“If you don’t smell like beer, French fries, and corn, get off the bus!” I did the smell check and found that I passed the test, so I proceeded to the only seat left on the employee bus.
That night, I sat next to a cheerful, beer garden woman who looked like Rosie the Riveter. She confessed that she loves the Minnesota State Fair so much so that when it’s the other 353 days of the year, she drives around the empty fairgrounds wishing it were State Fair time. “My goal in life it to serve on the MN State Fair board.”
That was right before the bus driver yelled, “Welcome to the love bus!” And livened up our midnight ride back to the employee lot by dangerously swerving his bus back and forth along 280.
And that, my friends, is an average day at the Minnesota State Fair.
This is my second year working at the Fair. Once again, I sold drinks and floats at the Galaxy of Drinks. I worked 8 days out of the 12 and helped break down the stand on the last day. (There was a lot of high fructose corn syrup, duct tape, and bloodshed that last night. But I survived.)
Besides my bosses, I worked entirely with kids. So when I referenced things like Facebook or food sanitation rules, I got blank stares. I was the only one NOT to change out of my work t-shirt when leaving the stand. And I spent a lot of time handling our rougher customers. “Uh, Rachel, that old, drunk guy just winked at me and I don’t feel comfortable taking his order. Can you do it?” “Uh, Rachel there is a creepy man taking pictures. What should we do?”
Regardless of the State Fair cra-cra, working the Fair has become a much-anticipated, 12-day social experiment. All the things I have learned in my day job about positivity, mindfulness, de-escalation, behavioral modification, attachment, social scripts, ideal learning environments, mutual respect, safety, and resilience are put to the ultimate “State Fair” test. In other words, I bring all that know-how to the Fair and it ends up getting a stick shoved into it, deep-fried, and sold for 7 bucks.
Like last year, I have a million stories to tell. Some of them are hilarious, like when I lost part of my lower lip to the aforementioned duct tape. (It hurt like the dickens.) Or when a customer asked us if we sold beef-flavored slushies. (We don’t.) Or when the 93rd irate millennial asked me why the h*** we don’t take credit cards and how is that even cost effective. (I took the time to explain how cost-effectiveness really works.) Or when I found a guy peeing in our storage area. (I hosed him down, twice.)
On the other hand, some of my stories are sad, like when a highly intoxicated woman lost her child. When the police found the little girl, I watched as they had to decide whether or not it was safe for the child to go home with the parent. Other times I would find couples arguing in the back alley or drug addicts hiding from the cops. Most of those darker moments happened after 9pm, when it’s no longer a happy place at the fair.
Some of my experiences were inspiring, like the senior citizens who gave $20 tips to my college-bound coworkers. Or when a dad walked by, carrying his four-year-old daughter on his shoulders. He patiently took the time to let her order a strawberry slushy and pay for it by herself.
But my favorite moments were when I saw people I knew at the fair. I got to see my own family, sisters-in-law, brother-in-law, my nieces and nephew. I even saw my cousins-in-law. I saw lots of friends, and a surprise visit from a college teammate and her family. I saw old seminary families and an American friend I met in Taiwan who is now a Minnesota dairy farmer and cheese-maker. This year, I saw more people I knew in one day, than in all the days of the fair last year. That felt good because it’s a sign that I am starting to feel at home.
Last year, when I posted about the Fair, I mentioned things I ate and did and experienced. This year I thought I would share a bunch of text messages, voicemails, and phone calls that I sent or received over my 8 days at the fair. It should give you a glimpse into what it’s like to work the Minnesota State Fair.
Don’t worry if the messages seem confusing, that’s exactly how it felt most of the time. To help you translate the messages, outgoing messages from me are indented to the right. Incoming messages from various friends, family, or my bosses are on the left.
Day 1 of the Fair
9:04am – Al Rorker is the MN fair talking about weird wacky food there. NBC Today. Totcho? I didn’t get what that was.
