Photos from the Vault

'We're here to scam chicks.' Teens from the '80s share Mid-State Fair dating secrets

Chris Schwartz, left, and Richard Murray, both 14, of Paso Robles, pose for a picture at the California Mid-State Fair in Paso Robles in 1986.
Chris Schwartz, left, and Richard Murray, both 14, of Paso Robles, pose for a picture at the California Mid-State Fair in Paso Robles in 1986.

There are a multitude of attractions at the California Mid-State Fair in Paso Robles: concerts, exhibits, confections, competitions.

Getting out and being seen is a big part of the event.

Back in 1986, when fans of Bob Dylan, Tom Petty and Dolly Parton filled the grandstand, Tribune reporter Dan Stephens investigated teen wooing rituals at the fair. You might not be surprised to learn hair styling product was considered an essential element.

In the 32 years since the story was written, cultural attitudes have shifted.

A few of the story’s analogies would likely be different today.

Stalking is recognized as a specific, legally defined crime. Big-game hunting is often the subject of social media shaming.

However, seeing and being seen has never gone out of style, even today, in the era of Facebook, Snapchat and other social media platforms.

The following story, published on Aug. 14, 1986, offers vivid insights into a teenage boy’s perspective on fair-going.

‘Chicks’ are fair game: Young boys on the prowl on the Midway

Bob Dylan?

Big deal

Dolly Parton?

So what.

To Chris Schwartz and Richard Murray, a pair of seasoned 14-year-old bachelors from Paso Robles, the biggest attraction at the Mid-State Fair is girls.

“We’re here to scam chicks,” said Schwartz, who along with Murray, bought a $10 pass for the fair, good for as many visits as they can squeeze in.

During the first week of the fair the diligent pair of teen-age Romeos have managed to squeeze in a few successful trips.

Schwartz described a successful day of scamming as leaving with “massive phone numbers.”

Some days are better than others.

While the biggest names in music lift audiences to their feet in the grandstands, young hearts have been known to fall along the Midway.

On Tuesday, “Biff,” Murray’s nickname, and “Lefty,” Schwartz’s nickname, had just arrived a the fair to begin a hard day of work.

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Fairgoers ride the Cliff Hanger at the California Mid-State Fair in Paso Robles. Joe Johnston

It was 9 a.m.

Romance knows no hour. They work until midnight. Then their parents pick them up.

Tuesday’s ambush called for the same strategy as other days.

The two positioned themselves by the waterfall, a known hangout for girls.

It’s near the main gate. Besides the guys said there are flowers and stuff around the fountain that attract girls like bees.

“Chicks like the fountain,” explained Murray as though he were a hunter describing the habits of his prey.

Next, they waited,

For all the good things stalking girls can deliver, it’s a cheap operation.

That day their funds totaled $5, and that belonged to Schwartz.

fair fashion
From left, Cal Poly students Felicia Krieter and Lilly Califano wait with Lacey Califano and Laura Palosaari, both of Los Angeles, for the Justin Moore concert at the 2016 California Mid-State Fair in Paso Robles. Joe Johnston

No matter.

The pair follow two rules.

Don’t spend money on girls. The duo acknowledged that as an unwritten credo of male adolescence.

Non-compliance is simply unheard of and would be considered treason against one’s gender.

Besides buying a girl cotton candy would likely inflict irreparable damage to a teen-ager’s masculinity.

It’s just too great of a risk.

Though money’s not essential, a keen eye and a ready smile can make or break a day’s hunt.

Those are the tools of their trade.

To look sharp, Schwartz carries a brown paper bag containing hair spray. An occasional touch-up keeps his hair at attention, the way he likes it.

He uses White Rain hairspray. He keeps it in an unmarked bottle.

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A 110-foot swing ride is coming to the California Mid-State Fair in Paso Robles in 2018. Joe Johnston

As for grooming, Murray said, “It takes us forever to get ready in the morning. We don’t know what to wear.”

After they dress, the two eat a hearty breakfast, one that will tide them over until midnight.

Though they arrive early that day, the prime time for scamming is between 6 p.m. and midnight, they said.

And the weekends, of course, are the most fruitful.

As they talked the girl action around the fountain was nil.

Too early.

They decided to investigate the Midway, the home of the carnival.

There too, the guys are savvy to the girl’s habits.

Murray explained that the girls shy away from the gut-wrenching rides that twist them upside down.

“They like swings,” he said.

“Wimpy stuff, like the Clown House.”

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An overview of the carnival area at the California Mid-State Fair. Joe Johnston

The guys benefit from the girls’ aversion to stomach-churning rides.

“They give us their tickets all the time,” said Murray.

Another haunt of the girls, according to Schwartz and Murray, is the ride called the Zipper.

Guys like to ride it. So girls hang out there. Since girls hang out there, guys like to ride it.

The appeal might surprise its designer.

Once Schwartz and Murray spot girls who interest them, their approach is simple and not as delicate as one might think.

“We just go up and say, ‘Hi,’ ”said Murray.

Next, come the vitals: hometown, age and grade in school.

If there is no problem, the guys ask the girls to “walk around.”

Harmless enough, but sometimes it backfires.

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After an hour or two of walking the fair, the girls may grow weary of the guys or the guys might want to dump the girls.

Every now and then, a former scam victim who is no longer of interest to Murray and Schwartz tries to revive the relationship.

“We lose her in the crowd,” said Schwartz.

Love is a battlefield, as one female singer put it.

Both sexes regroup soon enough.

Another time several days ago, some girls shrugged off the guys’ approaches.

A few hours later the girls saw Schwartz and Murray standing at the head of a long line for a ride.

Suddenly, they’re long-lost friends.

“They wanted ‘cuts,’ “ said Murray.

Fair Rides wave swinger
San Luis Obispo County residents heading to the California Mid-State Fair next week should prepare for a triple-digit heat wave. Joe Johnston

Living guilt-free after losing a girl in the crowd or living with being used for “cuts” are but two realities of serving as the fair’s unofficial teen-age ambassadors.

When the assignment does bring them down, the pair of friends dust each other off and try again.

Working as a team has other advantages.

“If you say things to girls that aren’t true you have someone there that will back you up,” said Murray. “Little white lies.”

For example, if the pair bump into older girls, Murray and Schultz suddenly age.

They tell the older girls they have their driver’s licenses.

That, they said, ices it.

But working with another male has its pitfalls.

For example, of all the girls they have met — mostly from Atascadero, Paso Robles and King City — their favorite is Sally.

“She’s major fine,” said Schultz.

Murray grinned and nodded his head.

“She’s not stuck up like the other fine chicks,” Murray said.

This dilemma stumps them, but not long enough to keep them from their rounds.

Suddenly, the two spotted a couple of girls near the waterfall.

The girls waved.

The guys returned the greeting and added a grin.

The hunt was on.

David Middlecamp is a photographer for The Tribune. 805-781-7942,, @DavidMiddlecamp
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