Quest for healthy at State Fair

I'd heard that the Minnesota State Fair was awesome to behold. I had missed my chance to go last summer because of a knee injury. So, this year, when I was asked to perform at the Minnesota State Fair, it took less than a heartbeat for me to say yes.

I'd heard that the Minnesota State Fair was awesome to behold. I had missed my chance to go last summer because of a knee injury. So, this year, when I was asked to perform at the Minnesota State Fair, it took less than a heartbeat for me to say yes. Little did I know what I was getting into.

Despite the fact that I've been performing for most of my life, I still get nervous before performances. I can't rid myself of my concerns that something will go wrong or that people won't like what I offer them. I'm usually fine once I get on stage and through the first few minutes of performing. I get more nervous about concerts that people make a big deal of. I wasn't nervous about performing at the state fair until everyone who knew about it oohed and ahhed to me, quite reverentially, about my upcoming performance there.

I planned my performance day so that I would have sufficient time before and afterwards to take in the king of all state fairs.

With parking pass in hand, including an assigned parking place, my husband and I drove towards the fair. I was haughty, sure that we would be able to sidestep the masses of cars lining up to pay for parking. After driving in circles and narrowly evading a fair-goer traffic snarl, we finally found a route that got us somewhere in the vicinity of a Fairgrounds entrance.

We were shepherded towards a line of cars inching towards the entrance by four bored cops, who occasionally interrupted their conversation to wave drivers into the crawling lane. We crawled along with the other cars until we got to the end of the line, where we waved our "free parking" passes at the parking attendants, who traded us up the line one attendant after another until we reached someone who actually knew where the "Giraffe" parking lot was. He informed us that we'd have to exit the park and return the way we came to get there. One hour of my allotted fair time down, we tried to interpret the parking attendant's directions, and then gave up.


We called up my contact at the Minnesota Sesquicentennial Commission, who guided us by cell phone back the way we came.

We finally made it into the Giraffe parking lot and found a volunteer to ask where our allotted parking space was. After he disappeared to consult some other more informed people, we were guided to a parking spot at the very back door to the Chautauqua State Fair tent I was to perform in.

I was eager to see the fair, so I rushed inside the tent with my gear, pushing through a crowd of yellow-apron-clad chefs there to discuss the "Minnesota Sesquicentennial Cookbook." I got in a minor tussle with one of them who was wielding a cookbook along with his apron, when I tried to assert my performer-with-guitar's right-of-way to cut through a crowd of audience members to get backstage. I won, but he was none too pleased.

The sound technician was nowhere to be found, so I was instructed to leave my precious guitar and gear under the stage out of the way of the water that was somehow getting inside the tent from the air-conditioning unit. And then, I was free. I could roam the fair.

Chris and I walked out of the Sesquicentennial Tent, which was located at the very edge of the Fairgrounds, and bumped right into the wall of 200,000 plus people who attend the Minnesota State Fair each day. I was dazzled. I hadn't seen that many people since I'd be in New York City. There were food stands everywhere. Elephant Ears. Cheese Curds. Fried Fruit on a Stick. Smoked Turkey Drumsticks. I didn't know where to look first.

Suddenly, I realized two things. First of all, I was hungry as I hadn't eaten breakfast. Second of all, I was nervous about the show. My body expresses its nerves through my stomach. The rush and stress of getting into the fair had masked the truth of my feelings: I was stressed about the show, and I had a stomach ache to prove it.

When I get a stomach ache, all I can eat are healthy things--things without grease or sugar, things that have protein and nutrients.

You can see my predicament. I was at the Minnesota State Fair, and I needed to eat something healthy. Good luck.


I started walking up one of the avenues.The heat started to get to me. It was humid and sticky. I spent most of my mental energy dodging people and wending my way through crowds. I felt like a spaceship trying to plot a course at light speed through a meteor shower. Where had my tolerance for crowds gone? I've never liked crowds, but I had never felt so overwhelmed by them. Clearly, I've been in the country too long. Like a muscle I hadn't used in a year, my city defenses against large masses of people had withered away.

