A Day at the Fair

Text by Lindsey Thomas + Photo by Bill Kelley

The kids are flopping in their seats like beached fish, arms and legs churning. They're enmeshed in a 10-minute virtual reality contest--VR Gone Wild is what's emblazoned on the banner over the booth--competing to get through what the barker calls a "series of extreme sports" while some mystery man gives each of them, by name, instructions. It's like singing loudly and off-key with your headphones on in public, only with your entire body into the act. When kids walk and see other kids literally flipping out with a bunch of high-tech gear on their heads, the thing sells itself.

"Man, I wonder what he's seeing? Andy doesn't get active very often," says the dad of Andy Hanson, who is 16 and from Apple Valley, and thrashing his knees like a hellhound's on his trail. To Andy's right, nine-year-old Michael Maher from Fridley leaps to his feet and starts pummeling the back of his seat with his fists. "Michael's cheating!" says Michael's presumptive little brother in the row above him, sneaking a peek beneath the eyewear. Apparently not; Michael Maher is declared the winner.

Text by Britt Robson + Photo by Michael Dvorak

The distinctive "semiliterate child" font used in the Miracle of Birth Barn's signage implies that this attraction is aimed at little nippers. The reality is far less precious: On Friday afternoon, a laboring dairy cow delivered the promised miracle while tightly packed spectators gasped and shrieked. Tiny hooves and ample viscera emerged from Mom as city folks watched through fanned fingers. To hurry things along (after all, who has the attention span for a natural birth these days?) veterinary students attached steel "obstetric chains" to the calf's legs and pulled it out unceremoniously while a vet with a booming microphone cracked a joke about epidurals. The splayed and sticky newborn seemed frightened by the attending hordes. Can't imagine why--wouldn't we all love to be born into such chaos?

Text by Diablo Cody + Photo by Diana Watters

We suspect the "MTV Funhouse" on the Mighty Midway hasn't been approved by Viacom execs. And it's not entirely clear if the Funhouse's creator obtained likeness rights for the rappers and pop stars painted on the attraction's facade, but who cares? After all, a vaguely deformed Tom Selleck appears on the inexplicable Magnum P.I. ride a few yards down, so obviously celebrity portraits and trailer-mounted carnival attractions go together like cheese curds and Premium. The not-recent rendering of Britney Spears on the Funhouse seems eerily prescient: Britney has a slight double chin, as if the artist anticipated her pregnancy in advance. And surely Clive Davis would be pleased to know that "Arista" gets a spray-painted shout-out. Word!

Text by Diablo Cody + Photo by Diana Watters

With its complicated pulley system and Pied Piper paint job, the Midway's rare Allan Herschell Skywheel (otherwise known as the double Ferris wheel) resembles an oversized erector set component. The ride looks tame--maybe too

tame, as most kids race past the piebald giant in pursuit of more ostentatious thrills--but a good spin on the Skywheel can liquefy even the sturdiest knees and launch mini-donuts back up the hatch. According to McDonagh's Amusements, it takes 6 workers 100 man-hours to erect the Skywheel, but ride geeks know that this vintage treat is worth its weight in carny sweat.

Text by Diablo Cody + Photo by Tony Nelson

The Counting Crows blasts over the intercom as the teenage workforce attempts to satiate fairgoers' seemingly endless hunger for fried potato products. A five-foot-high, 30-foot-long pile of sacks of potatoes offers some indication of how many fries will be processed by day's end. A worker sprays down the floor with a hose to clear it of fallen potato chunks. At the rear of the operation a gaggle of teenage boys step out for a smoke break.

Text by Paul Demko + Photo by Tony Nelson

Their snappy tap-danced rendition of "Puttin' on the Ritz" has already captured the teen talent competition at the Wright County Fair. Now, with just two acts left to go onstage in front of them here at the State Fair semifinals, Sheldon Carlsted of Howard Lake and Anna Fitzer from Cokato are siphoning away nervous energy with an impromptu rehearsal behind the trailer. Truth be told, they're not that nervous. Sheldon and Anna are merely 14 and 13, respectively, but it's obvious that they have their routine (choreographed by Barbara Lee from Annandale) down pat. They reflexively finish each other's sentences and exude a precocious professionalism about the gig. "Let's do it," Anna says crisply when a photo portrait is suggested. As the photographer snaps away, her mother reminds her, "Keep your head up, Anna." "Got it," Anna responds, re-tilting her chin and never losing her smile.

Text by Britt Robson + Photo by Michael Dvorak

A fiftysomething barker at the Republican Party booth coaxes fairgoers with the promise of presidential bobbleheads and free iPods. Next to him, three teenage girls from Goodhue, Minnesota, pass out red, white, and blue elephant balloons for 25 cents a pop. Rachelle, Shanna, and Karlaya are Christians. "Most of the people walking by have been okay. Someone gave us cookies. There's a few people who don't say very nice things, or they just mumble at us. Someone said, 'How many people died in Iraq today?' That wasn't very nice. If they say something mean, we just say, 'Have a nice day.'"

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