Wednesday, September 9th, 2009

Real America: The Great Minnesota Get Together


I grew up on a dairy farm. Friends and family showed livestock at the county fairs, in hopes to make state. It was competitive. In high school, FFA membership and being popular were not mutually exclusive. Nor was it a punch line from Napoleon Dynamite. The cattle barn smells like my youth, which I always thought smelled foul until I moved away to cities like New York and Beijing and discovered truly foul smells, such as July garbage. By comparison to what humans can produce, cattle stink is refreshingly organic. I'm both relaxed and uncomfortable around the grounded but socially retarded farm kids who have better relationships with swine and goats and heifers than they ever will with many of their peers. There are so few of them left.


The vacuum of focus left by ag's exodus has been filled by a combination of the usual suspects (rock concerts etc.), nostalgia for the fair itself, and quirk-most of it food-based. (Conan O'Brien was "immortalized" in bacon and white chocolate to promote the fair; all media file de rigueur "on a stick" stories.) Meanwhile, the fair, still Minnesotan in geography, is decreasingly Minnesotan in substance.


I looked hard for something to start off the "Good God, are fair people fat…" part of this but found nothing beyond the pale. The best example was a hippopotamus in one of those runabouts, wearing, ironically, a towing company cap. Nothing beyond the pale means nothing beyond normal disgusting American bovinity. (Actually, cows are thin compared to Americans.) The Midwest, in stereotypical form, is the average of national obesity rates. But fairgoers do appear to be doing their best. One of the longest lines was for Sweet Martha's Cookies, which are purchased by the bucketful and then grazed upon while walking. Everyone tells me Martha's are the best cookies ever. The breathless testaments to their unmatched tastiness seems a way to justify buying them by the bucketful more than anything else. Fried cheese curds really are to die for; I can think of worse ways to go. It's not that visitors shouldn't stuff their faces. That's always been part of the fair's attraction. But when your every day is "the fair," what's the point?

Food here was once dominated by local non-profit groups, which relied on the event for their annual revenue. (One owner's two French fry booths turn over $800,000 during the 12 days.) Dozens of volunteer-staffed church-run dining halls used to sling hash; now there are just four. Though under current economic conditions, every paying job is a blessing, and teens are competing with out of work financial analysts for shit-paying thankless jobs sweeping trash and selling Pronto Pups, or in the case of Caleb and Rebecca Parker, dealing with drunks who "line up at their fish and chips stand, slapping down $20 tips for a female co-worker before vomiting on themselves."

Church Booth

Oh hey! Senator Al Franken was here, drawing vocal cheers from the crowd by offering his independent and brave stance on how Congress is selling out Americans with meaningless heath care reform drawing a surprisingly accurate map of all 50 U.S. states.


I dropped by the aforementioned Timber Team show. If you ever listen to Sarah Palin and wonder why she mentions "snow-machining" so much, it's because of the huge crowd packed in to watch "top athletes from all lumberjack sports" compete in "lumberjacking" skills like the axe throw. A scripted bit of the show, a competitive log roll, has one of the performers fall on his testicles. He quickly stands, face gruesomed, and mimics splashing cooling water on his damaged manhood. Ow! My Balls! On cue, the audience goes nuts with laughter and applause.


If there is a moist, fetid ass-end of the modern Minnesota State Fair, it is the International Bazaar. A wildly popular labyrinth of stalls selling "exotic" merchandise, the International Bazaar could not be less Minnesotan. Batik dresses and gilded, overpriced, foreign-looking crap spills from stalls named Okongo Enterprises, Exotic Everest, Sante Fe Touch and Chez-Gautier ("Provance Imports"). The mess and its popularity forms a substantial argument against recent hopes that the financial crisis has maybe turned Americans into something more than the tasteless consumer undead. These zombies hove to the back of the International Bazaar to the "Holy Land" where they "discover the original flavors of old world cuisine," including grape leaves and "falafel on a stick." Imagine your own crowded market suicide bombing, I suppose.

33 Comments / Post A Comment

saythatscool (#101)

But the deep fried Balsmamic Fig and Horchata is to die for!

Ow my balls/ Idiocracy reference is also priceless.

spanish bombs (#562)

Speaking of food, what could be wrong about falafel on a stick? Falafel is fried balls of chickpeas; to me, it is begging to be put on a stick. I know it's not Minnesotan, but it hardly seems like an example of grossness. Also, falafel is too good to be considered an annoying, unworthy example, unlike of course grape leaves.

Rod T (#33)

“Every self-portrait should have a parrot and a monkey.”
You've made my day.

HiredGoons (#603)

The parrot is Reagan and the monkey is Bush, right? Cuz… that would make a lot of sense.

Abe Sauer (#148)

Alan was hilarious over the phone. He's been doing crop art for a decade+ and he said one great thing about it is that, unlike the fine art exhibits where panels decide what to show, the egalitarian crop art people will display just about anything.

I'll be getting my yearly walleye sandwich and lemon shake-up this weekend!

Abe Sauer (#148)

I had walleye. It is too good.

KarenUhOh (#19)

Walleye, panfried in butter. . .Lord Jesus God.

But, my friends? Two Pronto Pups and a Giant Lemon Shake-Up, followed by a trip on Von Ryan's Express, or the Toboggan, or whatever they're calling that 35-mph deathtrap these days, is the rural equivalent of a week at Canyon Ranch.

