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Wednesday, September 5, 2007

the great minnesota get together

On Sunday afternoon, D., Stella, my dad, and I hopped on the bus and headed for the State Fair. The Sunday of Labor Day weekend is not the best day to go to the fair if you hate crowds and heat and are pregnant, but it was the only time that worked for our hectic schedules, so there we went.

Stella loves to ride the city bus, which sadly, we only do when we’re going to the fair. Her excitement at being unbelted in a moving vehicle would have made a quick trip to hell and back worth it. She went from knees to tush to knees to tush, staring out the window as if we didn’t live in the Twin Cities. Who knew?

I had two things on my personal fair agenda. The first was corn on the cob, which is crazy. It’s not as if I never eat the stuff. I live in Minnesota. We have tons of corn here. So why is it so appealing to spend $3 on a butter-drenched ear at the fair? I have no idea, but I kept trying to plan out where we should go first so that we’d end up at the corn booth just when I reached peak hunger. (I do realize that since it feels as if I’m in a perpetual state of peak-hunger, I shouldn’t have been concerned.)

The corn was worth it. Maybe it tasted so good because I was surrounded by thousands of other people grubbing their $3 ears at the same time. (I guess crowds are good for something…)

The second thing I had on my agenda was the simulated tornado. I heard about this on Minnesota Public Radio and I thought, that’s just what I need, to be buffeted by 70 mile an hour winds on a very hot September day.

But the tornado was difficult to find. The first information-booth woman directed us to the education building. That was all wrong. Nothing but college representatives. The second information-booth person suggested I try Kansas (as in Dorothy and Toto). I just stared at him, but what I wanted to say was: Um, I’m hot and you’re not funny. The third person didn’t have any idea what I was talking about, and I began to lose faith. Was MPR wrong? Didn’t I hear about his? Finally, the fourth person I asked said it was in the Channel 5 Building. Aha! I knew I wasn’t crazy! I herded our little group to Channel 5 and there it was: Tornado Alley. We stood in line and shuffled through the area that contained facts about tornados and footage of tornados destroying stretches of the rural Midwest. And then finally, we made it to the simulator, which was a circular room with a bunch of fans blowing in at us. I think Stella was impressed—her eyes were wide—but frankly, I was a little disappointed. I suppose this was bound to happen. I had been thinking about it for days. There were droplets of rain spattering us, which was a bonus I hadn’t anticipated, but the wind wasn’t forceful enough. (This is also something I should have expected. It’s not as if they could usher people into real level 5—or however they are classified—tornado force winds.) Still, I was glad I persevered, found Tornado Alley, and experienced a little cool wind. It was a break from the unbearable heat.

The thing that turned out to be the highlight of the fair is something I never expected. It was a Fair-Do. I don’t ever remember seeing these before, but this year, there were tons of kids—mostly little girls—walking around with crazy spray-painted, sparkly hair. Stella was beside herself. She needed her hair done. She is turning out to be a very girly-girl. She’s tough in some ways—she’s fearless at the park, and I hope that someday this fearlessness will transform her into a brilliant central midfielder on the soccer field (no pressure)--but she loves dresses and barrettes and really, everything girly. So D. and I agreed to a Fair-Do.

My dad, who (I have to remind myself) is eighty and has a pace-maker and probably doesn’t need to be dragged around the fair when it’s 95 degrees, decided to take the bus home early, and D. and Stella and I proceeded to the Kidway, where we were found the Fair-Do booth. We paid the $12 and then had to wait for one hour. In the meantime D. and Stella took some kind of home safety tour while I went searching for fried cheese curds. Seriously. I don’t think I’ve ever tried a fried cheese curd before, but this felt like the year to take the plunge, and I was right. Other than the unquenchable thirst they inspired, they were fabulous. Such salty goodness.

An hour later, when Stella’s number was called, she decided she didn’t want her hair done. She began to cry. But after a little cajoling and walking her around to see the other kids inhaling the toxic paint fumes, she agreed to give it a try, and she proceeded to stare at herself in the mirror with a shy smile as the stylist ratted and styled and sprayed and sprayed and sprayed her hair. Seriously, the woman emptied a whole can of hair spray onto my child. (Why bother with all the organic food?) Then she began with the paint: blue and pink stripes. (This is on a beehive, mind you, and Stella has a lot of hair.) The whole ensemble was topped off with purple sparkles. It was amazing, like Marge Simpson on acid.

Stella literally sparkled in the sunlight. She beamed. Then everyone stopped to comment, which unnerved her a little. (“I don’t like all these people looking at me.” To which I responded, “You have blue and pink hair. They can’t help it.”)

All the way home, on the bus, down the street to my dad’s house, people exclaimed, “You’ve been at the fair!” and “What awesome hair!”) She would smile shyly and say, so softly they couldn’t hear her, “Thank you.”

What was interesting to me about all of this (aside from the fact that I never imagined letting my child be done up like this and never imagined enjoying it so much) was that it made us talk to people with whom we never would have interacted. There are all walks of life at the State Fair: short people, tall people, Harley Davidson people, old people, young people, disabled people, people of all colors and nationalities. There are plenty of people at the fair with mullets. And this is one of the only times each year when I am surrounded by so many people outside of my friend and work and neighborhood circles. And ordinarily, I wouldn’t talk to them and they wouldn’t talk to me. (This is not in a rude way, but just because everyone there is doing their own thing.) But because of Stella’s crazy hair, we spoke with dozens of people, all of them kind, who wanted to say something nice to our daughter. It reminded me of how insular we (I) are, how tied up in our own lives, and how easy it can be to be put off by someone who seems different from us.

So, I have to encourage everyone to visit their state or county fair. This fair really IS the great Minnesota get together, and I’m thankful for it and for the reminder to always be open and willing to talk to another person.


Sheri said...

I have to say I "endured" the California State Fair last week with Clyde, and it was the best choice for fun (and bad food fun) I've made in a long time. I let my guard down (and put my uptight @ss aside) and on the spur of the moment took Clyde on my own--since my husband will have no part. We ate and rode rides and saw baby animals and pet others and I didn't even whine too much about the heat. It was just what we both needed, and we had a great time alone together with all the fair-goers. It may become an annual tradition.

Anyway, love the fairdo story!

Mandy said...

Stella is always a joy to read about!

kyra said...

i love that. i wish we were at that fair. fluffy would NOT have wanted his hair in a glittery beehive but we both would have ooh'd and ahh'd the loudest while beholding stella's marvelous do!!

kate said...

I would have loved to have the loudest oohers and ahhers for her!