Column: For these reasons and more, you’ve got to love the fair

Published 12:00 am Saturday, July 26, 2003

Every summer, there are two big events in Albert Lea when everybody seems to get involved, when there’s something for everybody to do, when you can feel like we all have something in common because we’re all enjoying the same things.

The first is the Independence Day celebration, with its top-notch parade and fireworks, and the second starts Tuesday: The Freeborn County Fair.

It’s time to put on your walking shoes, strap on a mega-armband, grab the fried food of your choice and stake out your seat in the grandstand.

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It seems like most people consider the fair to be the biggest event of the year, which makes the slogan &uot;the six best days of summer&uot; seem like an accepted act rather than a boast.

The great thing the fair is that you’ve got a variety of events going on at once, there’s a good chance you’ll something you can enjoy. Because of that, different people will tell you they like the fair for different reasons. Yet, they’re all there in one place, enjoying themselves and sharing something they can talk about with co-workers on a break or over coffee with friends. It’s a community experience that brings us together.

When I think of the fair, a few things come to mind:

-The grandstand. It seems like most fairs in counties our size don’t do nearly as good a job of putting quality acts on the stage. The demolition derby is sadistic fun, watching cars get smashed beyond recognition and hoping your favorite can survive it all. Say what you will about the musical acts, but they draw big crowds and they’re usually people I’ve at least heard of &045; which is saying a lot for somebody who doesn’t listen to country. Even acts for which I didn’t have high expectations have gotten great reviews, like Herman’s Hermits last year. It is nice if they work at least one non-country act in there, but they have to go with what’s popular and available.

-The food. The &uot;everything-on-a-stick&uot; joke has been done to death. Yes, you get lots of your food on a stick at the fair. Another unifying theme, however, is that nothing seems to count as fair food unless it’s been dipped in a fryer or frozen somehow. A couple of years ago, when it was about 100 degrees each day of the fair, we probably made five stops at the stand that sold cups of flavored ice; it was hard to think about going near something out of a fryer. Maybe this year the weather will cooperate and something hot will hit the spot.

-The bags of stuff. You know what I mean. Some commercial booth always gives out plastic bags with their name on them, and you always end up going home with this sack bulging with flyers, brochures, refrigerator magnets, pencils and keychains. At our house, it’s not uncommon to find that same bag still sitting around when the next fair rolls around.

-The animals. I didn’t grow up around cows, goats, horses and the like, so I don’t have the same feelings about them as people who did. It’s a lot more novel for me, which means I don’t really understand all the contests that well, but also that I always make it a point to look at as many animals as I can &045; because, like I said, it’s novel. The Kiddie Farmyard is also a great place to take a child. Where else is he going to see just-hatched chicks and a live peacock?

-Of course, the rides. I’ve found to my chagrin that I can’t handle amusement rides the way I used to. Back in the day, my brother and I would get Valleyfair season passes and spend hours going on the same rides over and over. Now, only a decade later, I feel woozy after a ride on the Tilt-A-Whirl. I never thought it would come to this. But kids always seem able to handle it, and parents quickly learn that an armband is a pretty good idea unless you want to be nickel-and-dimed to death by buying tickets.

So, we go forward into another fair week &045; the 112th overall and my fourth. Getting there may be a pain, I may come home with sore feet and I might even step in something near the livestock areas, but chances are I’ll wind up happy. And unless you’re one of the few who doesn’t &uot;do&uot; the fair, you will too.

If you want to know more about the fair, don’t forget to check out the Tribune’s preview section in today’s edition, and as usual, we’ll have plenty of fair coverage all week long.

Dylan Belden is the Tribune’s managing editor. His column appears Sundays. E-mail him at