A Day at the Fair

George Sweeney has been coming to the fair for more than 40 of his 62 years on earth, the last 29 of them without his right arm. Back in 1976, George, who lives in South St. Paul, was trimming a tree 45 feet off the ground when he hit an 8,000-volt power line. "It burned my wrist off; burned all the veins shut," George says, holding up his prosthesis. "I burned my leg and half my butt off too. I got a bunch of grafts. They said it almost cooked my blood. If you have taken 8,000--and nobody I know has, and lived--it will make your ankles rattle." The sunburn is permanent too. "I don't get no redder; sit in the sun every day, it doesn't matter," he says happily. His son continues to operate the family tree-trimming business.

Ask George what's changed at the fair over the decades and he replies, "I miss the dirty guys who used to work on the rides. Now everybody has to have on clean shirts and uniforms. I come to the fair to eat and to watch the people; that's my favorite, watching the people," he says, scooting himself up higher on the bench.

Text by Britt Robson + Photo by Michael Dvorak

Alec Baumer watches as the Rambouillet sheep are led in for the first contest of the day. Baumer lives on a sheep farm in Mindoro, Wisconsin. "We raise them for wool and meat, different breeds," he says, tugging on his cowboy hat like a veteran farm hand. "The meat goes to the locker plant for people to eat. The wool is for jackets, if it's five or six inches thick." Baumer, 11 years old, is sleeping on a cot in the sheep stalls with his parents and sister. Earlier this morning the temporary living quarters got soaked when the barn roof leaked. "It's pretty fun," Baumer says. "The sheep aren't too loud. They bah every once in awhile."

Text by Paul Demko + Photo by Tony Nelson

Larry James endures his second Minnesota State Fair with an expression that matches the glum rain that's washing over "Kidway," the mini-Midway for toddlers. Friday morning's coming down. He doesn't even register a grunt when a family--two kids, two parents, and two grandparents--hand over tickets to ride. He flicks a console switch that runs the merry-go-round, and punches a red button marked "FWD." Grandpa and Kid One take a spin. "Nine or ten times, they'll go around," James says, noting that a timer allows for maybe two and a half minutes a ride. Has he ever actually counted? "Nah." James was raised on a farm in Shire, Iowa, and eventually left the "hay, milk-cows, and corn, because of the weather," for the carny life. It must've suited him, because Larry James is, in fact, the prototypical carny. The 55-year-old is clad in a denim shirt and black Dickies that boast a chain wallet. His curly hair and thick beard are a faded blond, complementing his ruddy complexion and a toothless half-smile that flashes exactly once. There are sores and worn-out tattoos on his forearms. If looks could kill, there'd be some kind of slaughter at the fair this year.

James has been working fairs for 30 years. He's on the road "all by myself" for nine months a year, and the rest of the time lives in San Antonio, not far from the headquarters of the Somerset, Texas, company that employs him. How did he come across this career? "I walked in and asked for a job," he says, matter-of-fact.

James doesn't say a word when Grandpa and Kid One give thanks and hustle out of the gate. He turns to another customer, an 18-month-old, carried by the sister of a pregnant woman waiting at the exit gate with a stroller. "Sometimes it's a beautiful world, overall," he says in a philosophical moment. "I'd rather be here than on the Midway because all you got is kids. I don't put up with teenagers too good. Here, the kids will always listen to you."

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

At 6:30 a.m., this year's largest hog is still supine and snoring, a position he will maintain for the greater part of his life. As one pig farmer points out, the hog is useless for bacon, or any kind of meat, because he is all fat and no lean. Additionally, he's probably got arthritis, and he can't stand up because his heart won't take all that weight for very long. The farmer affects an air of puzzlement, pointing out the hog's knees, which are bloody from bearing all its slumberous tonnage. "I can't see why they would want to do that to an animal, make it so it can't stand up. Smallest, biggest... I guess we just like records."

Text by Emily Carter + Photo by Michael Dvorak

Pastor Greg Renstrom, although in his own words "no extrovert," is giving it a good shot, barking through the megaphone that "Breakfast is served" and occasionally brandishing a cinnamon roll to tempt the early, still soggy strollers to come inside for a dry seat and a hot cup. The dining hall, at 108 years of age, is the oldest site at the fair. Pastor Greg himself is like an amalgamation of Minnesotan Cultural History: with a Scandinavian surname and a gentle handshake, he's soft spoken, but progressive, speaking of his church as "reconciled", by which he means not anti-gay. He's also, in another Minnesotan tradition, in recovery, and not just from booze. He's lost 45 pounds in the last two years. The cinnamon roll has no power over him.

Text by Emily Carter + Photo by Michael Dvorak

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

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

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

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

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

Hilary Graff waits with her shorthorn steer, Gusthoff, to enter the Coliseum for judging. "Gus Gus," for short, says the 19-year-old Sanborn resident. "A lot of people don't name them, but I do. It's more personal. I just come up with different names every year. He was born the first of March last year. He weighs 1,480 pounds. He's ready for market." Graff will likely make herself scarce when it's time for Gus Gus to be shipped off to the meatpacking plant. "I'm usually not there, because it's sad," she says. Graff has competed in 4H events at the fair for 15 straight years. Owing to age restrictions, this will be her final cattle competition. Gus Gus and Graff win a third-place ribbon.