The Al Franken map thing is freaky.

Van Buren Boy (#1,233)

Well done. This is almost exactly how I remember the Sussex County Farm and Horse Show (which also doubles as the New Jersey State Fair) as a kid. A horror show by all accounts but I liked the funnel cakes.

HiredGoons (#603)

at the Vermont State Fair they used to race pigs by taunting them with Oreos. Racing to their own deaths, they were.

ksteiger (#1,562)

I have definitely stayed at the "4-H Hilton" and I can truly testify that it is a shithole. I used to imagine that this is what orphans that worked in factories at the turn of the century used to stay in.

Still the Minnesota state fair is supremely awesome. I get that it opens itself up to hipster snark, but never will you find so much delicious fried food in one place.

Abe Sauer (#148)

I think Wisconsin's fair actually has more FRIED stuff. This year they actually did a special fry EVERYTHING promotion. But MN certainly has the better variety overall (like walleye).

missdelite (#625)

I question her choice in footwear.

HiredGoons (#603)

explains the facial expression, no?

missdelite (#625)

She's just dyin' for a piggyback.

Those are the shoes Teresa Russell wore in "Whore", aren't they?

Abe Sauer (#148)

Oh COME ON. She's like 15 and in FFA and outside the cattle barn. Her family and/or his are probably camped out in the A / B/ C refugee RV/camper lots and they are just looking for a quiet place to flirty flirty and all the only place to do that at the 1.8-million-person-attended fair is on the ramp to the manure pit. Girl needs a break.

johnpseudonym (#1,452)

You had me at 90 pounds of butter.

Abe Sauer (#148)

Oh shit. Keillor just suffered a minor stroke.

etsryan (#1,501)

sounds like he's okay and planning to make his appointed/busy rounds

etsryan (#1,501)

i volunteered at one of the church diners (epiphany) for the first time this year during the breakfast/lunch shift. got a free parking spot 3 blocks from the main gate. yesh! got a free big breakfast. yesh! since i was working/attending on the last day/labor day, many things were discounted including the midway rides – went on Space Roller again and it rocks! They gave us an extra spin for free. yesh! Caught part of the daily parade and the endless parade of people after it. funny hats: Gold'n'Plump chicken visors that look like a chicken head with the bead as the bill, John Deere foam visors with green foam antlers sticking up "nothing runs like a Deere"…and the Gedney Pickle cap that looks like a foot long pickle is sticking out of your head. The guy wearing that one had long hair and it did the thing some justice. Watched Michelle Tafoya interview a lady St. Paul mayoral candidate and contestants using animal sounds to 'buzz in' (moo and oink). Goofiness is in the eye/mind of the beholder. Pass the crepes and fried alligator, please and I'll have a chocolate dipped fruit kabob while I'm at it. mmm. Riders in the Sky sound like the Sons of the Pioneers for sure. Didn't get to the barns or exhibit buildings much. Just made sure I got on that dang Space Roller and tried not to hurl.

Risen Lord Jesus' Peace!
e.t./sue > *:D (: +

etsryan (#1,501)

proofreader police: BEAK as the bill not bead… duh. oops splat.

etsryan (#1,501)

and oh yeah, got free admission, too. only money i spent was for that dang Space Roller ride (worth every dime) Find one and go on it.

Aw, Abe, why you gotta dis on Wallace? He managed to write about the fair without pandering, I think!

Abe Sauer (#148)

Um, not really. Look, I LOVE DFW. Before I got my act together and matured I actually used to try and write all in footnotes too. So pathetic. But yes, his fair thing is overcooked and conceited in some areas partly because of the audience he is writing for (Harper's). It is a great essay, like all his essays. But, when he's doing to tourist thing (Maine Lobsters, Cruise ships, etc.) he cannot hie the fact that he really dislikes humans as group mammals.

Gene (#1,580)

Can you at least stop calling him "Foster Wallace"?

Abe Sauer (#148)

Yes. That was poor choice. Why'd I do that again?

tfey_hawbz (#36)

Um, "Swedish Egg Coffee" at the Salem Lutheran Church, in that photo with the tubae. Can someone please 'splain?

etsryan (#1,501)

i haven't tried it yet. sounds all right though. maybe i'll try making some. i don't do coffee all that much anyway. H20 all day.

Risen Lord Jesus' Peace!
e.t./sue > *:D (: +

etsryan (#1,501)

by the way, during weekends about the same time as the fair there's Ren Fest going on about 20 miles southwest near Shakopee (shock a pee), MN which some folks enjoy. Haven't been there recently. Went once years ago. Ren = Rennaissance Festival. Also there's an Irish Fair and a Polish Fair going on a little earlier in the summer. All sorts of church festivals too. There's one coming up that's featuring a Tom Petty tribute band this Friday. Coolness/cool beans.

back to trying to watch NFL, MLB and PGA at the same time. I need another TV or two.

Vikes are winning. Twins are winning. Tiger is winning. I guess some things are right with the world after all.

Risen Lord Jesus' Peace!
e.t./sue < *:D (: +

Bittersweet (#765)

Somehow I've gotten increasingly allergic to Renaissance Festivals as I've gotten older. It's not so much the expensive food and tchotchkes – you find much the same thing at regular fairs, without the themed names – as the pressure to role play. At a regular fair I don't have to pretend to be Lady Whozit in a bustier.

etsryan (#1,501)

amen…although the jousts might be fun to watch

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