After a rainy three-week run, fairgoers came in droves Sunday for the final day of the State Fair of Texas. Sunshine and crowds greeted them. Lines for coupons and Fletcher’s Corny Dogs stretched back over dozens of people, and the midway was packed.
Because record-setting rain had made a washout of much of the fair's three-week stretch, hours were extended for its last hurrah.
On Saturday, the midway stayed open until almost midnight, and extended hours Sunday kept the fair open for an extra hour.
Though it rained 11 days, more than 2 million visitors attended this year's fair. Closing weekend saw more than 380,000, according to fair officials. A final tally on attendance and coupon sales was not available Sunday night.
Last year, the fair closed its run with 2.2 million visitors and $54.5 million in coupon sales — second-best in the festival's history.
Award-winning concessionaire Isaac Rousso can’t remember the last time he had to wear rain boots five days in a row — much less at the State Fair.
Rainy days have meant lower attendance than usual, but they also gave Rousso’s team an opportunity to gear up for the huge numbers of visitors Sunday.
“We're going to take advantage of that opportunity and take care of all of these folks that have been dying to come to the fair,” he said.
To him, the fair is like a family reunion: Something you hate to have to miss.
“And that's why you see thousands of people right now — they don't want to miss it, and it's their last chance.”
Rousso — the man behind Cookie Fries, the Smoky Bacon Margarita and the Deep Fried Cuban Roll — operates the fair's Magnolia Beer Garden. It’s a quieter part of the fairgrounds, where anyone can “sit and watch the fair go by,” he said.
“At the end of the day, this is the greatest fair in the country,” Rousso said. “And we were here, rain or shine.”
In the middle of a crowd of children squealing at the sight of newborn lambs, chicks and piglets, Melanie Hronek stood off to the side of the Birthing Barn holding her own sleeping newborn.
Hronek and her family live in Austin, but they were in town and decided to stop by so her 2-year-old daughter, Elle, could meet Big Tex.
"She has a book that has Big Tex in it," Hronek said. "She's been really excited to come here and meet him."
Her son, Finn, was born earlier this month — just like the baby animals in the barn. The lights and sounds of the Midway kept Finn awake, and Hronek said she hoped the excitement of the fair would wear out her two children so they'd sleep during the car ride home.
Jerry Busby, 38, works on the fair’s Clean Team, hauling trash from all over the grounds. Sunday's visitors often found themselves in his path.
“Excuse me!” he shouted again and again, his voice booming but polite while he made his way from the swine barns to the orange dumpsters near the Dr Pepper stage.
Closer to the stage, a couple enthralled with an a cappella rendition of Michael Buble’s “Haven’t Met You Yet” couldn’t hear Busby’s pleas. So he repeated it a few times, louder and louder until he was shouting in the couple’s ears. They shuffled out of the way.
When asked if having to yell “excuse me” all day wore him out, Busby grinned.
“My voice ain’t ever gonna get tired,” he said.
Bethany Larrañaga, 21, and Aunty Calhoun, 22, have been dating for a little more than a year, and Sunday was the second time they’ve tested their compatibility at the State Fair. They selected their zodiac signs and wrote their signatures on a slip of paper to determine their fate.
“This you?” Alexander Zun, who operates the handwriting analysis booth at the fair, asked Larrañaga. “You have beautiful handwriting. Let me be honest — I'm not telling this to everybody.”
Zun handed the couple their results, and Larrañaga read them aloud.
“‘Companionship and closeness are the key words in this relationship,’” she read. “‘You would like to spend more time together, but with your busy schedules, it's not always possible.’”
That’s about right, they said.
“Yeah, we're busy people. He works and I work too much,” Larrañaga said.
Calhoun started reading his individual analysis.
“‘You have a flair for the dramatic and enjoy shocking people,’” he read, and Larrañaga agreed.
“He likes making an entrance,” she said.
Bobby and Jamye McMillin, who’ve been married for four years, got handwriting analyses, but they weren’t interested in a compatibility check.
They’re happy together, they said, and they wouldn’t want to hear anything to the contrary.