9:14am – Interesting. Now he’s talking about dog tricks. They’re all stunt dogs, rescues. The teaser says it involves axes.
9:52am – Wish I could blink and be there. Maybe next year.
2:40pm – This is Rachel. Just an FYI. Free employee lot is no longer available to us. Only for Minnesota State Fair staff!
2:43pm – Free employee lot is no longer available to us. Only for Minnesota State Fair staff! Argh! Parked on the creepy street and can still take the bus. Just nervous to ride home!
2:45pm – Carry your keys out to kick or scratch anything or anyone.
7:08pm – FYI – Galaxy is very low on straws and napkins. And out of strawberry slushy mix.
8:20pm – Forgot to tell Michael that the butter machine isn’t working either. (Hasn’t all day?)
10:54pm – Was it turned on?
11:08pm – Yes. It’s on. It’s warm.
11:13pm – Close up if you haven’t!
11:14pm – Got it!
Day 2 of the Fair
11:43pm – We’re done. But forgot to get the neon cow float sign down. Locked now.
11:49pm – K. Thanks!
Day 3 of the Fair
2:27pm – Is there anywhere that sells the cheaper ponchos?? Thanks dear.
2:56pm – ESPN booth by grandstand is selling ponchos for $3
4:39pm – MNy thanks!
4:41pm – This is the Galaxy. Could we order two vanilla ice creams and one chocolate?
10:33pm – We’re trying to close up but we’ve had a surge of float orders. Can’t resist those orders!
11:14pm – Leaving early! Should be home by midnight!
2:25pm – We are on the bus now I’ll tell u where we get off
2:43pm – We are heading to the grandstand
2:44pm – Never mind we are going to birthing center
8:06pm – I am in the dairy building where are you?
8:10pm – Horticulture building, Minnesota department of ag, North hall
9:07pm – Sorry to bother you. I have a question. When taking inventory, do you want the whole sheet filled out or just the candy portion?
9:10pm – All please.
9:33pm – Rachel. It’s Marlys calling for Delphine. I got 2 calls simultaneously and I took the barn call, the candy call, and yours came in also. Anyway, I’m here if you wanna call back and give me the candy. Ok, thank you.
10:47pm – Done and locked up.
Day 9 of the Fair
11:45pm – I am almost closed. I found a kid taking a whiz in your back storage area. I scared him off and then happened to have the hose on, so then hosed him down. Twice. It was fun. Closing down completely in 5 minutes. P.s. Also hosed down the ground.
11:45pm – Nice work! … Thanks! Have a good night.
Day 10 of the Fair
9:25am – Your FB post made us laugh out loud!! How we wish there were a video? Did you offer him water to wash his hands?
9:34am – Punishment fit the crime. Especially when he hit a dead end in the alley and had to come by me a second time. I was so mad. At first I thought he was trying to steal supplies. Then I realized I was going to have to clean our supply containers.
12:36pm – Currently in horse building
12:38pm – On our way
3:16pm – Honey candy in the dirt
3:31pm – These lines are terrible, we can meet u at Galaxy
3:32pm – Or give me all kids straight past skyway and bathroom is there by leinies lodge
4:19pm – Just got here. Water/ice key is missing??
9:30pm – Do we have more strawberry slushy mix in the pod?
Day 11 of the Fair
4:40pm – Hi Rachel. It’s Richard. Please give me a call on my cell phone. It is presently 4:40 pm on Sunday. Need to talk to you about a problem and the Galaxy finding a product that they were having trouble locating.
Day 12 of the Fair
6:21pm – Hey there! Reese asked me to text you to let you know there is a tip cup on the rafters between cups & candy boxes?
6:53pm – Sprite is out and I see no replacement box. Should I head to the pod or call sprite quits for the day?
6:57pm – Then we are out!
12:49am – Helping Richard close. Should be home by 2 or 3am. No employee bus anymore so Richard is gonna try to get me to the employee lot.
See you next year at the Fair!