Al Batt: No road rage when you’re in line for free stuff

Published 8:07 pm Tuesday, September 10, 2019

Tales from Exit 22 by Al Batt


Herrick told me where to go.

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Robert Herrick was the guy who wrote, “Gather ye rosebuds while ye may, Old Time is still a-flying; and this same flower that smiles today, tomorrow will be dying.”

I think he told me to go to the Minnesota State Fair on a day when it set an attendance record for days with me in attendance. I encountered waves of people and I hoped that no one got hurt. I saw fairgoers who were a bit off balance from eating too many fried foodstuffs on sticks. I had a hankering for cinnamon toast.

Started in 1859, it covers 322 acres and has 300 food vendors. I find working at the State Fair rewarding and humbling.

One year, thanks to the kindness of a State Fair Board member and friend named Howard Recknor, I saw Etta James, B.B. King and Jimmie Vaughn in concert. That was lovely. All I had to do in return was to answer fairgoers’ questions about nature. I identified things and misidentified at least one thing — I told a man that a butterfly was a European skipper and it was a least skipper. Mistakes like that don’t make me feel like skipping, but I love hearing the stories of people I meet at the big fair.

The Minnesota State Fair is the second biggest state fair in total attendance. The Texas State Fair is the largest and is longer, so the Great Minnesota Get-Together is largest in average daily attendance. Because of the great numbers of people, there are lines at the State Fair.

I once took my wife to a new restaurant in a small city. We’d heard wonderful things about the place. We waited in line for 45 minutes just to get a table. Standing in line that long is like stepping on Lego bricks while barefooted for 45 minutes. The food was good, but not 45-minute wait good.

Despite that experience, I found myself in a line to buy chocolate-covered potato chips at the State Fair. I noticed that I was the only male in that line. The woman ahead of me asked if I liked chocolate-covered potato chips. I don’t like chocolate, so I doubted I would. The woman behind me asked why I was in line. “You’re a man,” she said. It’s nice to be recognized.

“It’s a gift for someone I love,” I said.

“For your wife?” said the woman still ahead of me in line.

“No, for my mother-in-law,” I replied.

Many of them must have been mothers-in-law because they liked me. They really liked me. The women in the chocolate-covered-potato-chip line wanted me to go ahead of them in line. I declined, but bought four bags.

Not long after that, I encountered an extremely long line snaking from one of the giant buildings holding many enterprises. By that point, I’d become accustomed to standing in line. It was my support system. I got in line again.

“What are we in line for?” I asked the fellow in the Twins hat in front of me. I was convinced it wasn’t to get a face tattoo.

“I don’t know, but it must be something big,” he said wisely.

I thought perhaps the end of the line would offer the secret to happiness or pizza samples.

“Whatever it is, it must be free,” I said.

“Duh,” said the fellow wearing a Vikings sweatshirt behind me.

After a short period of time had passed, many were behind me in line. That cinched it, I wasn’t going to leave that line. I had too much time invested in it.

Waiting in line was a definite time suck. It was like an extended job interview for someone trying to land a position as the head of the patience department. The line moved at a snail’s pace, but it was a fast snail. The carrot on a stick was an orange cloth shopping bag featuring the name of a college. It was free, but I hoped the graduates of that fine institution had better things to do than to stand in that line.

I persisted. I had seniority. I got one of the orange bags. I clutched it as if it were an Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor. I needed the orange bag to carry my four chocolate-covered potato chip bags.

With my bag of bags, I moved onto the next line.

It’s apparent that I’ll stand in line for someone I love or to get free stuff. It’s the Minnesota way.

Al Batt’s columns appear every Wednesday and Saturday.