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In the Twin Cities, it is fair time, and Minnesotans are proud of their state fair. I’m told it’s second in size only to the Texas state fair. I happen to live three blocks from the fairgrounds, so it’s fair time in my neighborhood as well. There are the telltale signs: vehicles backed up in front of my house for miles; no parking spaces left and tickets strategically placed on cars parked past their allotted time; parents pushing strollers and kids running ahead toward the fair entrance; flocks of teenagers laughing and flirting through the streets; nightly fireworks; and an overall feeling of glee in the air.
For me, the fair begins with a barrel (yes, unfortunately that’s right, a barrel) of French fries. I wait all year for them. I tell newcomers about them. I eat very little all day so that I can have one large dinner consisting of French fries. What makes these fries so special? First, they are the best fries I’ve ever tasted. The potatoes are freshly cut. You can see the mounds of potato peels. Second, they are indisputably gluten free, because nothing else is cooked in those fryers. Third, it takes about twenty-five smiling young people to make enough fries to satisfy hungry fairgoers, and that’s at one of the two stands. I remember working that kind of summer job in sweltering heat and not minding. Fond memories. Fourth, it seems decadent—in a state fair kind of way—and taboo. There’s no one to tell me that I can’t eat that many. And I have no guilt (or shame) especially in light of what everyone else around me is eating—deep fried Twinkies on a stick; deep fried pickles on a stick; deep fried snickers bars on a stick; deep fried meatloaf on a stick; deep fried olives (yup, you guessed it, on a stick); pronto pups (what I previously called corned dogs until a proud pronto pup eating friend corrected me); etc. In comparison, my stickless fried potatoes seem sorta healthy.
From the fresh French fries stand, I head toward animal row—the pig barn; the cow barn; the sheep and goat barn; the miracle of birth center, where you can watch calves being born and pet baby rabbits, chicks, and lambs; the horse barn; and, the horse show stadium. What surprises me is that I could easily walk through each of these barns at least twice during the twelve days of the “second largest in the union” state fair. Sometimes I do.
And if I’m completely honest, I don’t neglect the midway rides. Each year my husband and I wonder which new, big ride we will brave. I secretly wonder which one will frighten him the most, and I take an equally not-so-secret pleasure in regaling our friends and family members with stories afterward. He’s a good sport.
But really the main part of midway—and the main part of the fair—is the people-watching. Some days close to 200,000 people make it to the fair. In this crowd there’s far more diversity (racial-ethnic and socioeconomic) than any seminary or church that I know of. Certainly far more diversity than my Saint Anthony Park neighborhood. And for a short time, in this socially constructed reality called the state fair, certain barriers fall away and those who most often remain invisible to one another are brought near.
For those who have eyes to see, it’s actually beautiful: the sweating people and the sweating animals—(it’s been nearly 100 degrees for days here in the Twin Cities); the surprising array of talent—(I didn’t mention the local, regional, and national musicians performing on multiple stages throughout each evening); and the shared experiences of eating, playing, and watching new life come into the world. If the writer of Ecclesiastes were present, I suspect he might smile, “They’re getting it (at least in part). Life is a gift from God. Enjoy each moment.” And if the kingdom of God were come in its fullness, these are the ones I suspect I’d find myself surrounded by. I’m not so sure about the French fries, however.