Fair Play / by Courtney Mehlhaff

This is a story inspired by the recent conclusion of the State Fair. I've now lived here for 11 years, and I've been to the Great Minnesota Get Together five times. The first was a very quick trip with my first roommate, who basically bought me cheese curds and then took me home.

The second was the day after I'd moved into my first solo apartment, when I severely underestimated how sore I'd be from hauling boxes up and down four flights of stairs. I spent the day wishing I could curl up in a fetal position in the Miracle of Birth barn. Who would notice? The 4-H kids. They'd rat me out, those savvy rural bastards.

The third time was so packed and hot that I didn't last more than a couple of hours. My friend and I, soaked in sweat and absolutely fried, toasted with 1919 root beer: "To a great State Fair.  (glug) Now let's get the fuck out of here!" 

By the fourth time, I'd learned some important lessons. I was rested. I was ready. I was wearing proper shoes and plenty of deodorant.  This was the year I discovered, to my surprise, that the Fair was actually bearable -- nay, magical -- on a weekday in the evening.  It was still quite hot, but the crowds bore less resemblance to an impenetrable, red rover-esque wall of death.  

Maybe it was the extra personal space, or the calming night air, or the fact that I'd been strolling about with a delicious beer, but apparently I felt that life was good enough to risk on the midway.

I know what you're thinking. "Cotonee, why on earth would you voluntarily board a contraption that was cobbled together by carnies just days before?" And to that I say, I didn't just volunteer.  I PAID to do it.

I'm blaming it on the lights.  They were so colorful and delightful.  I'd just been whisked across the lovely, glowing fairgrounds by the Sky Ride cable car, and I was still in one piece.  So when my friend said "roller coaster," I thought it was a brilliant suggestion.

The ride we chose sat four people to a car.  When it was our turn to board, there were two kids, a boy and a girl, roughly 10 years old, already seated.  My friend slid in first and was promptly shouted at by the ride operator until we switched places. (Evidently strange men aren't allowed to sit next to children, but strange women are just dandy.)

Crammed into the tiny car, we took off.  It wasn't particularly fast or high, or even alarmingly rickety. The kids were in good spirits, and I was having a great time. What I didn't realize, however, was that the coaster cars swiveled.  So when we hit the first big turn in the track, we whipped around, hard, about 180 degrees.

At that moment, in my terror, I forgot that I was supposed to be the adult in the situation.  I yelled, at the top of my lungs and with total conviction, "Ahhhhhhhh . . . we're gonna die!"

That's right.  Instead of calmly reassuring the kids next to me that everything was going to be fine, I not only confirmed their mortality but announced their imminent demise.

Everything was NOT going to be fine.  Their giggling and chattering quickly turned into high-pitched screams that didn't stop until the ride did. And even then, as we rattled to a standstill, their expressions told me that this park was no longer amusing -- the experience had been both a literal and figurative eye-opener.

So that's how I unintentionally traumatized two innocent children during what still remains my best State Fair experience to date.  Suck it, seed art.  I'm out there changing lives.