The rest of year, it’s nothing. Not nothing, but almost nothing. Near enough to nothing that when I drive by the fairgrounds in February, May or in the dead of August, I am flooded by memories of the fair in all its homey, corny and magnificent-in-its-own way glory.

Exaggeration? Probably, but the fair reminds me of “The Second Coming” — no, not that Second Coming, but rather the poem by Yeats. He would roll over in his grave twice if he knew his poem was being used to invoke the Kern County Fair:

“Surely the Second Coming is at hand.

“The second coming! Hardly are those words out

“When a vast image out of Spiritus Mundi

“Troubles my sight: somewhere in the sands of the desert.”

Not all of it works. The fair doesn’t “trouble my sight” and the “Second Coming” thing may be a stretch but the “desert” fits and the fair has sort of a “Spiritus Mundi” feeling to it. A bigger-than-life-ness.

If nothing else, I’ve had my heart broken there. If you haven’t had your heart broken at the fair, you haven’t lived, or at least lived in Bakersfield.

A broken heart. I liked her and she liked me OK but she liked someone else better. “Better” is better than “OK.”

Love is possible at the fair, because of fair religion. For 12 days, fair religion is almost better than Christianity, Judaism and Buddhism all put together.

Those religions are fine but when’s the last time you got a really good corn dog out of them? A ride on the Hammer? A chance to judge the Spam contest with all of Spam’s delicious iterations?

That’s fair religion. Spiritus Mundi. Once a year rising from desert sand in order to delight its fans and set off the grumbling from its detractors.

My memories go way back. Fifty years back. We-grew-up-two-blocks-from-the-fairgrounds back.

We’d go once or twice but when we didn’t, I would climb to the top of the pine tree in the front yard and watch the Ferris wheel spin round and round. In high school, I imagined being on the Ferris wheel with a girl, the girl, the one-who-broke-my-heart girl, but I had to be satisfied with thinking that if I couldn’t be with her, at least she wasn’t alone.

No, not alone. If her car, their car, became detached and they were launched off the top of the Ferris wheel, at least they could ride together into — as Yeats might put it — “twenty centuries of stony sleep.”

Recently, the fair has been about grandchildren. It always comes back to grandchildren. Talk about the second coming.

If you’ve fallen out of fair shape, taking grandchildren there is an opportunity to rediscover your fair legs.

The approach to the fair is almost the best part. Driving toward the fairgrounds from all corners of Kern County, being drawn almost magnetically by the search lights whose beams prove irresistible. Walking through the gates. Feeling that fair religion course through our veins. It’s Spiritus Mundi all over again.

Last year, we took Andrew. When we pulled into the vast parking lot west of the fairgrounds, you could see the Ferris wheel go round and round. His face lit up. Mine did too.

That’s not nothing, that’s something. Something to look forward to. Something rising, once a year, from the sands of the desert, this sand, ours.

Herb Benham is a columnist for the Bakersfield Californian and can be reached at or (661) 395-7279.