My fair lady

By Carolina Hidalgo, Tampa Bay Times

TAMPA, Fla. – Even though Brad Esposite invited Carol McCoy to race down the fairgrounds' giant slide, they found themselves on the slow-moving Sky Glider. Maybe because he wanted more time with her, this small-town girl with a Tennessee accent that translates snark into charm.

She sat as far from him as possible on the ski lift-style ride, their legs dangling above the midway on the last night of last year's state fair.

For nine days, she had turned him down. Nine days of ambling around her handcrafted leather belt booth, asking needless questions about dyed leather and silver-plated buckles. Nine days of small talk as he served her cups of soba noodles cooked with 21 different vegetables at his Island Noodles booth.

"I knew I liked her as soon as she walked in here."

Now, here she sat, guarded and independent, with light eyes and a tangle of dreadlocked, twisted blond hair dotted with beads she got while teaching leatherwork at orphanages overseas.

He didn't know that she'd thought about him every day, as she doodled roller coasters in the margins of a notebook filled with people's waist sizes. And when the Sky Glider deposited them back on the ground, he wasn't the only one who wanted to spend more time together.

Another glide and a red velvet funnel cake later, she remembered she had bracelets to stud and watchbands to craft.

"I have work to do, you have work to do. I'm not done, you're not done."

But how often do you meet someone who makes you feel half your age, irresponsible with a nagging crush?

He lives near Fort Myers. She calls Gatlinburg, Tenn., home. But he couldn't let her slip away. So he talked her into a midnight walk. Then a drive around town. Then a make-out session in his Ford F-250. Then a phone call on her 10-hour drive back to Tennessee.

Carnival workers will tell you that at the booths that line the fair's midway, the odds are stacked against you.

Sometimes you need skill and sometimes you need luck. And sometimes, you just need to believe that anything can happen.

This story was written as part of a Valentine's Day-themed Tampa Bay Times series focused on workers and visitors at the Florida State Fair.