After 45 years of working the Stanislaus County Fair in Turlock at a number of different security positions, Darrell Long of Ceres has retired.
“It was just time,” Long said. “I have tons of memories and stories to take from my experiences, and I know that I’m going to miss a bit of that history when I’m gone.”
Long’s journey with the Stanislaus County Fair began in 1977. He explained that, at the time, those working in different divisions at the Stanislaus County Sheriff’s Department would be assigned to different stations at the fair. Being his first time, he was assigned as gate relief for one of the main entrances.
“I always thought, ‘Hey, you know it’d be neat to go and just stand guard.’ I mean, that’s all you do anyway. And so, I did and it was all overtime, so there was money incentive and then you could also expand your resume,” Long explained.
After being positioned at the front gates for a few years, Long soon transitioned to graveyard watch for nearly 10 years. After that, he was promoted to his first-ever managerial position and would soon become a staple right next to the fair offices.
“Right there by the office, that was my gate,” Long said. “I met so many people and saw so many things at that gate, it’ll take hours for me to share it all.”
One of Long’s favorite memories was welcoming actor Jeff Goldblum to the Fair in 2019. He explained that accompanying Goldblum was a unique experience as he saw the high-profile celebrity interact with the fairgoers as if he was just a regular person.
“He was talking with all kinds of people,” said Long. “In almost every sentence he was making movie references, which was interesting and fun to watch.”
Goldblum is not the only big celebrity he has had to watch over. As the fair has grown over the years, so have the concerts, with one of the biggest performances being boy band Big Time Rush in 2011.
“The Big Time Rush concert was by far one of the scariest moments of my life. The crowd was so out of control, there was literally a wave – an actual wave – of people during the show. People were airborne. They just pushed closer and closer to the stage, that eventually all we had left to protect us and push back on was the actual stage itself. And then before you know it, people were throwing shirts and other things up onto the stage.”
Long and his team were able to keep the crowd from ending up on the stage and everybody went home safely.
“I’m honestly not sure how we were able to make it out of there. If there is some sort of Fair God or Concert God, he was with us that night,” Long joked.
Long’s duties over the years were not just related to the celebrities who visited or performed at the fair. As expected at most large festivals, there are bound to be issues. Nevertheless, Stanislaus County Fair CEO Matt Cranford explained that Long could handle any problems in the most professional of ways.
“Usually, he was called in to help handle an upset or angry fair customer. By the time he was done talking with them, they were walking out of the fairgrounds happy,” Cranford shared.
Long was known for bringing smiles to visitors, explaining that he would love to crack jokes and toy around with fairgoers, particularly the older crowds.
“One of my favorite things to do was to ask the older folks for their IDs when the fair was giving out senior discounts,” he said. “There would be couples with canes and walkers, and I’d stop them and ask for an ID to prove their age. That would always get a couple laughs.”
Cranford explained that this type of humor could uplift the entire fair staff.
“When I first arrived, I would hear stories of the Darrell-isms that he provided during the fair,” he said. “His wit and humor always made for a great conversation. The quips and one-liners also made Fair much easier. And when you are on Day 8 in a long 10-day run, his humor is what got us through.”
Long, who has been coined the ‘Gate King’ by many of his peers and fairgoers, has contemplated retirement for the last couple of years. He explained the thinking behind his decision to walk away after the 2022 Fair.
“I’m moving to Texas, but that’s just part of it” said Long, who has been a longtime member of the Ceres Lions Club. “At some point, people don’t have a respect for law anymore. There’s just not a respect that there was, whether it’s a fear or it’s respect. It’s just not there. And so, if people don’t respect the badge, how are they going to respect me or the other volunteers? It’s hard to leave, but I guess moving just made the decision a little easier for me.”
At the final day of the 2022 Fair on July 17, his coworkers surprised Long with a sign thanking him for his 45 years of service.
“In all my years or working festivals and events, I have never worked with someone in security like Darrell,” Cranford said. “The Fair Board and all of the staff wish Darrell well in his next phase of life and will miss his presence at the Fair.”