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By Staff | Sep 11, 2009

We humans have created some extraordinary things. Some of our more outstanding inventions include the space shuttle, the Hoover Dam and that substance known as ShamWow.

One hugely spectacular spectacle is our state fairs – a wham-bam blowout that marks the end of summer.

My wife and I recently attended the Minnesota State Fair for the first time. The most difficult part of the whole experience was finding the fairgrounds, which are located in the wilderness of the cwity of St. Paul.

Assisting us was Mrs. Garmin, our digital pathfinder. Garmin confidently guided us through the warren of break-neck freeways known as the Twin Cities until she confidently got us lost.

“Were are we?” asked my wife as she tightened her death grip on the steering wheel. Garmin had taken us to a decidedly grungy-looking neighborhood.

“I don’t know,” I replied. “Mrs. Garmin seems confused. Maybe she’s getting senile.”

“I don’t care about that! Just push the button that says ‘get us the heck out of here!'”

Eventually, by using a sextant and a compass, we were able to find the fairgrounds. Sheer chance landed us near an entrance that put us right next to the Dairy Building, a place I had hoped to find.

This is not just because I am a recovering dairy farmer, but mainly because I wanted to see a certain something up close and in person: that uniquely Minnesotan phenomenon of carving butterheads.

Each year at the Minnesota State Fair, the 12 Princess Kay of the Milky Way finalists have their likenesses carved in butter. It was wondrous to see the face of a young lady slowly emerge from a 90-pound block of butter. This was my first experience with congealed animal fat sculpting.

Just when I thought things couldn’t get more exciting, they did. We strolled a short distance and soon found ourselves at the International Bazaar.

And it truly was international. My wife and I ate a Holy Land gyro sandwich and slurped Indonesian noodles as Ecuadorian musicians played. I watched Armenian folk dancers while my wife purchased a Chinese parasol. The saleslady wrote my wife’s name on the parasol in Chinese – or so she said. For all we know, the characters read “Kilroy was here.”

Just when I thought things couldn’t get better, they did. My wife (bless her heart!) pointed and said, “Look! They have beer on a stick!”

And so they did. Except for it wasn’t really a stick; it was more of a paddle. Plus, the beer wasn’t battered and deep fried, but I was OK with that.

I was also OK with the fact that there were beer opportunities at practically every turn. If you go thirsty at the Minnesota State Fair it’s your dumb own fault.

Ditto for going hungry. Helpful hint: do not wear a white T-shirt when you attend the Minnesota State Fair! By the end of the day, the front of your shirt will be a virtual roadmap of all the food stands you have visited.

And just when I thought things couldn’t any more exciting, they did when I discovered the Space Tower.

I had to ride the Space Tower, which is essentially an elevator that’s been turned inside out. The platform of the Space Tower slowly rotates as it rises, giving riders a repeating panoramic view of the area. “Look, there’s St. Paul! Now there’s Minneapolis! Look, there’s St. Paul again!”

The fairgrounds were crowded; crossing the street made you feel like a minnow swimming upstream against a buffalo herd. The simple act of walking became a contact sport.

Some jostling was inevitable, but it was nonetheless startling for a semi-hermit former farm boy from South Dakota.

At one point I passed an older couple who were having a spirited conversation. She would chatter in rapid-fire Spanish and he would reply in unhurried Minnesotan English.

I guess neither was willing to compromise and learn the other’s language.

My wife and I topped off an exciting day by visiting the Butterfly House. Yes, we are just that wild and crazy.

It was fun to watch the people, especially the kids, watch the butterflies. A handout told a bit about the lepidopterans, that they normally haunted distant jungles and only spent a small portion of their lives as butterflies.

During their brief sojourn, they were provided with such delectables as flowers and overripe bananas to gorge upon.

None would exist as a butterfly for more than a few days. Late in the day, as we motored home from the fair, it occurred to us that we had behaved like butterflies.

We had flitted hither and yon, ate too much, and simply lived in the moment.

In other words, we had a thoroughly enjoyable wham-bam end-of-summer blowout.

Nelson is a freelance writer from Volga, S.D. Reach him by e-mail at jjpcnels@itctel.com.

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