If you haven't been to the Alameda County Fair yet, it's worth attending.

Sure, the big rides are fun if you enjoy heart palpitations, and the corn dogs are almost too tasty, but what really made my visit worthwhile was spending quality time with my two daughters and visiting several offbeat, out-of-the-way exhibits that most fairgoers never see.

Take, for example, the Gem, Mineral and Hobby Collections. Stepping through the southern door entrance, one encounters a display labeled "Guess A Rock." Eleven rocks of various shapes and colors beg to be identified, with answers provided by an on-hand, expert volunteer.

Next comes the allure of row after row of cases filled with collectibles. We discovered no limit to what can be collected. Pepsi bottles and cans from every era? There's a display for that. Miniature plastic pigs? There's a display for that as well.

Sometimes one type of collection isn't enough. For example, 10-year-old Lindsay Salmon and grown-up Patrick Harvey, both of Pleasanton and who probably don't know each other, separately collect dozens of colorful and playful Pez dispensers. We learned that Lindsay has collected over 100 of these candy holders, and from Patrick we learned that Pez was created when an Austrian shortened the German word "pefferminz," which means peppermint. Who knew?


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Next to the Pez displays is a collection of water squirters, bobbleheads, and kid meal toys in the shapes of Star Wars characters collected by a Pleasanton youngster named Logan Seitz. Logan's note about his collection states that he is looking forward to the seventh Star Wars movie because he hopes that when it comes out "they'll make new toys" that he'll add to his collection.

Then, if you love French bull dogs and Boston terriers, don't miss the first place, blue ribbon bevy of ceramic dogs collected by Pleasanton's Arlie Alford. Darn cute, those pups.

And just when you thought you've seen everything that can be collected, along comes a display of about 50 sugar packets from various countries. This display is totally sweet!

Emerging from the collections, we strolled over to the poetry and art pavilion where photographs, paintings, and drawings hang alongside framed poetry. Years ago I entered several poems in the fair contest, and I actually won a few ribbons. This year I spotted names of local poets I know, including Martha DeWitt and Art Tenbrink, both of Pleasanton and both of whom won awards for their poems.

Leaving the art pavilion, we meandered along paths in the late afternoon sun that took us to exotic reptiles, model railroads, a petting zoo, and more. We couldn't help but remark that in a world of internet connections and cable TV, the fair still offers unique surprises for everyone.

Asked what she likes about the fair, Pleasanton's Ashley Ono, 16, said, "I like to get together with my friends and go to the fair. It's a great way to start the summer." Nive Raghavan, also from Pleasanton and aged 17, put it this way: "The fair is what I look forward to in the final weeks of school. It means summer is here."

Contact Jim Ott at jimott@sbcglobal.net.