Fair Before Formal


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Photo by Marissa Garcia

Jacksonville’s cityscape waned ever smaller behind us, fading into memory as we whirled down 95, music blasting, windows down, and hearts set on Orlando.

This weekend was my fraternity’s formal. For those unfamiliar with Greek life, a formal is basically college prom with fewer drunken high-schoolers needing teacher supervision and a little more black-out college kids with security guards patrolling the hotel. It’s not everyone’s cup of tea, but I love getting dressed up, especially now that I’ve got my own vintage Brooks-Brothers tuxedo. But that’s a whole other story.

This year we shelled out some extra cash and got to stay in some fancy digs down in Orlando. Getting dressed to the nines in Disney sounds like a good time, at a pretty affordable rate too. Hotels are more expensive than you might think, especially when they know you are a group with a high probability of breaking something expensive.

We had the hotel rooms for Friday and Saturday night, but my little brother and I didn’t leave school with our dates until around 8 p.m. I had two dates because I was taking someone-who-could-no-longer-attend’s date. Having two dates may sound kind of baller, but it’s just more expensive and makes sleeping arrangements awkward.

We weren’t going to get to the hotel until around 10 p.m. That’s fine, we can check in until midnight. That’s when the party starts anyway. If you go to bed before four, you aren’t doing it right.

The drive was full of 90s girly music because our dates took control of the stereo. I’ve never heard more Spice Girls and *NSYNC in my life, except for that phase I don’t like to talk about in middle school.

We were about an hour away from Orlando when flashing lights took over the horizon. It was a Ferris wheel. At the exact same time, everyone in the car screamed “Fair!”

You would have thought we were a bunch of pre-teens, rather than a Prius full of young adults. That’s right. A Prius. I wouldn’t even mention it, but it’s relevant to the story.

I thought, “Why not? We have some extra time,” and took the exit. The girls in the back were giddy with excitement. I almost thought they had never been allowed to go to a fair before. I drove up to the fair and started looking for parking. I had no idea where we were, I had never been to that part of Florida before. So I pulled close to what I’m fairly certain was the parking attendant, a big sweaty redneck, to ask for directions. Big mistake.

“Excuse me, is this the way I head for parking.”

“Well, first you are going to have to head back to the dealership and get a bigger car.”

And that was it. Now, I’m used to getting made fun of for having a Prius. It’s not that manly of a car. But when I have enough money, I’m buying a better car. And I pay less for gas than you. So shut up.

What struck me speechless was his complete lack of a joking demeanor. This large, southern guy was 100 percent serious about me going back and buying a different car. Insults I can handle, blank-eyed statements like that catch me a little off-guard. Maybe I should have said some cutting remark about not having to compensate for certain parts of my anatomy, but I was struck dumb by his hulking dislike for my small vehicle. And his three friends were all twice my size.

So I rolled my quiet little car into a spot and went into the fair. A couple of 17-year-olds leaving the fair gave our three girls some wristbands that let them get onto the ride for free, so that was a nice bit of luck. I still had to pay five bucks for enough tickets to ride the Ferris wheel.

Each car only sat four, so my little brother opted out. The three girls and I stood out against the middle- and high-school kids waiting line, but nobody gave us a second glance. On the way up, the two girls across from my real date and me began joking that they were on a date. That’s when the creepy carnie yelled “Next time I’ll take a picture!” and a few 12-year-olds tried to hit on my second date.

But it was worth it, getting to the top and looking out over this Florida town I’ve never seen before. If you get high enough, anywhere on Earth can look beautiful.

We only had time for the girls to run through a funhouse before we had to get on the road. We had to be at the hotel by midnight, and we were far enough away that we would barely make it.

Long story short, we made it on time. Turned out I didn’t even have a roommate at the hotel, but that’s a whole other story.

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