TURLOCK — They say the camera adds 10 pounds. Well, in the case of Elmo, that little red monster from "Sesame Street," the TV camera appears to shave off about 100 pounds and, oh, 4½ feet in height. But Elmo's sizable stature didn't dissuade child after child after child from running to embrace him and fellow Muppet Abby Cadabby at a meet-and-greet at the Stanislaus County Fair on Thursday afternoon.
"Was I brave?" 6-year-old Christen Willmirth asked her mom as they descended a couple of stairs after meeting Elmo and Abby on an outdoor stage. She was assured she was and indeed, Christen was one big grin as she posed for photos with the furry red and pink pair.
She wasn't taken aback at all by their size. "It's a good thing they weren't puppets," she said backstage, because that would have been disappointing. And she offered an indignant frown at the suggestion that Elmo is a monster albeit a sweet one. "He's a person," she insisted. OK, then.
Christen's enthusiasm at meeting Elmo and Abby was shared by dozens of children babies to preteens who lined up for photos, hugs and high fives. Grown-ups got into it, too, including KAT Country radio personality Jim Wells, aka Jungle Jim, who pulled out his trumpet to serenade the crowd with the "Sesame Street" and "Elmo's World" tunes.
First in line was a group of sisters and cousins from Turlock, Modesto and Bakersfield. The oldest of the family was Mariah Torres, 12, of Modesto, who said, "I've been watching them a long time" and, when asked which of the two is her favorite, added, "You can't pick favorites they're both my favorites."
Thursday afternoon's 90-minute meet-and-greet preceded a second one that evening. But the first, less crowded session was an exclusive for members of the county fair's Kids Club.
Launched last year, Kids Club already has been honored with a first-place award from the Western Fairs Association. The program offers children ages 4 to 12 the opportunity to travel the fairgrounds and explore the exhibits while using a fun, interactive passport. Last year, 540 children joined the club, and as of Thursday afternoon, this year's membership was more than 800.
"I really wanted to focus on the educational aspect of the fair and send kids on an adventure through the fair by answering questions about science, agriculture, livestock, floriculture," said Adrenna Alkhas, the fair's marketing and communications director.
Children answer questions on the passport as they visit the fair, then turn in the completed document for a chance to win the "family fun pack" being offered by KAT Country 103, which partnered with the fair for Kids Club. That pack includes tickets for Great America, the Oakland Zoo, Monterey Bay Aquarium and more.
Though the fair ends Sunday, it's not too late to join Kids Club, Alkhas said. A passport can be completed in just one day at the fair and can be turned in up until midnight Sunday, she said. The questions are "pretty simple," Alkhas said, "and we encourage parents to help their kids not answer the questions themselves, but enjoy the interactive experience together.
"Our main point in offering the Kids Club passport is that there's more to the fair than carnival rides and corn dogs."
Bee local news editor Deke Farrow can be reached at email@example.com and (209) 578-2327.
TODAY AT THE FAIR
WHAT TO DO: Check out the fourth annual small animal and market beef auctions starting at 6 p.m.
HIGHLIGHTS: If you haven't made your way to the 4-H Farmyard Experience, head on over to see how goods like eggs, milk and honey are produced in the county. There's also a petting zoo with chickens, rabbits, pigs, goats, cows and more.
VARIETY FREE STAGE: Morris Day & the Time, 8:30 p.m.
ARENA: Freestyle Moto X featuring Metal Mulisha, 6:30 p.m., $12
CENTER STAGE: Pinkie Rideau, 5:30 to 7:45 p.m; Kelly McDonald Band, 8 to 10:30 p.m.
COMMUNITY STAGE: Vintage, 6 to 7:30 p.m.; The Andromeda Project, 8 to 9:30 p.m.
XFINITY STAGE: JD Platt & K9 Kings, 5:30 and 7:30 p.m.; Cowgirl Rope Tricks Show, 7 p.m.; Lucky Starr, Cowgirl Stiltwalker, 5 p.m.
HOURS: Gates open at 5 p.m.; exhibit buildings close at 11 p.m.; carnival closes at midnight.
PARK 'N' RIDE: 4:30 p.m. to midnight; park and ride free from CSU, Stanislaus (Crowell Road off Monte Vista Avenue), or Pitman High School (Christoffersen Parkway). Shuttles run every 15 to 20 minutes.
WHERE: From Highway 99, exit at Fulkerth Road in Turlock and head east. For fairgrounds parking, turn right on Soderquist Road, or go past Soderquist for more parking; $5 per vehicle.
ADMISSION: $12 for adults, $5 for children 7 to 12 and seniors 65 and older, free for 6 and younger.
INFORMATION: www.stancofair.com, (209) 668-1333