A Day at the Fair

Text by Emily Carter + Photo by Michael Dvorak

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There's a light drizzle dampening the morning, but Frank Caples is dry and tucked away in his International Bazaar booth at the southeast corner of the fairgrounds. He's surrounded by delicate-looking paintings of wolves, pheasants, bears, and other standard wildlife fare--along with the occasional depiction of an African American woman playing acoustic guitar. But these paintings are unique, if only for the fact that they're done on cuts of slab rock, petrified wood, and sometimes, yes, handsaws. "Brazilian agate," Caples clarifies regarding the stone, perhaps by way of explaining what this longtime St. Paul resident is doing in the International Bazaar. He mentions that the teeth on the saws are still sharp. The paintings are by Frank's wife Marie, and coated by her, he explains, with polyurethane. This gives them an impenetrable sheen. Marie's at home, working on more pieces for the fair. The two have been married for 52 years, and selling Marie's wares at the fair for all but two of those. The couple now lives in Little Canada, and spends most of the year readying for this and the Festival of Nations, along with other small art fairs.

Text by G.R. Anderson Jr. + Photo by Nathan Grumdahl

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After an early-morning downpour, all the itinerant carnival workers stepped out of their trailers to find themselves knee-deep in water. By 9:30 the flood has receded, but there's still a major amount of mopping of to be done. All along the midway you can see people shaking out sheets of water from plastic awnings, repairing damage the rain has done, getting way too close to electrical wires in order to do so. When asked where he was from, the guy mopping up this lake replied, "Sanitation."

Text by Emily Carter + Photo by Michael Dvorak

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A slow drizzle falls on the Midway. Workers lounge at picnic tables, drinking coffee and smoking cigarettes. The only ride operating is the Zipper--and that's only in order to dump water out of the seats. Danielle St. Claire, left, and Shazina Jones, wait for the 10:00 a.m. opening of their game booth. The two Minneapolis teenagers are here for just their second day of carnival work. The contest they patrol involves throwing a dart in the center of a star. Winners get their choice of hat.

Text by Paul Demko + Photo by Tony Nelson

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Twenty-year-old James Walsh probably smiles as wide as he can every chance he gets: Those gold fronts ran him 600 bucks. But he's got a real reason to grin as he leans back on the metal steps leading up to the Tilt-a-Whirl--the ride's out of order, so he and his 17-year-old co-worker, Abdi Hassan, can take a break from their regular duty of extracting deep-fried and half-digested lumps of foodstuff from their manhandled customers. The malfunction that's beset the Tilt-a-Whirl this afternoon is mechanical, not gastrointestinal, in nature. After all, a little vomit hardly throws Walsh off at all. "Clean it up? Nah, I just hose it down and keep on going."

Text by Keith Harris + Photo by Nathan Grumdahl

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It's easy to pity Bill Carlson. The throwback anchorman has been with WCCO-TV for nearly half a century, and the 70-year-old had hosted the station's noontime broadcast--a no-man's-land for any news reader--for some 40 years. He was unceremoniously cut loose three years ago. Channel 4 soon brought him back, but one could forgive Carlson right now for wondering why he ever agreed.

For starters, he's about to embark on a truly terrible half-hour of live television. Carlson begins by warming up the crowd off-air. Encouraging the audience to applaud louder when the camera comes on, Carlson admonishes: "That sounded like some Ladies Aid Society from a small town." Silence: That's about 90 percent of the audience.

Then there's the supporting cast, such as smart-ass weatherman Brian Gotter, who holds Carlson's umbrella in the rain and mercilessly mocks him behind his back. It's Carlson's 45th fair, Gotter notes at one point, which means it's probably number 15 for his hair. Then there's a diva-fit by reporter Lisa Kiava, who has a taped feature on this morning's floods and redirects all the cameramen to get shots of the crowd they've already shot. There are many failing microphones and oodles of feedback. And finally, there's a 19-foot yellow-and-white python named Mello Yello that flinches wildly every time Carlson makes the considerable effort to bend over and stroke its skin.

Carlson gamely reads through pink tear sheet after pink tear sheet, sometimes forgetting to hold the mic in front of his mouth as he reads aloud. The final indignity: Carlson must stand with a Swiss polka band with an indecipherable name as a mullet-wearing, ear-ringed dude plays a solo on a 10-foot bone-carved horn. There is no discernible tune.

When the broadcast is over, Carlson saunters toward the back door of the Channel 4 building, hobbling to avoid the mud patches and soaking-wet tear sheets littering the ground. His pancake makeup has pocked in the rain, and Carlson speaks to no one. He looks like the loneliest man on earth.

Text by G.R. Anderson Jr. + Photo by Nathan Grumdahl

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