"Lemme get this straight," said Dixie Milton to a 23-year-old carnival barker who says he cannot recall his given name but goes by the name of Phlash. "I throw the dart and try to hit one of those iron-on doohickies. If I hit one, I can keep it."
"Right," barked Phlash, picking lint out of his beard and pointing at the Elvis and Suzanne Sommers decals that flirted on the cardboard wall behind him.
"So what I'm doing is paying 50 cents for a little piice of sticky paper," mused Milton, catching on, she thought, to the scam.
"Not really, lady," responded Phlash, smiling. "You're also paying for the thrill."
Thrills, indeed, were the primary fare for more than 50,000 folks who last week descended upon the Bowie Race Track, where all the marvels, curiosities and popcorn hoopla of a country carnival came to suburbia. It was the most successful Prince George's County Fair in a long time, according to Don Wescott, who organized the week-long extravaganza that ended yesterday.
In littered cement parking lots behind the track, crowds lined up to ride merry-go-rounds and roller-coasters, and to take a crack at pigeon shooting. Beneath dirty canvas tents they shot pinball and fired rockets on computerized space war games, as the raucous blare of old disco songs filled the air.
With clouds of cotton candy in hand folks gaped, oohed, aahed and cheered as police SWAT teams slithered down to the track's clubhouse roof from a helicopter.
Crack units from the Army Reserve Command at Fort Meade parachuted 4,000 feet to the track infield and presented queen Amy Whiting with a baton they had passed in midair.
And if that would not suffice, there was always Mickey the Amazing Mouse.
"Pick your color folks. White, red, yellow or blue, let Mickey do a dance for you," vendor Ken LaCharity bellowed into the microphone strapped around his neck.
Contestants placed quarters and half-dollars on the color of their choice and watched as LaCharity lifted the lid off a wooden box. Mickey, a tiny brown mouse who looked like a prime candidate for a kitchen mousetrap, danced a little jig and escaped into one of a dozen colored holes.
"Damn rat took another quarter," lamented 15-year-old Douglas Sheriff, reaching into his pocket for more change.
Most proceeds from the fair went to the county's 4H club. Some concessions were run by other booster organizations, such as the Bowie Soccer Club.
"Play a hunch, bet a bunch," helled soccer-booster Gene Clark, one of dozens of poetic vendors. Hands shoved into the blue apron around his waist, Clark stood in front of the roulette wheel that seemed to attract more visitors yesterday than any other concession.
"Thing is, they give out real money if you win, not one of those stuffed animals," whispered gambler Jim Picone. "I'm sort of a veteran of these fairs. I know what's what." Picone, nevertheless, lost $3 very quickly.
At a nearby stall, barker Anthony Russell, 19, displayed his skill at climbing a horizontal rope ladder. "It's easy, really, take my word for it," he said to 14-year-old Desiree Lowe of Laurel.
After tumbling off the tricky rope a moment later, Lowe sniffed, "He's experienced. Give me as much time with it as he has and I'll do it just as good."
Fair organizer Westcott beamed as the tattooed parachutists fell from the clear turquoise sky. "I figured hurricane Fred would slow things up quite a bit. But this really has been about the best fair ever," he said.
One participant was a bit weary from it all, however, Queen Whiting slumped in a wooden chair at the clubhouse office nursing a soda. It was the only respite she was able to enjoy all day from photo sessions.
"I don't think my chances are too good for the Miss Maryland USA contest," she frowned, pointing at a photo of herself dressed in a one-piece bathing suit. "For those contests judges seem to like tall, slinky girls who look like models. I'm kind of like the girl next door."