For most Americans, Labor Day marks the unofficial end to summer. Every first Monday in September, they take their last long weekend out of town, buy their final school supplies, and mentally prepare for cooler temperatures, changing leaves, and getting back to serious business. Minnesotans are not like most Americans. For us, the end of summer is marked by an annual 12-day celebration we've dubbed "The Great Minnesota Get-Together." I'm talking about the Minnesota State Fair, and while other states might host similar events, none can possibly match the scope, grandeur, and plain enjoyability of our own.
What makes the Minnesota State Fair so great, you might ask? It might be its sheer popularity. No other state fair can match ours in terms of average daily attendance. On one particularly impressive day in 1995 the fair welcomed a record 225,249 visitors; days with more than 100,000 visitors are not unusual. Then again, maybe it's the variety of events the fair has to offer. From rides and games in the midway, to concerts, to watching local news and radio broadcasts live, to shopping at the International Bazaar, to the arts and crafts building, to the farming equipment for sale up on Machinery Hill, to visiting horses, cows, sheep, swine, poultry and goats in the animal barns, there truly is something for everyone. Many people will tell you that the food is what makes our fair great. There are the perennial favorites that everyone has to get, such as cheese curds, mini donuts, hand-cut fries, and roasted corn on the cob, as well as the new items that get a lot of press but generally only hang around for one season...like key lime pie on a stick. Or, it might just be the fact that Minnesota's "Dairy Princess" is crowned during the state fair and her head is subsequently carved into a 90 pound (41kg) block of butter.
Of course, not everyone is as enthusiastic about the fair as I am. Some people will tell you it's over-priced, over-crowded and over-hyped. But where they see too much deep-fried food and too many weird people wearing fanny packs, I see a yearly nostalgic treat and some of the best people watching around. To me, the fair is a community builder, a memory generator and fun, innocent entertainment for all. It's a time when we all get together, share in some unique (and not altogether normal) rituals, and enjoy the fleeting days of summer. Because I've been on the move for the past few years, Saturday's visit was the first I was able to make since 2005. A few things had changed, but the corn dogs tasted just like they did when I was a kid.