Wednesday, August 22, 2012

State Fair stories: South Dakota.

It’s State Fair season: that glorious last hurrah before summer ends. Whether you go for the baby animals, the greasy food, or the C-list entertainment, everybody has a soft spot for the State Fair.

The South Dakota State Fair is held in Huron, widely regarded as the armpit of the state. We weren’t a big State Fair family: none of us were in 4-H, so we had no animals to show or pie competitions to enter. Besides, Huron was more than an hour away from home: no one was too keen on driving that far for a mediocre fair. We only went to the State Fair if Dad was shopping for farm equipment, which was just thrilling for the rest of us.

The only time I really wanted to go to the State Fair was when Billy Gilman was slated to perform: my friend Sarah and I had spent the entire summer listening to “Oklahoma” on repeat.
Actually, the whole album.
But then, HE CANCELLED – rumor was that it was because his voice had changed.

The first time I went to the South Dakota State Fair of my own accord was over Labor Day weekend, 2004. My friend Bob had gone to 4-H Performing Arts camp that summer, and he’d spent most of his June and July weekends singing at county fairs across the state. The big finale performance was at the State Fair, and we HAD to go: Bob was going to be wearing a bedazzled jumpsuit and singing “Rhinestone Cowboy.”

My friends Nick and Meagan were more than happy to go with me, and Meagan and I even bought brand new State Fair outfits (and got locked in the Watertown mall while doing so). The three of us headed west on Highway 14, and we arrived at the fair in no time. I don’t remember what all we saw there: booths filled with leather goods and cutouts of George W Bush come to mind.
It's South Dakota, after all.
Bob’s performance wasn’t until later that evening, so we had a fair amount of time to kill. However, it started threatening rain almost as soon as we parked Nick’s pickup. Go figure. We spent a good portion of our afternoon sheltering in seed corn tents and dashing off to the next location when the rain seemed to show signs of stopping.

The rain let up as the afternoon wore on, and we thought we’d be totally fine for the 4-H Performing Arts segment of our day. We took our seats close to the front of the stage and anxiously awaited the show… but when the show hadn’t started fifteen minutes after it was scheduled to begin, we started to wonder what was going on. After looking at the posted bandstand schedule, the problem became clear: we were at the wrong stage. And it was starting to rain.

We booked it all the way across the fairgrounds to the RIGHT stage, and we arrived just as Bob took the stage to sing “Rhinestone Cowboy.”
It's a terrible picture, but it
was also a terrible jumpsuit.
We sat through a couple more performances as the rain started to pour and the wind began to howl. When the lightning started, the 4-H Powers That Be immediately halted the show and herded us all into the nearby 4-H building. We found Bob there, who told us that we wouldn’t get to see his rap number thanks to the rain delay. When they let us out of the 4-H building, we made a mad dash to a nearby gas station for some hot chocolate (and for Meagan and I to clean up our terrifying non-waterproof mascara). We got completely soaked in the process: so much for Meagan’s and my special State Fair outfits.
Meagan didn't mind as much as I did.
Bob headed back to his tent, and the three of us headed home. Nick, Meagan, and I were drenched and looked a lot like drowned rats, but we’d had a good time. A good enough time, in fact, that I was not at all opposed to coming back the following year.

My first week of college was the week before Labor Day. The RAs all suggested that no one go home for the long weekend: after all, you just got here, and what a great time to bond with your floormates! I, however, had promised Bob that I’d come see his rendition of “Coming to America” at this year’s State Fair. One of my new floormates, a pretentious private-schooler from St Paul, asked if he could go with me. For reasons I will never know, I said yes. We piled in my little car and trucked to my parents’ house.

Upon arrival, the first thing Dad said was “what happened to your tire?” One of my car tires was almost completely flat: I had run over a nail driving out of the parking lot in Morris, and had driven on my busted tire for nearly 150 miles. Calla the Dumbass strikes again.

My parents were also less than impressed with this city boy I’d brought home. City Boy knew less about tires than I did, which led to some not-too-subtle eye-rolling from my dad. If these were the kind of friends I’d be making in college, I’d imagine my parents were dreading the next four years. (Sidenote: those weren’t the kind of friends I made in college. I just had to learn the hard way.)

City Boy and I drove to the fair on Saturday. For the entire drive, all City Boy did was bitch about how flat South Dakota was and how horrible it would be to live here. While the drive from Arlington to Huron is no scenic wonderland, it’s not really that atrocious. It didn’t take me long to get annoyed: this guy had never even set FOOT in South Dakota, yet had immediately condemned the whole state. If you’re going to mock my home state, at least give it a bit of a chance… and take it easy on the harsh words if you’re relying on the South Dakotan to get you home again.

I have almost no recollection of our time at the State Fair, except that I was getting more and more torked off with every snide remark City Boy would make. I had brought him to the State Fair so we could have fun, not so he could continually comment on how plebian we Dakotans were. City Boy didn’t even enjoy the baby animals: he was a vegetarian, so all he could talk about was how the little pigs would be ground up into sausage once the fair was over.

By the time Bob’s performance rolled around, I was fuming. A whole day of “wow, I can’t BELIEVE how much better I am than all of you Dakotans” comments had worn my patience thin. After Bob’s performance, I quickly said hello to Bob, telling him that he’d made a wonderful Neil Diamond and that I would call him later (I added a meaningful glance here, which Bob totally understood).

The drive back to Arlington was mostly silent, as was the drive back to Morris. That weekend taught me an important lesson: try to screen your friends better unless you want your parents to make fun of you until the day you die. My dad still loves to bring up that weekend: “What were you THINKING?!” If I only knew.

So those are my two memorable (for better or worse) South Dakota State Fair experiences. Stay tuned for my grand tales of the Minnesota State Fair!

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