance to “Kiddie Land,” where those too small for the big-kid roller coasters cling to their parents inside the hollow belly of a purple dragon that spins in circles on a track.
Nearby, a boy with two scraped knees pulls his mother by the hand toward a soft-serve custard stand, moaning, “I want ice cream, I want ice cream, I want ice cream!”
Across the park, under the candy cane-striped tent of the petting zoo, a bald man with a braided beard puts a slice of carrot between his lips and leans in so a dromedary camel can pluck it gently away with her own.
She manages to drool on him a bit in the process.
“Terrible kisser,” the man says, and walks away to look at a young zebra.
Outside the tent, a crowd is beginning to gather for the ever-popular pig races.
By the time the Swine Brothers — stage names Hambone and Porkchop, from East Prairie, Mo. — start playing the Osborne Brothers’ bluegrass tune Rocky Top to rile up the pigs, about 200 people have arrived.
During the first race, Hambone appoints four children to be “pig rooters.” Their job is to cheer for their assigned pig, all of whom come from a racing pig team called the Arkansas Hillbilly Ridgerunners.
A tiny girl named Gloria wins with pig No. 3: Squillie Nelson.
Behind the animal tents, at the very back of the Fair, are the death-defying rides reserved for the very strongest of stomach.
Bloodcurdling screams can be heard from the top of one particularly terrifying ride called the Mach 3.
A metal arm with two seats at either end takes riders up above the tree line, above the American flag and the Ferris wheel, up to what looks like a mile from the ground. Then, with two riders on the ground and two in the sky, the arm begins to swing clockwise and the thrill-seekers strapped into the seats begin to holler.
Amanda Simons was still screaming when she ran down the stairs afterward, but not out of fear.
“We’re gonna go on everything here,” said the 23-year-old, still breathless from her ride.
She and a few friends are visiting from Akron, Ohio, and they plan to ride every scary rollercoaster and tilt-a-whirl at the Fair.
They fear nothing.
“I want it fast,” she says.
The Fair will continue through March 31 at the fairgrounds next to West Miami-Dade campus of Florida International University.