The sky over the Arlington County Fair Saturday was a brilliant blue, dotted only by brightly colored balloons that had escaped the grasps of small hands.
At a carnival booth on the lawn of the Thomas Jefferson Community Center, Jack Shimko of Arlington was testing his skills as a barker by hawking dart throws and a chance to win a prize for a quarter.
"I don't think I could make a profession out of this . . . ," said Shimko, who works for the U.S. Department of Agriculture. "The Jaycees are sponsoring these booths and it's all for charity."
Inside the community center, 316 booths offered everything from food and homemade crafts to political literature. The hall was filled with people, and still more balloons -- donated by candidates whose names and slogans could be seen everywhere as the balloons bobbed up and down the crowded community center.
At one booth, Meredith Fox, 3, sat silently but patiently as she had her face painted like a clown's. "She loves to watch me make up so I guess she's enjoying this," said her mother, Michelle Fox of Burke. "We came here to Arlington because you have to go where the action is."
And Arlington was indeed where the action was for the three-day fair, which ended Sunday. William Grady Malone, fair chairman, estimated the crowd at 60,000, about 10,000 more than last year.
Malone said the annual fair has grown dramatically since it was started six years ago by a local garden club.
"We're just an old-fashioned fair that brings families together and allows the kids to have fun without spending a lot of money," Malone said of the nonprofit venture that derives no funds from the county and is staffed by volunteers.
This year, flyers in Vietnamese, Laotion and Spanish were distributed, Malone said, and the fair's participants reflected the county's burgeoning international population.
One of the most popular booths was selling mounds of Korean food such as lemon chicken, shrimp rolls and fried rice. It was next to a booth advertising stress awareness.
"That thing is driving me crazy," said Tony Lee of his neighboring stress-awareness robot that repeated a message about stress over and over again in a monotone drawl. "Talk about getting stressful," said Lee, 23, grinning and rolling his eyes to the ceiling.
Outside were more booths, a petting zoo, miniature rides and old-fashioned American fare like hotdogs, popcorn and cotton candy.
Angie Biddex, 10, waited to buy a cup of coffee for her mother and struggled with the strings of several balloons that were just high enough to occasionally bop surrounding adults in the face.
"Oops, sorry," she said repeatedly when a breeze came up.
"I like the Ferris wheel," she volunteered. "I've been on it three times already but I'm going again. I like the pony ride, too. I want to do that next."
Over at the pony ride, some youngsters were having a bit of trouble adjusting to the saddle. "He's listing severely to the left," Sandra Szekely of Arlington shouted as her 2-year-old son Peter embarked on his second ride astride a four-foot-tall pony.
After the ride, Peter gurgled enthusiastically as his father, Steve Szekely, swung him in the air.
"He said, 'That was fun!' " his mother translated.
On a patch of lawn not too far away, the tiny tots of the White Star Majorettes were going through their ragged paces wearing red-spangled jackets and white skirts.
As they marched away to "Stars and Stripes Forever," played on a scratchy cassette player, the crowd gave them a rousing ovation.
"Fairs are for children. But adults remember fairs from when they were children," said Malone. "So really, fairs are for everyone."