By Jake Rossen
By Jesse Marx
By Michelle LeBow
By Alleen Brown
By Maggie LaMaack
By CP Staff
By Jesse Marx
Most fairgoers seem amused rather than terrified of this ghoul patrolling the front of the 7,500-square-foot, two-level haunted house. A witch, working nearby, tries to entice customers with a sweeter appeal: "We are fully air-conditioned in the Haunted Mansion."
"I'm Tommy Horton, and I come all the way here tonight to play my special tribute to Johnny Horton...thank you all for being here...
"We do traditional country, some bluegrass...a bit of gospel and just a tiny bit of...a tiny bit of rockabilly....
"I'm joined tonight by three very talented young men...the first one is this gentleman to my right on the fiddle...from Dallas, Texas...Ray Jones! He's a good friend of mine...yessir.
"The fine lookin' man behind me is here from Garland, Texas...my good friend...on the drums...Will Taylor!
"And over here on the electric bass is a talented man from [unintelligible] Texas...my friend, Curtis Lovejoy!
"We all sing beautifully up here...and you're gonna get a chance to hear each of us do just that tonight...and now....
"We're gonna do another song for you now...it's actually a lovely instrumental...featuring Ray Jones, to my right, on the fiddle, of course...it's called 'Orange Blossom Special' And here he is...and here it goes!
Let them continue the amusement-park arms race into louder pyrotechnics, more death-defying curlicues, and gone-past-tacky-to-tasteless marketing ploys. The Giant Slide will continue to loom ascendant, as it has since 1969, a primary-colored beacon of beautiful simplicity. For a mere two bucks, you climb the stairs, sit on a swatch of burlap, and soundlessly zip down a long, loping hill of corrugated metal. It's swift enough for the wimp-adverse, yet safe enough to be child's play. Families or dates ride down holding hands, or with infants on their laps, joining the teens, seniors, and all other comers to compile an average of about 30,000 trips for every day of the fair. Fred and Beverly Pittroff were blessed by fate when they saw a smaller version of the Giant Slide in Sacramento many years ago, made a few variations, and then kept it simple at a good value. Decades later, Beverly sits chain-smoking at a picnic table behind and beneath the Slide and notes that in addition to the slides in Wisconsin, Australia, and Minnesota, Fred has built and sold 42 other around the world.
Don and Amelia sit on their thrones. The rest of the WCCO-TV reporters-minions stand backstage, rooting and encouraging the crowd of 500 to do likewise. As she cheerleads, anchor Jeanette Trompeter looks up at the stage, hoping for any sign of approval from the king and queen that will move her up the show-biz food chain. Mötley Crüe blasts in the background. Don and Amelia do the "rock with Satan" sign. Don tells his court about how gas prices might affect weekend travel plans. Amelia musters some levity for a story about a shooting in north Minneapolis.
Esteban and Debbie are in love, which means they shimmer when they're together. They are impossible not to stare at. They met when she was 13. She's 19 now. He lives in Minnesota, she lives in California. They talk on the phone every day. They miss each other terribly; ache for each other's arms and kisses, but not tonight.
He's Paul Warnke, a bouncer from St. Paul who has worked the fair for 20 years. She's Donna Flynn, a stay-at-home mom from St. Paul. They went to school together, but they haven't seen each other for 20 years.
How do they look to each other after all this time?
"Wonderful!" she says.
"Good!" he says.
Girls, Girls, Girls: Mötley Crüe reverberates from the Grandstand as the nearly empty Carousel spins round.
Thomas "Coach" West, Omega "Shorty" Jackson, and Brittany Zins show off their new headgear. "I can't even see in this hat," notes Zins. The St. Paul trio are eating (tostadas and turkey legs) and drinking (Corona) their way through the evening. "I don't do rides," says Jackson. "I don't play games. When I was a shorty I used to, but I'm too old for that."
Christina Baker chows on French fries and watches teenagers take on the Skycoaster. The ride plummets thrill-seekers 110 feet toward the earth, bottoming out about 10 feet from ground.
"Somebody's gotta do it," Hal Piontek says. "So we do it. We're the Rent-A-Bums."
He gestures toward three of his colleagues, who are spending their break eating mini-donuts on a hilltop at the far north end of the fair. The four of them are temp workers for Waste Management. They ride shotgun or on the back of the garbage trucks that cruise the fair all day and all night. This is the halfway point of their 12-hour shifts; when they're done, they each will have made $56, after taxes, for their labor.