Minnesotans are obsessed with their State Fair. For the last two weeks of summer, you cannot escape it. Discussion of it peppers any encounter you have with someone. Talk of what to do, when to go, how to get there, what to ride, what to eat, who to see, animals, radio booths, tractors, the Zipper, the grandstand, the newscasts, free goody bags, cookies, Pronto pups, ice cream, hot dogs, cheese curds, mini donuts, alligator on a stick, all-you-can-drink milk…it never ends.
Though I feel no need to justify or quantify my dislike of the whole spectacle, I can easily sum it up. I hate big crowds. Most of the individuals within the big crowd annoy me to no end. I’m cheap. Other than dairy fresh ice cream, I really could care less about fair food.
And the biggest reason is because I was scarred for life by my first ever State Fair experience, namely the Kansas State Fair when I was a freshman in high school. I put it up there as one of the top five worst days of my life, if not number one.
My family moved from Colby, Kansas, where I’d grown up, gone to school, and lived my entire 14 years, to Russell, Kansas. I’d enrolled in school just a few weeks before, and was just two weeks into the school year when I had to load up onto a big yellow school bus and make the two-hour drive south to Hutchinson, Kansas to march with the Russell High School band in the State Fair parade.
I was a reluctant participant in Band to begin with. I’d known for some time that my future in instrumental music was bleak, but my parents were bound and determined to get their money’s worth out of that shiny new flute I wanted in fifth grade. So I had one year left of my indentured servitude before I’d be allowed to quit. Being new to the school, I was unfamiliar with the music we’d be playing, which included Stand up and Cheer, the RHS fight song, and the 80’s homage to a downtrodden sisterhood, She Works Hard for the Money.
In ninth grade I was painfully shy, it was terribly difficult for me to be around people I didn’t know. I’m not the type of person who can make friends in an instant and two weeks of school wasn’t nearly long enough for me to work my way into any specific crowd. But here I was on a bus, forced to spend an entire day with a group of seniors, juniors, sophomores and freshmen that I barely knew.
When we got to Hutchinson, it had begun to rain. By the time we got to the parade staging area, it was raining steadily, though it was still warm out. Our band uniforms consisted of polyester double-knit black pants, a black wool blazer, spats, a bulky and heavy hard vinyl overlay, and a giant fuzzy white hat. I’ve never been more uncomfortable in my life.
Somehow we made it through the long, rainy parade route. That was perhaps the best part of the day. Because then we were bussed to the fairgrounds for the “fun” part of the trip, spending the rest of the day at the fair. We had to peel off our band uniforms, which by now were now waterlogged and weighed an extra 20 pounds. I can’t even remember where I changed, though I saw one of the senior baton majorettes in the back of the bus, changing in front of everyone.
So off we went to the fair. I was forced to attach myself to a group of girls that I sort of knew from my English class, and spent most of the day feeling like a pathetic hanger-on, not knowing if anyone minded my presence or not. By then we weren’t experiencing just a rain shower, but a torrential downpour of Biblical proportions. While everyone else was enjoying purchasing cheesy airbrushed t-shirts, seeing the human tragedy that was the “lobster boy,” eating funnel cakes, and riding on things that churn your stomach into a swirling pool of vomit waiting to be expelled, I was barely hanging on, praying that the day would come to a merciful end.
Eventually, after several hours of water-soaked, mud-splattered hell, word spread that we were wanted back on the bus. Sticky, hot, humid, drenched. Headache, cold feet, stringy hair, squishy shoes. Homesick, friendless, alone, and bored. The ride home wasn’t any better. Everyone was all juiced up, I had to pretend to join in on the antics. I did discover the hilarious banter of a senior named Bryan, which developed into a huge year-long crush, though unrequited because I could barely muster the courage to say hi. Just when I thought maybe I’d survive the day, the bus broke down. At this point I can’t remember how long or what the solution was, if they fixed it or if we were herded onto another bus. All I know is it further prolonged the agony. And that is why I hate the State Fair.
So with that behind me, I’ve gone from an abhorrence of the Minnesota State Fair to mere ambivalence about it. Barry used to have to drag me there kicking and screaming. I went once or twice before we had kids and that was enough for me. Then I took a nice long hiatus, using the fact we had tiny kids as a reason not to go. Then Barry started taking David. Then Cameron wanted to go. Pretty soon one year I was talked into taking all of them. And it was exhausting, though not horrible. The kids seemed to enjoy it. I will probably go again this year, though I’m imposing a “we’re not spending any money on rides or food” clause, which will not go over well. We shall see.
© Jennifer Alys Windholz, 2011