GK Talks About the Fair
Saturday, September 4, 2004
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It's our Minnesota State Fair show ... we do one about every fifteen years, on average. We're not that good at fairs and carnivals in Minnesota—somehow our gene pool isn't that good at expressing spontaneous joy. You see a lot of people here trying to have fun, working at it, almost succeeding. You see people at the deep-fried cheese curd booth, but they're carrying a defibrillator. Cheese curds are a gorgeous food, salty, and we use them to attract deer, but you deep fry it and it melts and you eat it with your fingers and it's the ultimate.

It's where people from the Cities get to come into contact with large animals who are farther down the food chain, to look into the eyes of your entrée. And to build up our fat content for the winter by eating food that we've been warned against all our lives. And to experience centrifugal force so strong that it clears your mind completely and in that period of dazed numbness many people have made major life decisions, found new careers, decided on true love, decided to have children.

The fair is changing, and eventually Machinery Hill will become Software Hill, and there will be a cat show instead of a horse show, and gerbil judging, and there will be a Platinum section of the fairgrounds—you pay extra admission and you can go behind a big hedge and be among finer people like yourself—but for now it's pretty much the same old glorious fair that it always was.

I brought my little girl to the fair when she was just 19 months old. I wanted her to be a Minnesotan, and so she got to ride the Giant Slide and touch a sheep and a pig—everything was a first for her—and she ate her first Pronto Pup, which, because a little kid can choke on a wiener, was pre-chewed for her by her father.

I brought her last Sunday, and we went to the horse show, because she adores horses, and we went on the ferris wheel and on the River Run, which is a flume ride on a circular raft that is tippy and when it goes over a cataract and water pours in and soaks Daddy's jeans and sportcoat, a little girl laughs until she almost pees in her pants. And Daddy looks as if he did.

There is a 1,200-pound pig here at the fair, named Terry. He got fat eating chips and drinking Coke and watching TV. He has a remote in his pen.

We're at the Grandstand, which is where they held stock car races in my youth (STOCK CARS) and then they held miniature Indy cars (SMALLER CARS) and then they went back to stock cars (STOCK CARS), but it's only a half-mile track and they never got going fast enough to crash really well. They did bring in Joey Chitwood and his Auto Thrill Show, daredevils who drove white Ford sedans with roll bars and (CAR RACING, SQUEALING TIRES) ran them off ramps over herds of turkeys (CAR UP RAMP, TURKEY NERVOUSNESS) and ran them up roll ramps (CAR RACING) and they rolled over (CAR ROLLING) and over and over and over and over and over, and when the car stopped, the driver jumped out (BRAKES) and he'd rolled a cigarette. And a lady shot it out of his mouth with a pistol. (GUNSHOTS)

They had circus acts here. A man leaped from a high tower onto a damp sponge. He did. Really. The leap to Moisture. If I may have it perfectly still (DIVING BOARD, FALL, INTO SPONGE). There was a daredevil aviator act ---- a man flew a Curtiss biplane and his wife walked on the wings (PLANE PASSING, GOING INTO LOOP) and did handstands and hung from the struts until he made a loop she wasn't expecting and she divorced him. And that was the end of him. The next year he tried walking on the wing himself (PLANE PASSING OVER) and flying the plane using two cables held in his hand and he collided with a Canadian goose ----- (GOOSE FLYING) the goose came up behind him actually ----- and he lost control (PLANE INTO SPIN) and crashed in the wet sponge and he was never the same person again. But then neither are you or I.

Now those auto races and circus acts are gone, and the track is used for a ride called Mama-rama in which you pay $3 to ride in the backseat of an SUV driven by a woman talking on a cellphone. (CAR RACING PAST, SWERVING, WOMAN'S VOICE, DOPPLER-LIKE, SWERVING AGAIN)

The Minnesota Farmers Union has karaoke at its booth and you can buy yardsticks there too. There are displays of magnificent quilts with scenes of log cabins and sunsets and canoes and a hooked rug with a giant ear of corn stitched into it. You can purchase a fabulous potato peeler, that also does kiwis and mangoes and cucumbers, and has hundreds of other uses. You can purchase Doggles—"protective eyewear for dogs."

There are non-stick spatulas too. Do you have a non-stick spatula in your home? Can you imagine the difference that could make in your life?

At the Education Building, you can learn about home-schooling. Of course, there's the 4H Building—for our listeners in Europe, 4H is for young people and it stands for Heart, Hands, Health, and Head—and the 4Hers this year display homemade maple syrup, meat they canned themselves, homemade beef jerky, wool they raised and sheared themselves.

At the Art Building, you'll find watercolors of bison and rural landscapes and also conceptual art, like an American flag made out of mousetraps, and a giant jar of Twinkies, and best of all, you'll find crowds of people having a good time, voicing their opinions, not all hushed and sheepish like people in galleries and museums.

