Monday, August 22, 2011


The Minnesota State Fair, that is. I have been attending since I was eight years old. My first trip was with my older sibling and her fiancé. I had grown up at the local county fair because our parents had an arts & crafts booth starting when I was two years old. We sold our crafts at small fairs throughout Minnesota and lots of fall/holiday craft shows. I was accustomed to a fair but the size of the state fair was amazing to me. In one day my eyes were opened and my feet covered with blisters.

4-H brought me to the fair for about a dozen years. I earned several annual trips via an exhibit from the county fair. I enjoyed meeting kids from around the state. Judging was a bit frightening but I always earned a blue and sometimes a purple ribbon. Three days to run around the fair, very fun indeed. When I turned 16 I joined the Minnesota State Arts-In program. We would meet for a week in early August to prepare the shows. During the 1980s we had a traveling troupe “roving players”, performance in the building “Harkness Stage Players”, and kids crafts with “Art In The Park” in the Machinery Hill Park across from the 4-H Building. That was when farm equipment actually filled the north end of the fairgrounds. Artsies would arrive the day before the fair began and stay the first nine days.

Absolutely exhausting and absolutely worth missing a couple days of school. Thankfully, my teachers never hassled me since I would let them know about my absence in advance. Arts-In probably saved my life because I lived in a small community and was labeled as the “odd duck” due to my unique personality. At Arts-In I was accepted and met kids who were weirder than me. Isolation makes for self-destruction but I made lifelong friends and it raised my self-confidence considerably. Plus, if you can endure more than a week at the State Fair, life’s other troubles are more manageable. View and donate to sponsor a 4-Her’s involvement!

When I entered college I served as a 4-H Exhibit Assistant. We would work on preparations for a week after the Arts-In group departed. We would return the Monday before the State Fair began to register exhibits delivered by the County Extension Agents. I was assigned specific project areas and had to cleverly display the myriad varied exhibits. Every delivery was a surprise. One year I was stymied by a sculpture made of barbed wire. Quite hazardous to fairgoers who wander aimlessly and don’t watch for dangers. I pushed it up against the wall and surrounded it with layers of plants. I had to guard the “stroller zone” where kids in strollers lean out to touch anything that they can. I breathed a sigh of relief that no one was injured and no clothing torn by the exhibit. The artist was disappointed that I wasn’t able to put it out on the floor but understood why I had to mitigate harm. Strenuous work and by day nine I was pooped. I was glad when Livestock Weekend began because our workload with exhibits lightened to almost nothing. That was back when livestock ended the fair, now it starts it because the University of Minnesota needs their dorm space for returning students before Labor Day.

I judged 4-H at the fair for several years. I felt honored to lead the discussions. Most of the 4-H’ers were outstanding and their talent awed me. Sometimes a slacker would somehow win a trip to the fair, they would earn only a red or white ribbon. Blue means that the 4-H’er did a really good job at explaining their project but the exhibit did not have to be perfect. Learning from mistakes is quite valuable, too. I haven’t judged for a few years but hope to return at some time.

Volunteering at the fair is perfect. The group that I volunteer with gives me a free entry ticket. Friends who reside a few blocks from an entry gate permit me park for free in their back yard. I help out for 4 hours or so and walk around the fair the rest of the time. I prioritize my journey to visit the best buildings first and make time to enjoy the entertainment. I never miss the 4-H Arts-In show, which is still going strong after almost 40 years. Now kids and grandkids of the original Arts-In group perform. Long Live Artsies!

I volunteer about 4 times during each fair and prefer weekday mornings because the weekends are too crowded. I get a touch of agoraphobia when I see a mass of people filling a street. I have to avert my eyes and look down or I start having a panic attack. I print my name and address on stickers so that I don’t waste time filling out forms for drawings. Never include a phone number or email address and add a line on the bottom “No mailing list, please.”

People watching at the fair is superb. You never know who or what will walk by. Just sit on a bench and chuckle. I always seem to bump into people that I know. Due to my lack of luxury money, I have a budget for each journey. I permit myself to purchase one or two consumables but only if I would not be able to buy them elsewhere, like Sweet Martha’s Cookies or Tom Thumb Donuts. I take note of other items that I would like to procure and check them out after the fair. I have no desire to buy XYZ and tote it around with me all day. I don’t pick up much literature for the same reason.

I am perplexed by some of the fairgoers. Why wear flip-flops or high heels to walk on cement and asphalt? Are they seeking blisters, pain and possibly a sprained ankle? Inappropriate clothing is also an oddity. Do they plan to find a lover by wearing short-shorts, revealing ripped clothing, breasts hanging out, or men with super tight pants and no shirt? I feel repulsed. Public display of affection can be nauseating. Hug, hand holding, sitting near each other, and brief kisses are okay but groping and grinding should be reserved for private. I’m sure lots of babies have been conceived on the fairgrounds, especially when the farm equipment provided myriad hiding places. I just don’t want to see it.

See ya at the fair!
© 2011

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