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Archive for the ‘fair’ Category

Never let anyone tell you that Minneapolis/Saint Paul lack for things to do. In fact, there are so many events coming that it’s difficult to squeeze it all in.

Starting this week, it’s the Great Minnesota Get Together in Saint Paul – The Minnesota State Fair, Aug. 27 – Sept. 8. I’ll go on Friday morning for #smbmsp (search it on Twitter), a monthly gathering of social media gurus in the Twin Cities…and for the Pronto Pups.

Other fun things on the sched:

  • Brandi Carlile performing at The O’Shaugnessy theater at St. Catherine’s University in Saint Paul on Wednesday, Sept. 23
  • David Gray (this will be my third time seeing Gray in Minneapolis) at The Orpheum theater in Minneapolis on Friday, Oct. 30
  • Sister’s Christmas Catechism on Saturday, Nov. 21 at the Ordway Theater

And, perhaps what I’m looking forward to most,

  • Jerry Seinfeld at The Orpheum on Saturday, Nov. 14.

It’s a cornucopia of entertainment opportunities. Seriously.

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The Minnesota State Fair is its own best PR machine.  Apparently the newest and most highly anticipated treat on a stick at the upcoming fair is called the Piglick. Details of the treat on a stick have graced the monologues of both Leno and O’Brien on recent evenings.

What is it?

A Piglick is deep fried bacon on a stick, coated in chocolate and sprinkled with sea salt. Of course fair-goers of all shapes and sizes will be standing in line to try the Piglick – and no doubt be writing home about it. Or perhaps going home in a coffin.

Don’t get me wrong. I love the fair. I love watching the people at the fair. I love the carnival/midway and the well-coiffed carnies who get my attention with their whistles and call-outs designed to coerce me into shooting a stream of water into a tiny target 10 feet away in order to win an even tinier stuffed Stewie doll.  Stewie is the star of the upstanding family-oriented show on television called, “Family Guy.”  All kids need a Stewie.

Forgive me if I come across as arrogant, but the only thing I want to eat on a stick is a corn dog. Hot enough to burn my tongue and coated with a nice layer of ketchup and mustard. That’s all. I don’t need the Piglick to make my fair-going experience memorable. And I definitely don’t need the extra plaque in my arteries when I wake up the day after my fair excursion.

But that’s just me.

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Darts and Balloons

The only game at carnivals and fairs I ever enjoyed playing was darts. I got dizzy on carousels, nauseated on ferris wheels and had a horrible experience in the Fun House that’s worthy of an entirely separate post on its own (in fact it’s probably novella worthy). But as a kid, when it comes to darts, there’s just something about aiming a sharp, pointy object and connecting it to a pastel-colored balloon – hearing the pop – and discovering what prize you’d just won.

I haven’t played darts at the fair since I was nine or 10. At that young age when the game goes wrong and bites your ass, you tend to steer clear of it. In my case, one errant dart throw caused the dart to bounce off the balloon and come back at me, striking me in the head – close to my right eye actually. The carnie thought it amusing. My dad, though, was pissed as hell. First because my head was suddenly bleeding profusely and he had to use his shirt to compress my temple. Secondly, because the carnie laughed first and showed concern second. I’m sure Dad demanded a refund and threatened a law suit – not that we’d get rich from suing the Mighty Thomas Show carnival (although, in hindsight someone was getting rich from operating the midway games that came through town each year for the county fair).

Safe darts have long since been invented. Plastic tips, bar room darts – that just don’t carry the same cachet and the more lethal steel tipped, feather-finned dart. The game, I hear, is huge in the U.K. and Ireland where being an expert dart thrower is akin to playing on a pro football soccer team (almost). But since that one bad experience throwing darts, I’ve never really picked up the game again. I’m a flincher. Risk averse when it comes to throwing sharp-pointed objects at rubber balloons – or the more forgiving cork dart board.

Such vivid experiences carry over to other regions of life.

The sting of verbal darts thrown between two people can be just as painful as a dart making contact with your scalp. And the hemorrhaging is just as real.

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Today was the last day of the Great Minnesota Get Together. My son and I ventured out to the fair for a few hours. You can view the photographic results  here…

Fun Haus
Since part of my last name is included in this sign from a Midway exhibit at the state fair, I was compelled to include it. No, we didn’t venture inside.

Godzilla

The Reptile exhibit entrance.  Here my son shows who’s bigger.  The snakes inside the booth, however, could have eaten both of us whole and not even burped.

