Only two days left of the State Fair. Tomorrow the guillotine blade whistles down on the soft green neck of summer. Oh, it still may be warm; the sun may still blare out like Judgment Day trumpets, but A) we all know summer ends after Labor Day, and B) what if Judgment Day is actually announced with saxophones? That would give it a sultry, jazzy atmosphere. Certainly better than sad slide whistles playing a descending scale.
I've met people who've moved away and return every year because their own fair is a pallid fraction of our own. They come back to revisit traditions: "My sister lives in Pennsylvania, and she has to get a yardstick and sign up to win a water purification system and eat a dog leg and see a turkey neutered — no, wait, the other way around — and I go to the Fine Arts area and stare contemplatively at an impressionistic view of Duluth, and then we listen to Peruvian wind pipes by the Poultry Barn before we split a bag of Tom Thumbs before we go to 'CCO."
That is the most nonsensical sentence in the paper today, but fairgoers not only understand it, they've done it.
Two moments stick out from this year's fair. One: On Military Appreciation Day, there was a band concert at the Leinie Lodge Bandshell that ended with "Stars and Stripes Forever." You can't go wrong with that one. Your entire concert could be some atonal horror that sounds like porcupines being fed into a belt sander, but end with Sousa and all is forgiven.
If there were anything that summed up Minnesota to me at that moment, it was an audience clapping along and getting goose bumps as they thrilled to a piccolo solo. At the end, people were singing along, and I thought, "Why isn't this the national anthem?" Until I realized that half of them were singing: "Be kind to your web-footed friends, for that duck may be somebody's mother" — which really doesn't work as a patriotic expression. Unless there is something we don't know about Lincoln's feet.
Two: I had the opportunity to go into the deepest recesses of the administration offices, a place no normal mortal usually sees, and meet the cheerful band that makes it all happen. I was trying to set up an interview with Fairchild, the mascot. It's like a Pentagon operations center in there. Monitors everywhere. Dark lights, hushed voices, attractive stylish women in silver jumpsuits issuing curt commands: "Corn dog batter pressure low in Tube #4. Compensate!" It was incredible.
It made me wonder whether all this technology could be used to create a Virtual Reality Fair, a computerized simulation that would let us visit the Get-Together without leaving home. No heat, no crowds, no barn aroma, no lines! An eternal fair we could visit anytime. Wouldn't that be great?
No, of course not. The fair is wonderful because it can't be streamed on demand 24/7. It's an archaic holdover from an other era. You have to go there. When it happens. There's no rewind. The fair ends. It has to end. Everything does, and sometimes that's depressing. But remember, I was in the HQ, and there was a guard standing at attention by a console, with a big red button. I saw the label.
"Initiate fair 2017," it read.