On those hottest weekend days at the Minnesota State Fair, looking down the hill on Judson Avenue and seeing the sea of humanity before you, one can almost wish that all those people would disappear.

Come back a few hours later and you’ll get your wish.

The State Fair is quiet and cooler after midnight. The sounds of leaf blowers, the rumble of trucks, and the distant moos and baas of insomniac animals fill your ears. If you listen closely, you can hear the chatter of the “pickers,” those workers who comb the fairgrounds all night picking up trash piece by piece with long tongs. Farmers finish chores before curling up to sleep next to their animals in the hay. Though all the fairgoers are gone, the fairgrounds are never empty.

“People don’t realize how busy it is here at night,” said Mike Burke, the midnight watch commander with the Minnesota State Fair Police.

As the last stragglers from the midway stumble through the exits, a new scene emerges. Bags of stuffed animals and plastic prizes need to be counted and restocked.

Food booths need to be sanitized and readied for the next day. Bathrooms need to be cleaned. “These bathrooms can be hell,” said worker Dan Amunrud. “But they’re clean in the morning. We’re the ones that make it look good.” So next time you’re walking down Judson Avenue on a sweltering day, imagine all the people it took to clean those streets and refill those corn dog stands. \

You’ll never see them but they are there, after the lights go out.

LEILA NAVIDI