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Viewpoint: The fair's a 'heckuva' good time

"Our state fair is a great state fair; don't miss it, don't even be late!" Those are the opening words to the theme song from the 1962 film featuring Rodgers and Hammerstein's music. It's a movie not seen too often anymore on channels like AMC or TCM. I thought it the perfect start for this week's column as we are now in state fair mode.

People equate fairs with June, July or August. Didn't most of us attend community, county or state fairs almost every summer? We did. The county fair was summer's big event. I don't ever remember going to the state fair, but the county fair was usually something we attended. Once my siblings and I were old enough to go without Mom and Dad, we found our own way to the fair.

How I loved the fair. It was all about the rides when we were tiny. The kiddy rides were monstrous in our eyes and going on them always provided its share of thrills and excitement. As I grew into my teenage years, I continued to love the midway, but I also enjoyed playing some of the games. My favorites were either ring toss, trying to get the little wooden rings to land on the neck of a glass pop bottle, or throwing pennies on flat painted plywood covered in colored circles.

As I grew older and the rides became larger and more thrilling, my interests definitely went to rollercoasters and anything similar. My favorite ride was The Paratrooper. Imagine a ferris wheel, at about a 60-degree angle. It had baskets with umbrella-like tops to them. We'd crawl into the basket, usually only two fit, and one basket by one, the "ride guy" would load the ride with anxious folks. When the ride got going, the basket would swing; it was quite exhilarating. It was my favorite ride until the movie "The Fury," a 1978 horror flick. It was about two young adults with special abilities. The male could move objects with his mind. As he was walking past The Paratrooper, he saw two individuals on the ride with whom he had a bit of a grudge. He loosened the bolt with his mind that was holding the basket to the main unit, causing it to fly off the ride and crash into and through a window, killing both passengers in the basket. I was never able to go on that ride again. I didn't know who might have a grudge with me out there.

For me, I never really cared about the food when I was just a kid. The animal barns were also not of interest to me. I did enjoy the Demolition Derby Saturday nights at the fair. My dad enjoyed them too. Then there was the year, either through Boy Scouts or the crossing guard program at my parochial school, but I working at directing cars to their parking spots. I got to wear a special vest and wave my hands and point and hot dang! I was da man!

Fairs eventually disappeared in my life for no real specific reason. I suspect I had other distractions in the summer, such as college and finding work and then beginning a new career. Eventually, however, I went to my first Minnesota State Fair. I hadn't even been to the Wisconsin State Fair in my life (that I can remember), but there I was, going to the Minnesota Fair. I made it a point to go to confession after doing so. In a Wisconsin confessional. I was forgiven. Amen.

I do enjoy the Minnesota State Fair. I will admit I've managed to get to the Wisconsin State Fair with my sister over the past several years as well. Our older brother volunteers to work the information booths, and he does so all the days of the fair but one. On that day, he goes to the fair to see what he's been missing. We've joined him a couple of times. I have to say I think our (Wisconsin) fair is more fun. The streets are littered with all sorts of entertainment. And there are fun little acts along the paths, like one year, an orangutan was standing on a tree stump. People sat in front of him and the owners took their picture. The monkey was told to smile and he did. It was hilarious. The pictures were ten bucks, and they were making a fistful of money.

It's funny how as we've aged, the midway is not a place many of us care about. Now it's all about the animal barns, but more so, the food. The food is what seems to be everyone's primary objective. I'll admit it...the Wisconsin State Fair doesn't have Sweet Martha's Chocolate Chip Cookies. An absolute must!

With your fair options dwindling and summer winding down, get up to Snelling Avenue and have yourself a heckuva good time. See the animals, ride a ride, play a game and eat. When I go, I'll be starting my adventure with a bag of Tom Thumb Mini-Donuts. Yum for my tum!

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