COSTA MESA — They came from near and far, some carrying umbrellas to shield themselves from the sun, others with their children in tow, still others in motorized wheelchairs, phone headsets strapped to their ears.
They came by the thousands between noon and 1 p.m. Friday to receive free admission to the opening day of the Orange County Fair. They came in school buses, on motorcycles, in air-conditioned SUVs that cut corners or rolled through red lights in search of free parking.
If there were ever a snapshot of Middle America on the West Coast, it was in plain view Friday in the overflowing fairgrounds parking lot, where parking assistants in straw hats kept waving their arms in circular motions — as though they were some kind of carnival act, foreshadowing what awaited inside the gates.
By midday, the Costa Mesa (55) Freeway was bumper to bumper as far back as the San Diego (405) Freeway interchange, only it had nothing to do with getting to that body of water called the Pacific Ocean off the Balboa Peninsula.