Garrison Keillor is an author and radio personality.
The sight of Percherons makes me happy. So do deep-fried cheese curds, newborn lambs and those designer chickens with feathery pompom anklets, and then you enter the Horticulture Building and see pumpkins the size of studio apartments, large enough to house a man and his wife, so today I am happy, having attended the Minnesota State Fair, our Mardi Gras, when normally cautious people can go out and be jovial in public. My wife is not a Fair person. Her problem is good taste and a limited tolerance for gluttony and barkers and violent centrifugal experiences in motorized contraptions operated by tattooed men who might have done prison time for larceny. But my daughter is Fair-bred, so I have company.
We Fair people don’t care that many people don’t like the Fair and want to tell us why. Many people don’t care for Bach. So what? Sew buttons on your underwear. What is not to like about a public event at which a quarter-million people jostle around happily, doped up on animal fats, in the uproar of motors and music and the yawp and bark of men hawking beer and pretzels and snowblowers and an amazing blender that will slice, dice, chop, mince or puree and once you have it you will wonder how you ever managed without it?
The River Run is my daughter’s favorite ride: You climb aboard a raft and buckle your seat belt and float down a sluiceway over a series of rapids and waterfalls, which takes about two minutes. We call it the Pee Ride because when it’s over, I look as if I couldn’t wait for the men’s room. This makes her convulse with helpless laughter, seeing her old dad with wet pants. And how often does a person get to experience helpless convulsive laughter? When was your last HCL experience, dear reader? So I do my part to be a laughingstock and we walk down the street laughing and have a last delicious glass of Kool-Aid and a frozen custard and go home and wait for next year.
So intense and tumultuous is the Fair, the crowds, the hurly-burly, the screams of young women being flung into the air, the enormous animals being herded through the pedestrian flow toward the show ring, that you notice people forgetting to snap pictures with their smartphones. Instead of documenting the experience, they experience it and are transported by it and don’t need images and don’t need to text each other their current locations and ETAs, but simply float in the river of humanity and absorb the cacophony and kaleidoscopic spectacle of it all. This is remarkable. Even teenagers get caught up in it. Nobody on the Tilt-A-Whirl is texting someone, “I 8 2 corndogs & feel nause8d.” They are totally tilting and whirling.
The Fair is an escape from digitology and other obsessions, phobias and intolerances, also a vacation from the presidential election, which has obsessed many people I know, including myself: We are addicted to the dread and disbelief the presumptuous Republican nominee in particular inspires. This man, who has commanded American journalism for more than a year, is a small sideshow, less prominent at the Fair than John Deere tractors or the Miracle of Birth Center, where you can see hens lay eggs and you pet baby lambs and calves and piglets.
I try to take a balanced view of him. He has done a good deal to make young people aware of where Mexico is. If you can build a wall along the border, that means it is contiguous to the United States, right? This is an advance. According to a National Geographic survey, 29 percent of young Americans can’t identify the Pacific Ocean. Thanks to Donald Trump, they know something about Mexico and also that Kenya is not part of our country. If geography can make a comeback, perhaps civics will, too.
One comes away from the Fair a couple of pounds heavier and an ounce wiser. We live in a land of great domestic calm when a quarter-million people commingle with hardly a cop in sight. The diversified farm of my childhood is gone, the factory farm is here for good, but food is plentiful. It was a good year. The economy is robust, judging from the long lines at the hot buttered corn stand. White middle-aged male anger? Maybe so, but the candidate who claims to speak to that is a horse’s hindquarters. You pass a hundred of those in the horse barn and he’s not one of the better-looking ones.