August 01, 2006

Bad Boys And Butterflies

Twenty-four more days until the commencement of the 2006 Minnesota State Fair. It’s only the best state fair in the entire nation. Everyone should experience the Minnesota State Fair at least once in their lifetime; everyone in Minnesota should get to the fair at least once a year.

As much as I love the fair, I can’t help but feel slightly disappointed in its lack of stagnancy. Things are changing when they really don’t have to. That makes me feel uncomfortable and, well, old. Ye Old Mill – the tunnel of love as it were – has been in operation for a hundred years in the same building, with the same boats, and most probably the same water circulating as when it was first constructed. That’s how it should be. The State Fair grounds are filled with historical buildings that should by no means ever change in either their construction or their contents. Because when they change, they are different. And everyone knows that when it comes to the State Fair, different is bad.

Here’s what’s bugging me most about the latest in State Fair board wacky decision-making. They have condemned (or rather, had the fire department condemn) the building which houses the Penny Arcade. Not that stupid arcade by the DNR building, the real Penny Arcade. The one that’s been there for, like, eighty years. This Penny Arcade had the best stuff in it, like the mechanical fortune teller in a glass box, penny flip-card movies, coin engraving machines, and those cool photo booths. The State Fair bought the building from the Penny Arcade owners and their license to operate the arcade has not been renewed.

The demise of the Penny Arcade is just another step toward the goal of candy-asses everywhere to transform fairs and carnivals into kinder and gentler venues of entertainment. Try to deny it when you pass by the Penny Arcade building this year. Instead of seeing century-old nudie movie machines and groups of giggling girls cramming themselves into one tiny cubicle of a photo booth, you will see butterflies. Yes, butterflies. Hundreds of live butterflies people actually pay money to commune with. Well, it’s just the stupidest thing I’ve ever heard. Communing with insects. Who would pay money to do that? However, I can see paying money to the mechanical Madame Mysterio for her predictions of my future.

Where’s the spirit of the carnival? Where there used to be debauchery there is now a brightly-lit information center. Where there used to be the tent of human oddities (or, dare I say, freaks?) there is a European, finely-engineered thrill ride. Where there used to be the dilapidated Matterhorn ride pimped by a grimy, long-haired, tattooed, undernourished, smoking, drinking, little-girl-grabbing carney there is a college boy in a perfectly laundered pique polo shirt taking tickets to another European, finely-engineered thrill ride. Where’s the motordrome? Where are the sword swallower, fire eater, fat man, the midget lady, and Lobster Boy? They have been shunned by the politically correct. They have been driven out by the soccer moms who oppose exposing their children to danger and fright. The government has decided that the carnival, the circus, the fairgrounds, and even the Penny Arcade must be attractive, clean, safe, and non-threatening. We are witnessing the demise of the scary clown. And where’s the dark side of life if the scary clown is dead?

Well, I survived the transition from combines, tractors, and other farm implements to ATVs, lawn mowers, and I-Have-A-Tiny-Penis-So-I-Need-A-Big-Ass-Truck vehicles on Machinery Hill. I adjusted to the renaming of the “Hippodrome” to the “Coliseum” (which this year is now the “Lee and Rose Warner Coliseum,” but that’s a whole ‘nother blog entry!). I endured all the political shenanigans pulled throughout the last forty-plus years I’ve been attending the Minnesota State Fair. Therefore, chances are pretty good that I will survive the replacement of carnival history in the Penny Arcade with butterflies.

With all of my disgust aside, I can hardly wait for the fair. Despite its attempts at cleanliness and modesty, there is still a dirty underbelly throughout, which I love. I can, in my mind, smell the hot grease in the air, and taste those Tom Thumb Donuts and Pronto Pups. I’ll even get a thrill on one of those European, finely-engineered thrill rides. You can bet the rent that I won’t be paying attention to the caterpillars, cocoons, or butterflies. While I grieve the loss of the Penny Arcade, I’ll search the midway for that one remaining carney with quilted black pants and silver rings that adorn his grease-smeared hands as he becons me to ride the one remaining wreck of a ride – the ride that plays classic rock from its speakers rather than rap or hip-hop. There’s nothing like a good ride from a dirty carney to get your mind off butterflies.

Meet me at Fairchild.

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