A Day at the Fair

"I know they won't hire me permanently," Piontek says, lighting up a Pall Mall. "Why the hell would they pay me 12 or 13 bucks an hour when they can have me for $6.50?"

Piontek, who is 61, lives in Fridley. The reason he took the job is a somewhat hard-bitten tale: He's had a couple of DWIs, he says, and just got out of a "stinky relationship." "I was living with an alcoholic, and when I finally kicked her out, she got a whole bunch of my money," Piontek says. "I work heavy construction, but it's too late in the season to find any work."

By Piontek's estimation, Waste Management has 6 trucks that hold 14 to 16 tons of garbage, and they each make two trips during his shift to the dump out in Newport, a 30-minute ride from the fair. The first one is around 9:00 p.m., the final one is after 3:00 a.m. Piontek will get home by 4:30, take a shower, and go to bed around 5:00. By 9:00 a.m., he's awake--"I'm used to living on four hours' sleep"--waiting to head to the fair by mid-afternoon.

The former Golden Gloves boxer and failed pro wrestler doesn't hide his disdain for the teenage boys at the fair, who heckle constantly: "I'm not starting anything here. I gotta ignore them."

He also has experience in garbage collecting. He used to work at a dump in Blaine, he says, and is still amazed by the things people would haul in to be discarded. "I got three TVs," he says. "One woman brought in a 32-inch Mitsubishi because she said her Chihuahua hid the remote. I took that one home." As for the fair, dumpster-diving isn't an option. "I have one rule about collecting the garbage out here," he says, stepping on his cigarette. "Never look. You don't wanna know."

Text by G.R. Anderson Jr. + Photo by Kathy Easthagen

Having just shown WCCO television viewers how to make tulips out of potatoes and fashion a complete gorgeous "floral" arrangement from leeks, turnips, and rutabagas, Phil Brecount, the 69-year-old proprietor of Creative Carving, Etc., packed up his wares and pushed his cart toward Andres Watermelon Booth. Brecount carved Gov. Arne Carlson's signature into a watermelon to commemorate Carlson's first inaugural, and eight years ago at the fair he was the one chosen to work his blades on a 385-pound pumpkin. But tonight it's late, and time to go home. Once the cart is on level ground, Brecount reaches into his pocket and pulls out a business card. "Call me tomorrow," he advises.

Text by Britt Robson + Photo by Michael Dvorak

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