3hree Things: On The Orange International Street Fair

Watch out for 3hree Things every Tuesday, where Riley Breckenridge, drummer of Orange County's favorite local alt-rock band Thrice, gives his take on life in Southern California as an OC native.

Courtesy of Gooutoc.com
I've lived in Orange for the better part of the last six years and have successfully managed to avoid the Orange International Street Fair every Labor Day weekend. As someone with an aversion to crowds and most things fair and/or festival-like (read: mild claustrophobia), being a part of a huge (mostly drunk) crowd packed into a square mile of fried foods, booze, arts and crafts, and a cacophony of ethnic music seemed like a nightmare.

When I lived in Old Towne Orange (a couple of blocks away from fair's epicenter in the The Orange Circle), I used to put myself on house arrest during Labor Day weekend and opt to watch the parking nightmare, march of the drunkards, and involuntary-front-lawn-and-gutter-barf-exhibits unfold from the quiet refuge of my living room. It seemed like a wise move at the time.

I moved to the other side of the 55 Freeway a little over a year ago, and I think the combination of not being stuck smack dab in the middle of the nightmare on Glassell, a momentary lapse in fair-fearing wussiness, and a dash of curiosity got the best of me this year. Breaking my six year streak of Street Fair avoidance, the lady and I decided to take a few hours on Sunday afternoon to go check out what I'd been missing.


The Food

If you're a fan of permutations of fried dough or enjoy a variety of whipped animal parts encased in the intestines of farm animals, the Street Fair is your Mecca. They're both everywhere. I tend shy away from the former, but wholly appreciate the latter (much to the dismay of my waistline), so on a trip down German Street, the lady and I decided to snag a bratwurst smothered in sauerkraut and spicy brown mustard from the folks at the Mattern Deli booth. It was glorious. I'd definitely recommend hitting up Mattern next time you're in the mood to grill some brats, and would also recommend trying their smoked pork chop sandwich if you're in the area for lunch.

On the other hand, if you have the balls (or intestinal fortitude) to buy and eat sushi or ceviché from a booth at a freaking fair, you're a much bigger man than I. Oh you mean I can shuffle through this crowd, half-drunk in this heat and have diarrhea? What a treat. 

Jennifer Shaw
The Booze

It seemed that our only options were Bud Light, Bud Light, Bud Light, or "imports" owned by Anheuser Busch. (Note: it seemed that way because Bud Light was an official sponsor of the fair.) We needed something to wash down those wonderful brats with, and thankfully, The Bruery was right there, shining like a lighthouse beacon amongst the lukewarm and watered-down kegs of swill. Rather than dropping four bucks for an 8-ounce Stella in a 12-ounce cup, we opted to drop five bucks a piece to try a couple of flights at The Bruery. Well-played, Mauer

The lady got the Wild West flight, the highlights of which were the Bootlegger's Smoked Black Lager (bacon-flavored beer that would be amazing with a stack of pancakes), and the Beachwood Kilgore Stout (like a glass of iced black coffee with 7.1% ABV--truly dangerous for someone who loves coffee and beer). I opted for the Special flight, which, while "special" was not nearly as good as what the Wild West Flight consisted of. The clear winner in the flight was The Bruery's own Run BMC, a delicious hoppy Pilsner, that would probably be my favorite "drinkable" beer on the planet were it not $10 for a 22-ish-ounce bottle. Great beer, kind bartenders, and a much-needed respite from the chaos of the Street Fair.

The People

In a word; drunk. Most of them, anyways. Some wore viking helmets, some fell off curbs, some barfed in gutters, and some wore t-shirts  that you'd see in the window of a novelty shop, e.g., "Kiss My Country Ass", "Save A Horse, Ride A Cowboy", or "Orgasm Donor" and think, "Who the hell buys this crap?". The answer was clear. THAT woman. THAT woman. And THAT dude. Bravo, folks. When you're not sure if your actions speak for themselves, you might as well broadcast your idiocy via a large front print on a t-shirt.

There were people selling wands for money. Wands. Even magicians have moved past using wands at this point. There were people selling novelty tees for babies, because when your child is unable to speak for itself, it's a good idea to swaddle him or her in bad jokes. And there were people selling pencil sketches of icons (Bob Marley, Charlie Chaplin, & Jim Morrison) that you've literally seen at EVERY FESTIVAL AND FAIR THAT YOU'VE EVER BEEN TO IN YOUR LIFE.

There were also a lot of folks just standing around, gently swaying in the breeze, eyes half-closed but glazed over. Waiting for something. Anything perhaps. I saw a couple of older fellows that just stood there, staring at nothing particular, slowly rocking back and forth, and if you'd told me that they'd been there, in that exact spot for three days and were waiting for some kind soul to put them on a dolly and wheel them to a holding tank, I might've believed you.


All in all, the Street Fair was much more enjoyable than I thought it would be, pre-conceived notions be damned. I'm still not sure that you could convince me to go there after dark, when some folks are ten-plus beers deep, or the local hipster crews emerge from drinking their PBR's to mingle with the commoners, or when the Chapman kids get done doing keg stands and want to blow off some first-semester steam in front of a crowd, or when the moto-bros from the 909 (or HB or Costa Mesa) decide that it's time to descend upon Orange County like a cast of flat-billed, high-socked, Dickies-wearing vultures. I'll take my Street Fair in small mid-day doses, and I'll definitely be back next year.

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