There's a skateboard park with huge ramps and music blaring and kids on BMX bikes balancing on their front tires. There's a parade every day with a high school marching band coming through the crowd followed by a pony cart and a convertible with a man in a pickle suit waving to people.

There's Monty's Traveling Reptile Show (one dollar for kids and two for adults) with albino snakes and iguanas and an alligator and a blue-tongued skink that looks like a snake with legs.

The most popular attraction is the Miracle of Birth Center, staffed by volunteer vets and vet students, where pregnant animals give birth and you can watch. Horses get too nervous to do that in front of people, but there are pigs, cows, sheep, and rabbits, and so far this year there have been 117 births.

And there's food—of course—things on a stick—new this year are caribou and elk on a stick, and ears of corn dipped in batter and deep-fat fried. There are the animal competitions, this year a new one for Nigerian dwarf goats and one for Normande Dairy Cattle, the ones that make Camembert and Neufchatel cheeses, with a French judge flown in just for the competition. There's a world-champion dog trainer and his Frisbee-catching dogs, a Spam-mobile, a booth with hand-crafted leather footwear for babies, a booth where you can meet the actors who played munchkins in the Wizard of Oz.

The Fair has been held every year since 1859, except for 1861 and 1862 during the Civil War and 1893 because of scheduling conflicts with the World's Columbian Exposition in Chicago, and 1945 because of war-time fuel shortages, and in 1946 it was cancelled because of a polio epidemic.

What better time to put aside false modesty and tell you what a great state this is. It really is. Our mothers brought us up to not think we were anything special and to put aside our own needs and wishes and be of service to others and not toot our own horn—and that's why our state's nickname is Land of 10,000 Lakes—even though we have 15,000 lakes! Genuine lakes, not counting ponds or sloughs or swamps. Lakes. Fifteen thousand of them. Twenty-two lakes right here in the Twin Cities. We have more miles of shoreline than California, Florida, and Hawaii combined! Largest freshwater lake in the world here in Minnesota—Lake Superior—one-tenth of the world's supply of fresh water is right here in Lake Superior.

One boat for every six people! That's a higher BPP (boats per person) ratio than any other state. We have the world's largest open-pit iron ore mine, the Hull Rust Mahoning Mine. In its 100-plus year history, it's shipped about 1 billion tons of ore. We have the largest mall in America, more than 500 stores, which is the No. 3 tourist attraction in the country.

Ralph Samuelson invented water skis here, on Lake Pepin, 1922. The Olsen brothers, Scott and Brennan Olsen, invented Rollerblades here—in-line skates—1980 in south Minneapolis. They took the blades off their hockey skates and put polyurethane rollers on instead. The bundt cake pan invented here in 1950 by Dave and Dotty Dalquist—and another lady, Ella Helfrich, used a bundt cake pan to bake her Tunnel of Fudge Cake, which won the Pillsbury Bake-off in 1966, and now there are more than 45 million Bundt pans in kitchens across America.

The list goes on and on.

Bisquick came from here. Spam, in 1926, from the Hormel Company of Austin, Minnesota. The first open-heart surgery operation. University of Minnesota, September 2, 1952, Dr. Walton Lillehei and Dr. John Lewis, operating on a five-year-old girl born with a hole in her heart. Her body was cooled to 81 degrees, the doctors cut open her heart which was still slowly beating, and sewed up the hole, and she was put in a warm bath and she recovered.

We've got about 65,000 high school seniors heading to college this fall. And our kids are smart. Our average ACT score of 22.2 is tied for first nationally with Wisconsin. About 20 percent of our population has a bachelor's degree.

The world-famous Kensington RuneStone is here, and if you believe in its authenticity, as many people do, then it's proof that the Vikings came to Minnesota a hundred years before Columbus.

A state this good is going to attract too many people, and that's why God created winter. In February 1982, the thermometer fell to minus 52 degrees in Embarrass, Minnesota, and then it broke. On April 3, 1982, in Lamberton, the temperature fell from 78 degrees to a low of 7. International Falls on the Canadian border is where they take cars and trucks to test their durability in the cold. It's like a living laboratory, International Falls. The annual mean temperature there is 36 degrees, which means they get some really mean temperatures in International Falls.

Bob Dylan was born here (TR DYLAN) and Judy Garland (TR JUDY) and F. Scott Fitzgerald (TR SCOTT) and Charles Lindbergh (AIRPLANE PASSING) and Walter Mondale (TR WALTER) and Jesse Ventura (TR JESSE) ...

The Minnesota State Fair is a place we come to once a year to be part of a crowd. It's where you can come to see who lives here other than people like yourself. It's the most democratic place in the state.

Old Sweet Songs: A Prairie Home Companion 1974-1976

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