Text by Paul Demko + Photo by Tony Nelson

It hasn't taken 16-year-old Dillion Gehrig, of Andover, long to learn that a lot of people are ignorant about rabbits. "It's a silver fox," he says, then sees he has to clarify. "That's the breed

." "You pet it this

way," he adds, gathering the bunny against his "Wanted: Farmer's Daughter" T-shirt and running his hand against the grain of the fur. What's his name?

"Her name," he quickly corrects. "I don't name my food." So will you eat her, then?

He smiles, braces flashing. "I don't know. It depends on how I do in the competition tomorrow."

Text by Britt Robson + Photo by Kathy Easthagen

The oversized animals in colorful costumes who entertain crowds outside the Grandstand seem cute and playful enough, but they can turn vicious without warning. They're called kids; the fairgrounds are infested with the rabid critters, and Julie Magnuson's job is to keep them from terrorizing their natural prey: the fair's gopher mascot. Actually, "Mascot Security" (as her T-shirt reads), is a pretty relaxed gig, explains Magnuson, compared to, you know, regular security, where the 24-year-old St. Paul woman usually works. Not that the mascot beat is entirely without incident--"There are teenagers that try to pull his tail off, of course," she notes. Meanwhile, her charge--in green-and-white pinstripes, black bow tie, and a boater--scampers mutely across the pavilion, trailed by the screams and flailing arms of the young predators closing in for the kill.

Text by Keith Harris + Photo by Bill Kelley

Every third person at the fair seems to be wearing a gaudily plumed hat similar to that modeled here by Jessie Kaiser. Yet the Midway booths where these articles could be won are almost always eerily devoid of contestants. A mystery worth continued scrutiny...

Text by Keith Harris + Photo by Nathan Grumdahl

The most touching postmortem salute to a beloved news anchor isn't an empty spot-lit chair, a sentimental montage of "greatest moments," or a tearful co-anchor signoff. No, this year's affectionate crop-art portrait of Peter Jennings easily trumps more predictable tributes. Jennings looks appropriately regal despite the unconventional medium--some celebrities, like John Denver, don't translate to seed form nearly as attractively. To paraphrase the Byrds (and the Bible), there is a time to reap, a time to sow, and a time to glue chaff to canvas. We salute you, Seedy Pete.

Text by Diablo Cody + Photo by Diana Watters

Paula Denn swirls a couple of hundred bags of cotton candy a day, poking tube after cardboard tube into the circular vat of wispy pink confection with a calm sense of purpose. Nearby, Joe McCurdy, who runs the booth, takes a short break. At 25, he's already a veteran, having first helped man his dad's cotton candy stand 10 years ago, returning every year since. Now he takes five vacation days from his job as press operator to sell his puffs of spun sugar, though the fair's changed a little for McCurdy over the years. "I used to like it," he jokes, adding an explanation for his currently pleasant disposition: "The first five or six days aren't so bad."

Text by Keith Harris + Photo by Bill Kelley

Wings don't work on people. But if you swaddle yourself in a bulky blue vest full of hooks and clasps, climb up on a platform rolled into the middle of a field, then lay yourself down beside your two best friends in a big sling hanging from a big crane, they'll crank you up 60, 70, 80 feet or so and let you go. And you fly, like a bullet at first, swooping up at the last second to clear the trees. That's moment one. Moment two is just before the pendulum shifts: Arms locked, screaming and smiling at the same time, you hover over the fair...

Text by Britt Robson + Photo by Kathy Easthagen

Maybe it's the cheap gas-station sunglasses or her pinky-orange Tequila Sunrise skin, but the lady's not looking so good. On the edge of the video arcade, the fortune-teller machine sits mostly neglected--psychic abilities or not, she's no Lara Croft. "I think it's out of paper," Lauren Patrick says, dutifully inserting a few more quarters. But before the slips stopped dropping, she acquired a couple of glimpses into the future, one warning of newfound trouble with a dark-haired person. She opens her bag to find the exact message, revealing a laminated pass from her recent tour of the Capitol, signed by Norm Coleman.

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.'"

Text by Jim Walsh + Photo by Tony Nelson

The surname is Atkins, but forget it. This is the Pickle Family. Mothers, sisters, nieces, aunts. They come to the fair every year to proclaim their passion for pickles. "We've done it for four years. It's our tradition," says Sandy Atkins, from Woodbury. "I told my daughter that she would lose all her dignity today. She had to stand on a bench and say, 'I love pickles!' It was her initiation. She chased the Gedney pickle down in the parade today, because we have dares for each other. She had to kiss him."

