The Mighty Midway and Other State Fair Classics

Day two at the Fair had me excited because I brought my husband, Jason, along. For years, he’s been listening to me say things like:

"If we were at the State Fair, you could get that Snickers deep-fried."
"I own a collapsable rake."
"I mean think about it. Nearly ninety-pounds of butter shaped like our daughter’s head. I know we don’t have kids yet, but it’s never too soon to just look at a hobby farm. At least give her the option to one day be crowned a princess."

I’ve been talking up the State Fair so much, that finally introducing The Glory to my California born-and-bred husband had me equal parts excited and panicked. Would we cover enough ground? Would he get it? Would he love it? Or, as an outsider, would the combined charm of humid air, animal feces, and mini-donut batter be lost on him? Since it would be his first time, I decided to devote our attention to classic state fairing. The best of the best. This is how we did.

By noon, we’d contemplated if "Pet Surgery, 1 p.m." posted on today’s activities in front of Chuck and Don’s Pet Food Building, really meant what it implied. We downed a Gizmo, sampled Teriyaki Ostrich on-a-stick, (chewy, good, until you get a bite of cartilage), and drank a beer.

The Gizmo ($7.00), is good. Worth the hype. And boy, is there hype. The stand, located near machinery hill, is adorned with newspaper clippings. The vendors have hired a man to loudly proclaim the Gizmo’s unbridled wonder to the masses who pass by. "Get your Gizmo!" "Sausage and sauce, fab-u-lous!" If you’re a fan of doughy, saucy, cheesy, meaty things, check out the Gizmo. The meat is delicately seasoned, the thick bun is fresh, and there’s just enough, but not too much, sauce.

Even though it was still early, and we were getting a lot of ground covered, we also weren’t doing enough classic state fairing. Teriyaki Ostrich on-a-stick ain’t no cows.

"Let’s hit up the Midway," I suggested, and that’s when things got interesting. World of Wonders – Palace of Illusions, is a five stage circus tent at the end of the Midway filled with illusion acts, and well, circus freaks. For the price of five tickets, (at 75 cents a ticket), I saw the 27 inch small woman, two fire eaters, a sward swallower, and a contortionist in a box. I paid extra to look behind the box, and see that this lady was no fake.

I highly recommend World of Wonders. Even though gawking at "freaks" seems wrong, and horrible, and like it shouldn’t be allowed, it’s also awesome. Compared to Coney Island, World of Wonders – Palace of Illusions, is very clunky-dunk and hometown, which is part of it’s charm. You could even call it family friendly, complete with silly demos like "snake girl" featuring a 20-something’s head stuck in a slot above a felt snake. And then there’s "spider woman." Same 20-something, same trick, except this time, her head is affixed to the body of a felt spider.

When we left the freak show, I paid to rig a game in my favor. I really wanted the poster of a pit bull that was the prize at a certain dart-board-balloon-game, (puncture a balloon with a dart, you win). The lady working the booth said for one ticket, (75 cents), I could get three darts, but for 5 tickets, I could play until I won. There are few things I’m worse at then darts, so I paid for the unlimited pass. After about five minutes, and fifty-darts, I popped a balloon. "Any prize, any size," she said. "I want that pit bull poster, please," I said.

We couldn’t leave the Midway until we went through the Arabian Daze Fun House (5 tickets or $3.75). Honestly, it wasn’t as challenging as I remembered it being, but the last time I attempted to tackle a fun house I was probably five.

The most surprising thing about the Mighty Midway is how hussied-out it’s become. Just look at the images painted behind the rides. Sexy, exotic women in bikinis eye you lustily from an evil looking ride called the Magnum. Rihanna blasts from the speakers that surround Techno Power. It’s kind of intense, might possibly not be kid-appropriate. We needed cookies.

"Isn’t there a smaller size?" Jason asked, watching people turn away from Sweet Martha’s Cookies cradling overflowing buckets of chocolate chip, ($14.00 for a bucket). "It’s not the same unless you get the bucket," I said. Armed with our bucket, we then made our way to the dairy booth for an unlimited glass of milk, ($1.00). Gentleman that he is, Jason stood in line, and I moved aside with the cookies.

"You really shouldn’t be standing there with those." A man said. I looked at him and his ten-year-old son, lustily eyeing my cookies.

"You want one?" I asked. "Go ahead, have a cookie."

"Oh, no. Oh, no. I can’t." The man said sheepishly, looking away in shame, then looking back at the cookies. I’ve always felt that if asked, you have an obligation to share your Sweet Martha’s. This man was asking, and I wasn’t letting him leave without one.

"Come on, take a cookie, you know you want it." His son’s eyes just kept getting wider, and wider. He looked at the boy, the cookies, and me.

"Oh, thank you," he said. Then: "Son, go!" They grabbed a couple cookies quick, as if I’d change my mind, and yank away the tub. Then they ran off as quickly as they had appeared. I felt smug and charitable.

When Jason came back with a glass of milk, I told him about my noble deed and we downed some cookies — warm, delicious, you can’t go wrong with Sweet Martha’s. But the day was wearing on us, the beer had worn off, and the crowds were giving us Manhattan flashbacks. It was time for something relaxing.

Ye Old Mill ($3.00), is the "original tunnel of love," and my favorite ride at the fair. Sitting on the red boat, channeling through the dark tunnel, I’m always surprised by how epic this ride feels. Like I’m on a midnight journey down the Nile. Then the little window-light display appears, and I’m looking at wooden trolls, Babe the Blue Ox, or a bunch of Mr. Potato Head looking things, arranged in a bizarre line around some small, pastel trees. No matter how old I get, this ride is pure magic for me. "This is not what I was expecting." Jason said. "Isn’t it awesome?" I ignored his confusion, and probable boredom. I pulled him close, and turned on some "original tunnel of love" charm.

After Ye Old Mill, we tried to find an entrance to the Skyride gondola, but being a Saturday, the Skyride was crazy crowded. I’m honestly glad we missed it. Like our earlier discovery of the Gizmo, the fair is proof that good things happen when you relax, and stop trying so damn hard.

Stumbling across Ray Romano crop art is basically as awesome as it sounds. In search of more beer, we happened upon tons of crop art, which I highly recommend. Where else can you see Bo Diddley and Einstein captured in kernels?

But the best thing that happened at the fair thus far was seeing my god in the flesh. Leaving the crop art building, we saw Princess Kay on a parade float, cruising by, accompanied by a marching band and Princess Kay runner-ups. There they were, just waving and smiling, looking lovely.

We finished up our afternoon with a Texas size sausage ($7.75). This half-pound, grilled sausage link, comes smothered in grilled onions and peppers. If not a fair classic, and not on-a-stick, it certainly was delicious.

I’ve always believed that crawling through a forty-foot colon in the parking lot of the Mall of America, weekends spent at various cabins on lakes, and my genuine love for the State Fair, contribute, in part, to my Minnesotan identity. I’ve been waiting to share the State Fair with my husband for years, and even though we didn’t see and do everything, he had a good time. "I certainly
don’t see how anyone could hate the fair," he said, while we walked back to our car. Indeed.






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