I looked around me, blood sugar meter hovering below the red empty mark. I needed food fast. I saw: "World's Greatest French Fries," "Corn Dogs," "Fried Spam on a Stick," and "Hot Dish on a Stick"--complete with tater tots and meatballs, breaded and fried, and served with a canned mushroom soup dip. My stomach roiled. My heart rate increased. My head began to throb. My stomach rumbled, and then it sent more dire signals to my brain. Where was the nearest bathroom? I don't mean to be vulgar, so let's just say that for the rest of the day, I kept very good track of where the nearest bathrooms were.

I had left my husband in the food hall when I ran to the bathroom, and we had agreed that I'd call him as soon as I exited. I dialed, and his cell phone rang and rang. Perhaps the food hall was too loud? But he had just picked up the phone a few minutes ago...

A brief word on cell phones. Though convenient, they are also a scourge on society's manners. They have made many people far more rude than they have any right to be as they gab loudly about anything whatsoever while you're trying to have a quiet drink at the coffeeshop. They have made all of us into worse drivers. But whatever their ills, they are perhaps humanity's greatest invention for meeting up with people in crowds. So, of course, Chris and I had planned to make use of this magical cell phone attribute to meet up among the 200,000 people at the fair. Cell phone contact, however, only works when both cell phones are working. Little did I know until about one hour later that Chris' cell phone had chosen that moment to die an untimely death. So, after trying a couple more times and looking around the hall where I had left him to no avail, I was left with the thought that Chris had decided that my picky food needs and my frequent bathroom trips were cramping his style. In any case, I was on my own. I was still looking for an oasis of healthy food that wouldn't irritate my stomach amongst the panoply of greasy fair cuisine.

After half an hour traversing the length of the state fair along two avenues, I came upon a vendor offering a fruit shake. Hallelujah! I got Triple Berry with a real banana, served to me by a dazed teenager, and found myself a nook in the shade. I slurped up my shake with gusto, and, renewed, decided to head towards the grandstand where I had noticed a bunch of interesting displays. By the end of my attempts to wiggle past crazed fair goers towards the wares that I liked and to slip unhindered by people barking from the booths that I had no interest in, I was done. I passed a bathroom, and headed towards it, for a preventative visit, when my phone buzzed with an unfamiliar number. I picked up. It was Chris! "My phone died!" he announced. "What terrible timing!" I responded. We agreed to meet at the Chautauqua tent, and I was relieved now I'd learned that Chris hadn't abandoned me.

After a brief seated rest in the relatively peaceful and air-conditioned Chautauqua tent, I felt ready to brave the crowds again. There were animals to see! Chris and I started towards walking towards the goats.After 45 minutes of heat, humidity, crowds, and animal smells, I was ready for another rest. I was also hungry again. Oh no.

This time I needed protein, but my stomach still roiled at the thought of greasy food. Chris and I started out on my quest for protein-rich, healthy food I could consume. His patience was waning, but my stomach was still holding a rather violent protest against the Minnesota fair cuisine, so we went stall to stall seeking something my stomach didn't turn at. Finally Chris found it: bagel sandwiches! I ran to the stall, and got myself a multigrain bagel with turkey, lettuce, and tomato. My stomach rejoiced. Then my insides told me that it was time to go to the cool, dark, and peaceful backstage of the Chautauqua tent, so there I headed. Chris went off to find the rest of the Elisa-fan club--AKA his family--coming specifically to see me perform at the fair, and boy was I glad that they were there by the end of it.

As a performer, one learns quickly to figure out the mood and character of one's audience. My audience at the fair? They were not there to see me. Rather, they had come to see a grand extravaganza of a 20-piece band, including five-part harmony and a massive multimedia display. My show was just me. My voice and my guitar. I did my best to engage audience. I belted my little heart out. I told my stories about oddballs in Minnesotan history with as much conviction as I could.


There was applause, but not much enthusiasm. No one sang along to my final song. I learned later that the sound during my show had been so bad that my guitar was barely audible and my words were blurred with the reverberations of the sound in the tent. I finally understood why one of the Big Top Chautauqua performers, on after me, praised me for my bravery in getting onstage.

Well, some performances are like that. I got off stage, thanked my small but stalwart crew of fans who had come from far away to see me, and packed up my gear. I took a deep breath, and discovered that I was hungry again after the effort I expended performing. This time, however, the show was over and my stomach ache was gone. Yippee! I could finally engage in the real joy of the Minnesota State Fair--eating greasy food. Chris and I went up the avenue, and found fried cheese curds. They may not have been served on a stick, but they were delicious.

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