I don't really know why we keep going to the fair every year, but, judging by the crowds, it seems that many other people seem to feel the same way. Even on an overcast, rainy day, there were big crowds milling around, eating cheese curds and mini donuts, anything on a stick, trying to win prizes on the Midway, listening to local folk, country, bluegrass and retro 50's bands (i.e. Gary Puckett and the Union Gap), and listening to sales pitches for new inventions and entering drawings for wonderful prizes. A lot of the booths return to same place every year, which, if the State Fair were a church, would be criticized as empty ritual. To be fair, there are always a few new displays as well -- but just a few.
We came in hungry, looking for breakfast, but had to stop in the Miracle of Birth Center, where two baby lambs had been born earlier that morning, and (so it seemed) millions of piglets. There were also fuzzy chicks and ducks to touch. This is perhaps my favorite part of the fair.
Afterwards we ate a somewhat greasy breakfast at Al's Diner (but the coffee was delicious) after which we found the Farmer's Union Building, which is very close to both the DFL and IR booths. (DFL stands for Democratic-Farmer-Labor and IR stands for Independent Republican. The Minnesota Democratic party is actually a merger with a popular third party of the 1930s -- the Farmer Labor Party. This always puzzled me as all of the farmer I knew were Republican.) There was not a lot of traffic at the party booths, this not being an election year. I saw that Al Franken has T-shirts, but they are not funny. I suppose he is trying not to be so funny. But it made me miss Paul Wellstone. I actually bought one of his T-shirts, because it was so uncommonly clever (lots of faces, I remember, with the caption "many voices, one message").
We also had to stop in at the International Bazaar, where exotic goods are sold, and take a look under the grandstand, where everything is sold. We ate Chicago dogs, onion rings and pizza, and stopped in at Heritage Square. Often they have good local talent like the bluegrass band Monroe Crossing. Once we even happened in on Riders in the Sky! But unfortunately, today it was a local comedy duo called Tina and Lena, telling jokes in a fake Norwegian accent.
We didn't quite get to all the State Fair Shrines. We did not eat mini-donuts this year, and missed the 4-H display. We didn't get to the Mighty Midway (although that has never been my favorite part of the fair). We did see the most amazing variety of T-shirts (my favorite, "cleverly disguised as a responsible adult"); we didn't eat anything on a stick this year. We don't have quite the walking stamina we once did. And we don't have as much discretionary time, either.
But I kind of miss the days of soaking my dirty, aching feet in a bucket, after a long day collecting promotional information, free pencils, keychains, fans, and informational booklets. I miss signing up for all the prizes, in those days thinking I actually had a chance to win one. I miss the thrill of actually seeing what one of my favorite radio voices looked like. I think I go, at least in part, to recapture just a little of the wonder of my childhood.
And to watch the people. That too.