Minnesota State Fair still making memories

by Tom Coombe
Echo editor
Time stands still on Snelling Avenue, at least each year when August comes to a close and September beckons.
As the Minnesota State Fairgrounds approached late Sunday morning, nearly a half-century of memories flooded my mind inside the Uber taking Hollee, Robert, Macy and me to The Great Minnesota Get Together.
Midway and the Giant Slide, the Fair all lit up at night, hordes of people, an endless number of food booths, folks carrying around bags emblazoned with their favorite Twin Cities’ TV station’s logo, and a few unique experiences of a childhood long departed.
Because of some connections, a young boy from Ely got a ride in a State Fair police car during successive Fairs in the 1970s, went behind the grandstand to meet Dolly Parton and Red Skelton in successive years. Somewhere there are pictures.
The Fair became a staple on the calendar. Dates were circled and the trip south was a highlight of the summer.
As the boy became a teen those trips became less frequent. There was one prior to senior year in high school and another with college buddies a few years later. Much was the same as the Fair only grew and attracted more Minnesotans.
But save for a chance trip in the early-2000s, last Sunday’s visit was the first in about three decades - and this time with a family in tow.
Macy was looking forward to the trip. Our eight-year-old loves animals and food and fun and those are plentiful. Leading up to Sunday she was talkative and ready for a brand-new adventure.
Robert, at 16, was steadfast about a State Fair experience and there was little doubt he was going to enjoy the day. Even better, his high school classmate and football teammate Gavin would be there at the same time, and they made plans to take in Midway together.
We got out of the Uber on Como Avenue. Interestingly enough, the Fair now has a designated area for Uber and Lyft dropoffs and pickups. That’s something that didn’t exist during those visits during the ‘70s.
Thankfully, Sunday wasn’t a scorcher. It was hot in the sun but not unbearable. We weren’t able to master the technology and secure online tickets and instead stood in line to get in.
It was evident early on it was going to be a good day as the guy who detests standing in line found the wait for tickets to be short - and bearable.
In a fortuitous twist, we entered right next to the location of one of Macy’s desired stops- the Fair birthing center.
We didn’t see any animals born during our walk through but observed newborn pigs, cows and goats.
Robert and Macy petted goats and piglets, and our eight-year-old animal lover was in heaven a few minutes later when we moved to another building and got right next to and pet a horse.
One can’t talk about the Fair and leave out the food. Clearly, one would have to take in most of all of the Fair’s 12 days - and have a bottomless pit - to sample all of the fare.
We gave it a good go for one day. The Mancini’s steak sandwich, loaded with onions and mushrooms, got the stamp of approval from Hollee and me. Both kids loaded up on corn dogs and Pronto Pups.
There was ice cream, a savory turkey sandwich, a giant turkey leg and more. All we were missing were the Fair’s famous chocolate chip cookies and the all-you-can-drink milk for $2.
Distant memories of the Fair’s Giant Slide convinced me it wasn’t time for an encore, but Macy was all-in. Thankfully, Robert took his sister up the stairs and then slid all the way down. Macy was so excited she tried another slide at “Kidway.”
Again, Robert more than earned “Big Brother of the Year” recognition by tagging along with Macy on numerous rides and games at the jam-packed Midway for kids. If he was annoyed, or bored, he didn’t show it.
As the day turned to evening, Macy had painted her own frisbee and got her own face painted and she was spent. She and Hollee made a dash for the exit and found an Uber ride to the hotel, but only after our first-ever family walk through the Midway.
It was much like I remembered it, but super-sized and more crowded than ever. They say more than 220,000 people passed through the turnstiles on Sunday and it seemed like a good chunk of them were on the Midway Sunday night. Clearly, I was in one of the top percentiles when it came to age.
Robert found his buddy Gavin, Hollee and Macy went to the hotel, while a telephone charging station beckoned me.
After a beverage, a bench near the birthing station was a welcome sight as darkness set in and I waited for Robert to finish up.
A little after 9 he came trudging along, with a giant unicorn he won at the Midway and after a couple hours of fun.
He doesn’t know it until now, but I would have stayed until closing time to let him have even more fun and soak in more of the Fair experience. After all, you’re only a teenager once and he more than earned his own fun and the opportunity to create his own Fair memories. There’s always next year.
As the Uber pulled out of the packed lot and our driver took south, there was time for reflection. Quality family time, a memory bank loaded with new State Fair experiences and anticipation already for next year.