James Lileks: Sadly, the fair doesn't always stay the same

  • Article by: JAMES LILEKS , Star Tribune
  • Updated: August 27, 2011 - 9:45 PM

You stand before the Epiphany Diner, and you see the sign, and think: no. It's closing? This can't be.

Of course, it can be, and it is. The fair changes, just like glaciers advance and stars grow cooler. It's a long process, in other words. Sometimes the change is good: Fifty years ago, French fries at the fair meant a greasy sleeve of sad, soggy sticks. Today you can walk up to a stand, say "I'd like a tub, please" and you get a container the size of a paint can, and they're delicious. "Ethnic" food was once confined to the Mexican Hat and the Chun King joint; now you can walk around nibbling on a bolus of impaled falafel. None of this makes the fair different. Nothing can. It doesn't matter who sets up shop below the grandstand, and it doesn't matter who occupies the broad brick building by the midway entrance. The structures will always be around. Things can change only so much.

But losing another church diner -- that's no small loss. You can blame the abundance too much food. If you're selling coffee and a humble hamburger, you're up against Deep-Fried Crocodile Thyroid and Wombat on a Stick, the impersonal fast-food burger stand with the chrome trim and shiny signs, and the healthy-option stand that sells organic moss smoothies. Consumption as entertainment, not sustenance. The church diners were the places where you'd find a sun-browned farmer, hands steepled over a ceramic cup, a Winston idling between his knuckles. Nothing on a stick, because stick-food is made for ambulatory gnawing. A church diner is a place to pause.

My favorite example is long gone: a humble Lutheran-run stand that served translucent coffee. The seats had comforted fairgoers since the Eisenhower age. Improvements over the years consisted of "paint." Now it sells alligator meat. The Epiphany's space will be filled by the Minnesota Farm Wine Association -- mmmm, farm wine! Next year, buy a glass. Raise a toast to what's left at the fair and what's still to come.

jlileks@startribune.com • 612-673-7858 More daily at www.startribune.com/popcrush.

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