Lileks: Best new thing at fair may be the most basic thing of all

  • Article by: JAMES LILEKS , Star Tribune
  • Updated: August 23, 2013 - 6:19 AM
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Everything lined up for the first day of the Minnesota State Fair on Thursday: the weather, the cows, the crowds at the Dough-Sant (doughnut + croissant) stand. One lucky guy, Ravem Noguerraza of Coon Rapids, even got to carry around a giant stuffed dog that his buddy won.

Photo: JEFF WHEELER • jwheeler@startribune.com,

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There’s something new at the State Fair that’s so marvelous, so stunning, so absolutely magnificent that it will —

No, wait. We’ll get to it. Of course, no one goes to the fair for the new things.

We’ll try the new food, see the new attractions, but it’s the old favorites we seek. Which of these traditional reasons for fairgoing sound familiar to you?

• I always walk around with a yardstick every day of the year with my possessions in a bag that says WCCO, and the fair is the one place where I don’t feel conspicuous.

• Looking forward to trying those new foods, from “Deep-Fried Bowl of Cereal” to “Compost Goulash” to “Slaughterhouse-Runoff Smoothie.”

• The rides! Sometimes the operator asks, “Do you want to go reeeeeeal fast?” and this year we’re all going to shout, MAAAAYYYBE, and if he asks again, we’ll shout, WEEEE’RE CONSIIIIIDERING THAT OOOOOPTION, HOLLLLLD ONNN. If he goes faster anyway, it’s proof that our opinion really isn’t being sought at all.

• The food! This year the big bacon place is selling a slab the size of a brick, with a little harness that goes around your head so it’s hands-free.

• The art! The Fine Arts pavilion always has something interesting to look at, and unlike the Minneapolis Institute of Arts, you can holler your approval or disdain.

• The animal barns, or “Dinner’s First Draft” — it’s amazing to see the state’s biggest boar, and how they turn him over once a day by winching up the entire barn on jacks until he rolls over.

• Ye Old Mill, in case you’d forgotten what it feels like to paddle down an underground cave in a coffin past ancient idols made of chicken wire.

• People-watching. Sure, you can do that anywhere, but your legs get cramped crouching down behind the bushes.

• The food! We always go for a Poncho Dog, because nothing says “delicious minced and compressed meat in a jacket of fried cornmeal” like a canine in a serape. Some members of our family are Pronto Pup people, though, and we weren’t talking to one another on account of that until, oh, ’07. Feelings ran pretty hard. Aunt Jesse and Cousin Frank still aren’t speaking because of the fight they had over mini-doughnuts, and Frank’s insistence that Tom Thumb doughnuts were better than Tiny Tim doughnuts, because they didn’t make you think of a Dickens character with a congenital limb defect. They just about came to blows.

All of this and more, I say. I go at least six times a year and never exhaust the things I want to do. But of all the things that are new this year, the most exciting may be the most mundane.

It’s right across from the Star Tribune fair HQ, and I almost fell to my knees when I saw it the day before the fair opened. I had no idea they had done this.

It’s a big brick structure with the most welcome word one can see at the fair:

RESTROOMS

They tore down the old restrooms by the DNR area, and, I presume, encased the dirt below in ceramic casks to be buried alongside the stuff they take out of Prairie Island. The old place had faucets designed by a sadist — you had to keep them cranked to get water, but once you let go, the water stopped. The paper toweling was slightly less absorbent than a newspaper or a sheet of Saran Wrap.

Now it’s quite nice. A new plaza with seating, a smoking area (“Put ’em by the toilets, they won’t complain”) and the Pavilion of Relief. You enter a hall that turns sharply to the right and is lined with advertisements. (As all guys know, looking at the face of Dick Enrico selling you “2nd Wind” exercise equipment is an integral part of the restroom experience.) You can pause and peruse the ads, or just keep going, hoping there will be more ads in the restroom.

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