Monday, August 30, 2010

Love a-Fair



So, I went to the MN State Fair twice last weekend. Not once, but twice.

Friday I took the Fair Express bus from downtown with my son, aged 6-going-on-7; who is the perfect Fair companion, since he's interested in most things, game to try almost everything else, and will happily tolerate ten minutes of any large exhibit before reminding me that where he'd really like to go is the Fun House.

We were there for about 6 hours, and had a blast.

I went back on Saturday, unbeknownst to the boy (though with his father's permission) to join the Second Annual State Fair Sketchout, an event organized by Roz Stendahl, local artist and instructor, and all-around paper-arts enthusiast. I took lots of photos for later reference, did just few on-the-spot drawings (I'm not as fast as I used to be), and generally had a nice time. Once every few years I manage to hit the Fair alone, for a third time. We'll eventually go with my husband too, on Labor Day.

Here's what I love about the State Fair, in no particular order:

1. People from every (and I mean every) walk of life, a representative sampling of the state in all its surprising diversity.
2. An incredible array of exotic, disgusting, wonderful foods -- everything from down-home Midwest church dining hall breakfasts, complete with bad coffee; up to chocolate-dipped cheesecake on a stick, crepes, funnel cakes, caramel-apple sundaes (a favorite of mine) and all manner of fruit smoothies; and onward to things like Alligator On A Stick, deep-fried candy bars, scotch eggs, fried green tomatoes, and the piece-de-la-resistance, the Pronto Pup. I must eat at least one at every visit, no substitute corndog will do. End of story.
3. Midway art. From early on I've been fascinated and entranced by the art of the Midway -- the painted carousels, the lurid sideshow-type banners, the neon flashing and the flapping pennants; the beautifully illustrated facades of the funhouses, the incredible backdrop murals behind older rides like the Matterhorn (though the one shown via the link is not the one at our Fair), and the painted cars of the Tilt-A-Whirl. It is a visual feast, a sumptuous junk food smorgasbord of eye-candy, and I love the nameless laborers and craftsmen who create and maintain these dinosaur contraptions (the rides and the games), with a passion.
4. The smells: Caramel, roasted corn, fried everything, manure, grill smoke, wood chips, diesel exhaust, cotton candy, sweat, grease, paint, beer, cigarettes and livestock; it's appalling, it's incredible. It's everything worth smelling, really, except maybe the cigarettes. And the porta-potties.
5. The tradition. Everybody loves the Fair, and it's the second largest, second-most-successful, not-quite-longest-running Fair in the nation. Everything from the Midway to Machinery Hill and points in between -- it's an annual pilgrimage, one I've known nearly as long as I've been alive. I remember when you could still park right on the Fair grounds, and my stepdad would yank us out of bed at 5am so we could arrive at 6am, and get the best spot. We'd have to sleep in the station wagon (all five of us) for another two hours until the church dining halls opened for breakfast. Back then, you could have a great day at the Fair for as little as $20. These days you can still have fun on $50, though you have to be in love with it in the first place, to be so easily pleased. After all, it costs $11 just to get in.

And the great thing about going there alone is that I am free to meander; to want everything and nothing, to browse, to let myself be pulled into the swarming high tide of Fair-goers at 6 o'clock pm and just flow downhill with the rest of them, held fast in the arms of a thousand strangers per half-block, headed for the Midway, waiting for the sun to go down.

1 comment:

Mama said...

I'm grieving the fair this year. Just too hard, too expensive, too difficult to manage in so many ways. But this picture into your fair experience helped me settle my grief.

There will be another year. And another and another and another.

Thanks for the great post.