By Jill Cowan
6:48 PM PDT, July 25, 2014
Between the deep-fried, bacon-wrapped whiskey and the stomach-churning rides, the Orange County Fair isn't really designed to do a body good.
But as it turns out, there is a place — a cool respite from the punishing sun and useless calories — where the casual fair visitor can improve her health and transform her life.
That place, I found Thursday afternoon, is the Festival of Products.
It is a place where your willingness to be poked, prodded and spritzed by complete strangers in full view of the sweating masses will be rewarded with total relaxation — a peace so profound it will carry you through your darkest days, or at least the next couple of hours.
My first stop was a booth run by the Chiropractic Network of Orange County inside one of the exhibit halls.
A woman named Antonia, who wore glasses and a low, salt-and-pepper ponytail, beckoned with a free reading that would tell me where I was carrying the most stress.
A patient for years, Antonia said her chiropractor was now her primary care physician. "I don't take drugs or pharmaceuticals," she added.
OK, what could it hurt?
After all, as Antonia later noted, I wouldn't be young and relatively free of various muscular ailments forever.
"It doesn't hurt," she said, as she moved the two parts of the hand-held scanner toward the back of my neck. The black contraption was outfitted with rather ominous-looking metal pegs, but she was right — all I felt was a little cold touch.
According to the reading, which measured "the relative levels of electrical activity generated when muscles contract," I have very high tension in the upper left part of my neck — most likely because I am left-handed.
Without proper treatment, Antonia said gravely, I could be in for a lifetime of problems.
Armed with that knowledge — and a coupon that would buy me my first two sessions for just $20 — I thanked her and headed off in search of relief for my surely impending severe neck pain.
I didn't have to go far. About two stalls away, a row of fairgoers were resting their feet on vibrating massagers as salespeople held buzzing pads to their shoulders and backs.
I sat in one of the chairs and was about to slip off my dusty Rainbows when a young saleswoman named Jay told me I didn't have to take my shoes off.
"It's a sonic vibration machine," she explained. "It vibrates your body at a cellular level."
It costs $269.
Jay, who said her crew takes Medi-Rub products from fair to fair, was suddenly beside me, tugging my shoulders over a body massager, which she moved in place under the small of my back.
I sat there a few minutes, letting numbness replace tingling. When I stood up to leave, Jay warned me that the itchiness I felt was normal — it was just a sign that acid was being released into my blood. If I used a Medi-Rub every day, the itch would go away.
I wobbled off, my feet and lower back burning.
Next, I meandered out to a breezeway, where a phalanx of red polo-shirted masseurs hawked massages under a banner that read "Relaxation Station." The station was operated by a Canoga Park mall massage parlor called So Relax.
I could hardly pass up a 10-minute session — having survived the Medi-Rub and all — so I handed over $15 and chose a massage chair. Vincent, who said he hailed from Guangzhou, China, started working on a knot at the top of my shoulder.
It was my right one, rather than my left, but who was keeping track? Not me, since I was too busy relaxing, my face smooshed into a paper-towel lined hole in the chair. I closed my eyes to shut out the parade of tennis shoes and flip-flops passing through my line of sight and tried to tune out the din.
Afterward, stress-free and with a burst of energy, I checked out items at a couple of other booths — a pain-relief spray from natural product line J.R. Watkins that left me with whiffs of camphor for the rest of the afternoon, a skin care line called Touch of Mink (with oil somehow extracted from real minks) that made my right hand soft as velvet.
I tested a portable massage system consisting of two EKG pads and an iPod-like controller that felt like fingers on my back, but was actually some kind of electrical pulse. The 22-year-old man who sold them left Shawnee, Kan., to travel the country peddling the $300 devices.
"I could sell the crap out of these," he said with a broad grin.
Finally, I decided I wanted to look as good as I felt, so I paused at a tiny booth where a woman in a white tank top with gold sequins brushed a layer of mineral makeup (with SPF 20, of course, and antibacterial qualities to prevent adult acne) to my face, then topped it with a dusting of a pink shimmery blush dubbed "Glow."
My transformation was complete: I was relaxed and ready to take on the world, despite smelling like a grandma's vanity table and looking like a 12-year-old gunning for the pageant title.
I stepped back into the heat. It was time for a snack.