In Festival Guide Commentary

The Wisconsin State Fair appeals to many generations, but sometimes at different phases of their lives.

My on and off love affair with the Wisconsin State Fair

Every decade, my relationship with the State Fair has changed. I started in a stroller, face filthy with cream puff, the desire for an air-filled plastic Mighty Mouse on a stick and maybe a trip down the slide – but only if I could sit on my mom's lap instead of directly on the burlap sack.

By the time I was a teenager, I still liked the fair, but not as a family affair. I wanted to go solo, with a friend or two, and smoke cigarettes and meet boys. With big bangs and crop tops, I could definitely turn a few carnival workers' heads. I could also make $20 stretch for eight hours. That boy working the water gun game never wrote like he promised.

Then, maybe like you, I stopped caring about the fair. I preferred festivals focused on music and beer, especially after I turned 21, and I didn't give a crap about cows or snacks on a stick. So I skipped the fair for a decade.

I asked the OnMilwaukee intern, Nate, who is in his early 20s, what he thought of the State Fair. Although he's been a champ and spent many hours at the fair already, writing gems like this one, he admitted that he and his friends would probably only go to the fair if there was nothing else going on.

I continued this conversation with other 20-somethings and there seems to be a consensus that, for many of us, our appreciation for the fair fades in and out of our lives.

My appreciation for the fair returned when I had kids of my own. Suddenly, I was swiping cream from their little faces and saying no to an inflated Dora the Explorer on a stick. I fell in love, again, with sampling peanut butter milk, watching fuzzy chicks free themselves from shells and looking at animals' faces and butts. I loved watching the kids whiz down the big pig slide and I waved to them from the ground while they rode a bumble bee in the sky.

But it wasn't just having kids that made me rekindle love of the fair. In the past five years, I have enjoyed going on a date night with my partner most of all. We've found our favorite spots to hang, on the roof of Slim McGinn's or at the Bud tent when there's a metal tribute band. I've eaten everything from a classic corn dog to deep fried bull's balls. I've ridden the Ferris wheel minutes before the park closed. I cried tears of joy during the one and I only time I saw Heart in concert.

We've noted that I talk less than usual when I'm at the fair, because we spend most of our time people watching.

The Wisconsin State Fair is the greatest place on earth to people watch.

Because of my job, I have competed many times in the cream puff and baked potato eating contests. Sometimes I win, sometimes I don't. But the fun, absurdity and grossness of competitive eating has made it a genuine interest of mine and something I look forward to doing, despite the cream in my eyelashes and nostrils for the rest of the day.

A few years ago, I took my 93-year-old grandma to the fair and she loved it. We pushed her around in a wheelchair, spoiled her with funnel cake and ShamWows. Because of this, I'm pretty certain I have decades ahead of me enjoying the fair, even though my interest waned in the past.

In short: don't stick a fork in me. Or a stick. I'm not done with the fair.


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