Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Meet Me at the Fair!

Another Day, Another Marching Band

The Minnesota State Fair is going on right now, about 20 minutes away from where I am writing this - if the fair were not going on it's 20 minutes away, that is.  It's a spectacular event that draws into the millions of people, elbow to elbow.

I attended that fair with Phil Johnson in 1962, or thereabouts, and I left with a number of memories, most of them gone today except for recalling the Tiplant that I bought for my mother.  I don't know for sure why I bought it and sure don't know why it's about the only thing I remember about the fair, but it is.  Other than the Sword Swallower, or the guy who could pop his eyes out of his head.

The vendor had several growing in a display of this tropical plant.  I guess I thought it looked cool, and what I got was a root about 3 inches long and one inch in diameter, waxed on both ends.  True to her belief that a mother should receive any gift from a child with great gratitude, she planted it and by golly it grew pretty well.  Somewhere along the line it disappeared, I think, but that makes no difference to this story.

The reason we were in the Cities had nothing to do with the fair, but we'll get to that later while I flog the fair scene for a moment.  Or perhaps I should say the "carnival" scene because that's most of what I recall or think of when I think of fairs.

Like the carnival in Clear Lake over the Fourth, where I once spent ridiculous amounts of money trying to win back what I had already lost, thus compounding my losses, and no, that did not necessarily teach me to become a wise future saver/investor, but it did crimp my entertainment budget for a while.

Northwood was host to its own Centennial as well as the Worth County Centennial, and of course the Worth County Fair every year.  Today the County Fair is scheduled early in the summer, presumably because the value to the carnival folks isn't as great as it once was, so Worth County gets the lesser dates.  Around 1960 my recollection is that the fair was in August, and I say that because it was great to see schoolmates turning out in great numbers when many of them had been out of sight since school got out.

The girls in particular seemed to have matured by 3 or 4 years for some reason, to be even prettier than I recalled them as being when we left school in May.  Or maybe that was because of summer "starvation" - I don't know.

There were many who were quite skilled at the huckster games of the midway and their girlfriends were always carrying large panda bears or similar trophies.  Larry Holstad is one that I admired for his ability to do the ring-toss or knock down the 3 bottles that for reasons of physics were not supposed to go down, or other such rigged games.  So lacking the personal skill or hand-eye coordination, I rather preferred the rides.  The Ferris wheel, for example, was a ride that enabled one to visit with a young lady in private, thus sating the starvation already mentioned.  The scrambler was private, too, but there was normally more screaming going on than talking.

At the State Fair in Des Moines one year I doubled down on the Ferris wheel option, choosing the Double Ferris option, leading to my later conviction that maybe I didn't like the Ferris wheel after all.  And Lord knows so many of the rides today are not made for those with a weak heart.

Circling back to the Minnesota State Fair - Phil and I went there after he had gone to a tryout for the Minnesota Twins at the old Met Stadium in Bloomington, with plans to attend the fair after the tryout.  Every candidate including Phil was given a number to pin to his jersey, and the Twins made it clear that everyone should stick around so they could have a chance to talk to players of interest afterwards.

I watched all the try-out action from the stands, about 30 rows behind home plate.  Seems to me that Halsey Hall and Ray Scott, Twins radio announcers in those days, were sitting maybe 10 seats away - or maybe I'm "over-remembering."  It must have been my first brush with the famous, or more likely an imagined memory.  In any event, when Phil finished his tryout, he was ready to go to the fair because he was convinced he had not performed that well.  That was only his opinion because after a couple days the Twins tracked him down, wanting to talk to him about a Major League career, thus providing my SECOND brush with the famous, Phil Johnson, a fellow who actually wound up signing a professional contract.

Phil should probably pick up the story from here.  My version would probably be to report to you that a baseball career he could have had, though seemingly glamorous, can get in the way of a real life, and I guess if you're including this memory in a story about the fair, you've really said it all, haven't you?

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