Text by Jim Walsh + Photo by Tony Nelson

Mötley Crüe is at the bandstand tonight. So what else can a marriage-and-family therapist do but bring his six-year-old son to his first concert? "Griffin's heard worse on TV and the playground," says Russell Orr. "He saw Tommy Lee on Tommy Lee Goes to College. I like his music, but I don't like the fact that he beat his wife twice."

Text by Jim Walsh + Photo by Tony Nelson

The cinder block walls of the fair's oldest (and oddest) attraction, Ye Old Mill, holds 92 years' worth of lovers' secrets, not to mention a near-century-long accumulation of mold and now-fossilized mini-donuts. With blink-and-you-miss-it lit-up dioramas featuring Bambi, the Three Little Pigs, and a randomly placed one-dimensional wood milk carton, the mostly pitch-black faux-river ride is a time-warp make-out tunnel where fairgoers can go for a little Old English and old-school escapism.

Ye Old Mill virgin voyagers Nadia and Anthony, a thirtysomething couple from Lino Lakes who only want to be known on a first-name basis, are left dumbfounded after their premier ride on one of the Mill's little red wooden boats. "Umm, I guess I liked it," Nadia offers, laughing. Anthony, a muscular guy in a pink polo shirt, shakes his head and lights up a cigarette. "Man," is all he can muster.

"Yeah, it was cool," Anthony finally admits, taking a long drag off his cigarette and staring down at his shuffling feet.

Text by Molly Priesmeyer + Photo by Hunter Jonakin

Mötley who? Thirteen-year-old Sean Robb of St. Louis Park, 14-year-old Anthony Johnson of St. Paul, and 14-year-old Brandon Running of St. Louis Park (pictured left to right) show their allegiance to the true masters of rock, Metallica, Guns 'N Roses, and Pink Floyd, while checking out the BMX bikers at the 3rd Lair skate/bike ramp at the Teen Fair. Apparently the BMX-ers didn't rock that hard: The teens watched the bikers sail and flip in the air for a few silent minutes before shrugging and wandering toward the smoking and sputtering tractors.

"Yeah, it was cool," Anthony finally admits, taking a long drag off his cigarette and staring down at his shuffling feet.

Text by Molly Priesmeyer + Photo by Hunter Jonakin

"Omygod! Look, a gorilla! Look at the size of that gorilla!" a woman screams. A number of fairgoers whip their heads around to see not a real-live jungle beast, but a teenager with a giant stuffed monkey on his back. "I thought for a second someone had a real gorilla," another woman confesses, laughing. This reporter bites her tongue and doesn't admit that at her first fair, she went blindly toward the "Tiger Lot," a parking lot, in search of Minnesota-bred Bengal tigers.

"Yeah, it was cool," Anthony finally admits, taking a long drag off his cigarette and staring down at his shuffling feet.

Text by Molly Priesmeyer + Photo by Hunter Jonakin

Jimmy Steichen's first memories of the fair go back to when he was eight years old, cleaning out the innards of freshly slaughtered chickens with his bare hands for his grandfather's general store. Ted Steichen opened the store in 1933, just south of the Midway in a warehouse that was, for a time, used to build airplane propellers during World Ward II. "There was a commissary building," Jimmy, now 43, recalls, "and we used to provide everything for them." For a while Jimmy's father, Ted Jr., took over the store, and then Jimmy started running things in 1978. The fair has changed considerably, but little has changed at Steichen's. For years, the fair's only remaining general store provided all sorts of sundries for the carnies that worked the midway for Royal American, the local company that ran the Midway rides and game booths up until a decade ago. "Those people became some of my best friends," Jimmy Steichen says, adding that they usually purchased pickled pig's feet by the pound-full. "They were the best people."

Steichen has added a sandwich deli to keep up with a slightly less resourceful clientele--the fresh chickens are gone--but for the most part, the inventory remains the same. Baby bottles, muscle rub, shampoo, combs, Barbasol, Brylcreem, water balloons, and who-knows-what-other necessities are all behind the counter somewhere. "Someone came in here just yesterday looking for black shoelaces for black dress shoes, and I looked behind the counter and we had a pair," Steichen says with no small amount of marvel. "I figure they had been here for 40 years."

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

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."

Text by Paul Demko + Photo by Sean Smuda

"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.

"And....

"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!

"Ah-one...(click, click)...one-two-three...."

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

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.

Text by Britt Robson + Photo by Michael Dvorak

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.

Text by Jim Walsh + Photo by Tony Nelson

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.

Text by Jim Walsh + Photo by Tony Nelson

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.

Hug.

Text by Jim Walsh + Photo by Tony Nelson

Girls, Girls, Girls: Mötley Crüe reverberates from the Grandstand as the nearly empty Carousel spins round.

Text by Paul Demko + Photo by Sean Smuda

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."

Text by Paul Demko + Photo by Sean Smuda

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.

Text by Paul Demko + Photo by Sean Smuda

"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.

"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

Show Pages
 
My Voice Nation Help
0 comments
 
Minnesota Concert Tickets
Loading...