11:22 AM CDT on Friday, September 28, 2007
By DARLA ATLAS / Special Contributor to the Dallas Morning News
Allison Aars has many special people in her life, but one stands head and shoulders above the rest: Big Tex.
The Dallas native is such a State Fair of Texas fanatic that she buys a season pass.
"The food is my favorite," says Allison, 27. "I have to have a Fletcher's corny dog in front of Big Tex. I love the Texas Star and the log ride, and I absolutely adore the midway. There are certain games I like to play that I win."
One of the few years she missed the fair was in 2000, after then-single Allison Brown moved to Los Angeles. Things were going great. She became a production assistant on shows such as CSI: Miami, but "I missed home too much," she says.
Her friends encouraged her to move home; they'd often tell her about a group of people they'd begun hanging out with. One guy in particular, Michael Aars, kept coming up as someone she'd like, but Allison was in a relationship.
In 2003, she moved home. "I left Dallas with two best friends, and I came back with 20," she says of her expanded circle.
At State Fair time, the group made plans to attend. Allison's relationship had ended, but she was too excited to think about romance. Decked out in a Fletcher's T-shirt, "I was actually kind of skipping" into the fairgrounds, she says.
One other person shared her excitement: Michael.
Neither knew how fanatical the other was about the fair.
"That was the gravity that pulled us together," says Michael, 29. At the fair, "you don't have to worry about work, the mortgage or anything. You can just let go and be a kid."
That night, however, the fair offered something even more special. He decided that Allison was the girl for him "at about minute number three."
Allison felt sparks, too: "He's extremely witty and clever, and we think very much alike. We love anything childlike, anything spontaneous and fun. On top of that, he's amazingly sweet. And handsome! He was my perfect guy."
By the time the 2004 fair opened, they were in a serious relationship. Allison says she'd always wanted to get engaged at her favorite place, but had never mentioned it.
"I told myself, 'Allison, you're not getting engaged anytime soon. Don't get your hopes up.'."
Meanwhile, Michael had been saving for a ring. "I thought, 'Wouldn't it be perfect to get engaged at the fair since we fell in love there?'."
On their 11-month anniversary, the two went to the fair. Allison, spotting an old-fashioned photo booth, asked whether they could get their pictures taken. Maybe later, Michael said. He had an agenda.
"Oh, man, that's the worst day I've ever had at the fair," he jokes. "I was a wreck. My only plan going in was to have the ring in my pocket, and when the opportunity arose I'd get engaged to this girl. That didn't go well at all."
He almost did it at a game booth: "I was thinking we could play and I'll act like she won the ring." Instead, she won a big stuffed animal on her first try.
He considered the log ride, but "deep water and expensive jewelry don't mix."
How about Big Tex? No, too many people milling around the giant's feet.
He even considered the fun house, "but the moving floor made it hard to kneel."
Finally, he figured he'd do it on the Texas Star. They asked for a car to themselves, but the operator said there was a balance issue. Instead, they were joined by three men who didn't speak English.
"I was trying to talk to them, but they didn't understand," Allison says. "I held my camera up to ask them to take our picture, but they all got together and posed instead. It was hilarious."
Michael was running out of options. Panic was setting in.
Meanwhile, "I was just la-di-da, having the time of my life," Allison says.
As the fair started closing for the night, he suggested they go back to the photo booth.
The resulting strip of pictures tells the rest of the story.
"The first picture is me smiling, and he's a deer caught in the headlights," she says. "The next one is him down on one knee, and my jaw is absolutely dropped. In the next one, my hands are clasped to my face; I'm trying not to cry. The last one is of us hugging."
The experience was memorable: "As if the moment you get engaged is not surprising enough, add a whole bunch of flashes to it," she says. "I was just in shock."
Although the proposal worked out perfectly, "had you asked me, 'Hey, do you think you'll ask her in the photo booth at the fair?' I would have said, 'Absolutely not,'." Michael says with a laugh.
The two wed May 7, 2005, at Highland Park United Methodist Church, where Allison now works as a special-events coordinator. Michael, a partner in the advertising agency Aars/Wells, notes that their reception took place at the Hall of State at Fair Park, and their invitations included a star to symbolize Texas. "We had a fair-themed wedding," he says.
They already have this year's fair passes. As for the future, Michael says, "Our plans include raising our kids on cotton candy and corny dogs."