The Great Minnesota Get-Together

07Sep10

Yesterday was the last day of the Minnesota State Fair.  I didn’t make it there for the second year in a row which for someone who has lived in Minnesota his entire life is a little unusual.  It’s a little like someone who lives in Los Angeles telling you they have never seen the ocean.  There are people who plan vacations around going to the State Fair.  There are people who have gone at least once every year for over 50 years.  Many transplants to the area just don’t quite get it.  They appreciate it, and some embrace it, but it doesn’t quite completely resonate with a lot of trasplants.  It’s a habitual thing–marking the end of summer and the beginning of the new school year.  It’s a nostalgic thing–we went to the fair with our parents and bring our own children back to give ourselves the fond recollections of quality family time spent together in the past.  It’s an emotional thing–connecting us to each other, a shared experience we can all talk about.

Ever since it started in 1859, there has been a focus on agricultural competitions and exhibitions.  I remember going there with my father and being amazed at the inordinate amount of time he could spend wandering through “Machinery Hill.”  I never could understand it considering he was never going to be able to fit one of those big combine harvesters in his little one bedroom apartment in Roseville.  But it may have been a holdover from going to the fair with his father.  Machinery Hill is still there but its character has changed.  There is still a good dose of farm equipment, but some of the space has been given over to car and RV dealers.  There are many more food vendors out there than I remember.  As an accompaniment to the barns with all the livestock, there is now a “Pet Center” with information and exhibits aimed towards pet owners (including live surgeries!).  There is also a stage area given over to “sportsman” exhibitions and demonstrations.

When you talk to someone about the fair one of the topics that always comes up is food.  Two questions dominate: Did you try (insert name of new weird food)? and How many Pronto Pups did you eat?  If you aren’t familiar with Pronto Pups they are similar to corn dogs, but the batter is completely wheat flour based instead of corn meal/flour.  There is a lot of the standard fair/carnival food: corn dogs, snow cones, hot dogs, etc., and one of the local jokes is that everything is on a stick.  And we do try to put everything on a stick.  (Macaroni and cheese? Yup, it’s been done.)  And if it’s not on a stick there’s a good chance it’s deep-fried.  (A more recent biggie to show up: Deep fried candy bars.)  Every year something new and/or strange comes up.  Several years ago it was alligator.  Another year “Fudge Puppies”: Belgian waffles completely submerged in chocolate and topped with whipped cream.  One of this year’s notables was camel.  Yes, it was on a stick.

The rest of the fair seems to have gotten more crowded over the years.  As vendors come back year after year they are always looking to get a little extra space and new vendors are always trying to squeeze in.  Local media gets into the act, too.  Every local TV station has a booth and/or broadcast studio and the early evening newscasts are done “Live from the Fair” with most of the stories being Fair related.  Almost every local radio station has a broadcast booth in daily use also giving us the opportunity to put faces to the voices we drive to work with.

As I said, I ended up not making it to the State Fair this year.  There is a logical side of me that knows it really isn’t a big deal.  From year to year there is not a lot of change.  The Grandstand which hosts concerts every night during the fair, is a big series of infomercials during the day, packed full of booth selling the same “As Seen on TV” type stuff year after year.  (We had Sham-wows! before they were famous.)  There’s the Home Improvement building, the Education building with the student art projects, the Fine Arts building with the adult art projects.  The political parties each have their buildings.  The nostalgic side of me wishes I had gone just to get back a little taste of my childhood.  And the emotional side of me feels like I might be just a little less connected to my neighbors.

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