Pronto Pup

Our first stop for fair food. This vendor calls them “pronto pups.”  They’re more commonly known as corn dogs. With mustard and ketchup they are fantastic!

Slide

We didn’t slide down the super slide, but we ate our cheese fries at the red picnic table in the lower right corner. It was reported that Fergie, who performed earlier in the week at the Grandstand, promptly puked after sliding down this attraction. The owner/operator, however, said that was only a rumor.

Cheese

Cheese curds. It’s basically deep fried cheese pieces. Probably colby. We passed on the curds this year.

Skyride

Ahhh, the Sky Ride. It’s a gondola ride that travels east/west across the length of the fair grounds. It delivered us to the entrance to the Midway where we promptly blew $40 on tickets to toss balls and rings resulting in several prizes, including a Family Guy “Stewie” stuffed doll.

Taco

I’ll end with this taco stand. Taco King has been at the state fair for almost as long as I’ve been on earth. I imagine their shells are a little dry.

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The Great Minnesota Get Together starts on Thursday and runs through Sept. 3. This year I’ll find myself at the fair. Last time I strolled the Fairgrounds along Snelling Avenue in St. Paul was 2005 and my head wasn’t in the game, so to speak. I’ve always liked a good fair. The sights and sounds — the carnies, the corn dogs, the cacophony from the inaudible loudspeaker systems — take me back to my hometown, which was host to the World’s Greatest County Fair.

I grew up on The Clay County Fair in Spencer, Iowa. Each year, this rural fair draws CCFhundreds of thousands to a town of less than 12,000. It was the main event – the one thing every resident planned for and participated in either as an attendee, a worker, a consumer or people watcher.

Several moments from my fair days as a kid still mark my brain (maybe scar it).

The first and most dominant scar caused by the fair happened when my Uncle Earl took me there to wander the grounds. Uncle Earl was my “rich” uncle. He was rich in a way that surpassed money. And while he always drove a nice new Buick and made half dollars fall out of my pockets when he lifted me by the ankles, he never bragged. His presence in a room, advice, spirit and belief in God made Uncle Earl revered.

So on that day when we wandered the fair grounds, Uncle Earl was most interested in poking through the cow barns and striking up lengthy conversations with livestock owners who were showing off their best Holsteins or Herefords. I was 10. Bored with conversation and wanting for the Midway where I could quickly blow the half dollars that had magically appeared from my pants pockets. Naturally, when I spied I large pile of hay I had to take a running leap into it. Mistake. As I later learned when Uncle Earl smelled me and realized I’d jumped into a pile of used hay – manure filled.

We stopped by an ice cream stand and I wiped myself down with napkins. But the cloud of manure hung over me, not to mention the embarrassment of having to take off my pants before my uncle would let me into his Buick sedan. This story continues to get much laughter at family events, so I can proudly tell it here. Rest assured, I have not ventured back into hay pile jumping since that famed day at the fair.

Part Two of my fair remembrance deals with my dad’s booth at the fair that he managed and staffed until I was in my early teens. Dad owned his own business called Spencer Radiator Works. We called it “The Shop” and it blossomed as a business in my pre-school years. He worked it hard and expanded it, selling anything with a small engine as well – primarily lawnmowers but including chainsaws, generators and other two- and four-cycle things.

The Clay County Fair was the perfect demo ground for the latest in riding lawnmower design and Dad cleaned up during fair week. It was like getting an extra month’s income each year. But the hours were long and sometimes frustrating. By the time I was four or five, Dad would take me with him, usually in the afternoons, to hang at his booth outside and watch him sell lawnmowers. It was exciting just to be on the grounds, but watching Dad in action as a salesman was riveting, too. He was engaging, knowledgeable and could tell a looker from a buyer almost immediately – a critical skill when investing time in a sale.

I’d help him in the booth, serving as “runner.”

“Butch,” (his nickname for me and I have no idea why), “run and get me a coffee.” Or, “Butch, why don’t you go get yourself a corn dog and bring back a turkey drumstick for me.” Sometimes he’d leave me alone at the booth while he went to the bathroom or found a pay phone to check with the boys at the Shop. When he returned he’d bring a treat – a slushy lemonade or ice cream bar.

Those days in Dad’s booth at the fair were bonding days for the two of us. He probably didn’t know that he was giving me some of my greatest and fondest memories by taking me along. But thinking about those afternoons I spent with him during a week each September always make me pause. For a father-son relationship that was far from perfect, we shared many perfect days — common ground on the grounds of The Worlds Greatest County Fair.

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