It just might be the grandest festival in the state of Wisconsin. I mean, where else can you find funky artery clogging eats, quality live music around every corner, a chance to shop an eclectic gathering of vendors, a myriad of random entertainment in the form of shows and demonstrations plus a midway featuring some daredevil rides. Along with all that, there’s quite a bit more, I didn’t even mention the headlining acts or the animal barns. The fact is, the Wisconsin State Fair is an excellent place to burn a free day and a little extra cash.
I haven’t been to the Wisconsin State Fairgrounds in a long time. My memories, to be quite honest, weren’t exactly stellar. My strongest recollection from those times were of my father haggling with vendors for sets of frying pans. Yes, we did go through the animal barns, but the midway was expensive, still is, and the food prices were inflated. So, pretty much, as a child, I just walked in the heat and didn’t really have much fun.
The other reason why I steered clear of the fair was money. I know many people who mentioned they blew a ton of dough at the fair. Thursday, I discovered why. However, if you’re smart about it, you can have a great time with out destroying your pocket book.
We’re driving on 82nd street in West Allis, a suburb of Milwaukee, Wisconsin. I’m already a bit leery about my last minute decision to chance the fair. I see people collecting money for parking at a price of $10-$20 a car. There is free parking along the street, but I’m never going to find an open spot. So, we pay our ten dollars and situate the Dodge in a lot. As we exit the car, having blown ten bucks before setting foot on the fairgrounds,I feel a bit apprehensive about subjecting my pocket book to this carnival on steroids.
However, my spirits are lifted tremendously as we arrive at the gate. There, a young lady that is collecting charitable donations tells us of a great deal. We simply make a contribution to her charity and we receive two coupons that allow us an incredible discount. With the coupon, what was once a $14 per adult price tag becomes a mere two dollars per person. We donate three dollars and pay our four dollars at the gate. All tolled we’ve spent about $17 so far and, for what we’re about to see and do, that’s well worth it.
Well, we actually spent nineteen bucks. I forgot to mention that during our short walk to the fairgrounds, as I felt my stomach churning from the thought of going through a bundle of cash, we found a sweet little old lady who turned out to be quite a business woman. She was selling bottled water, kept cold in a cooler full of Ice, for a buck a piece. I know that when we enter the fair, the price for water is going to be around four dollars. I also know that this enterprising lady spent four dollars total on the forty-pack she bought. When you figure it out, that’s ninety cents profit a bottle, and people think they’re getting a deal. Yet, even if she’s making a killing, I was dying of thirst and thinking of visiting Walgreen’s for water, but this turned out to be the better selection.
Anyways, now we’re entering the fair. First up is the Expo center, filled with vendor merchandise. From hot tubs to exercise equipment and skin lotions to sports memorabilia, anybody would find at least something that would peak their interest. I find these LED paintings to be pretty cool. There are a lot of dreamy Christmas scenes, although some are suitable to hang all year round.
Amongst, the shopping is a small bar, selling beers and cocktails. We also, in case shopping just isn’t your thing, come across a WWE style wrestling match. It’s pretty cheesy and Heidi is finished with the match before the first smackdown is laid. Yet, we stick around for most of the show.
Finally, after I start to realize that Heidi could browse this area all day, I ask if she wants to move on. She agrees and we make it out into the perfect weather. We grab some money from the ATM because most of the food carts and bars take cash.
This is where things get real, the ambiance of a festival is all around us, from large grandstands to souvenir tents. As we meander past many places serving beer and food, the agreeable sounds of live bands pleasure our eardrums. Here at the fair, the minute one band is out of earshot another resumes the soundtrack.
As we’re enjoying the atmosphere, I find a spot selling Pabst in a 16 ounce can for $6.50. Ok, that’s a little expensive, but not horrible considering the environment that surrounds. There’s places that also sell craft brews, but they’re much more pricey. The cost hovers around eight dollars for a small plastic cup.
We’re hungry and need to find food, which really isn’t that hard. There is a collection of crazy culinary choices. From deep fried olives and dough to alligator and other exotic concoctions, food carts selling these weird dishes are everywhere. Yet, the prices keep us form indulging in these very interesting options.
It’s not till we hit the Wisconsin Products building that we find a more pocket book friendly alternative. Grilled cheese sandwiches, of course made with Wisconsin cheddar or swiss, are available to eat for $3. We both enjoy the freshly made food and satisfy our hunger. We also discover brats for $4 a piece, later we’ll return and go that route.
After we eat, we check out the livestock barns which are filled with some very handsome animals. I loved the Clydesdales inside the horse barns. Of course, there are a ton of cows to check out also. We even caught the Holstein judging in the pavilion.
After the livestock, we stroll the festive grounds and explore the midway-which was actually at end of our journey. This looks like crazy fun. The prices are a little steep here. An all day pass costs forty dollars and, considering the other packages that are offered, that is by far the best bargain. Don’t get me wrong, for the types of rides offered, along with the cool funhouses set on the perimeter, this is the setting any child would be thrilled with. Hell, even I, a middle aged guy, have a smile on my face as I check out all these insane ways to get the adrenaline pumping.
As we make our return we catch the sky glider and view the fair from up above, for a price of $5. Heidi’s a little nervous and I’m enjoying the sights, as I witness the sheer enormity of this 11 day event. The best part about the sky glider is that we find spots we haven’t checked out yet. We spy a micro brew bar with a stage set outside, playing some original live music. When we finish the ride, we seek out that bar and listen to some cool tunes.
It’s there that I decide to check out the flyer we received upon entering the fair. Seriously, I wished I would have looked at it sooner, as it’s almost five PM. I discover some novel sounding events I would like to see. For certain, the two I’m interested in are the pig races and sea lion show. REO Speedwagon and Night Ranger are playing tonight also. However, these other shows are free and the concert’s cheapest tickets are $29.
So, with our trusty guide which has a map, we find the pig races. The races have three heats as each contestant has a creative name. The last heat was won by an Asian potbelly known as Snoop Hoggy Hog. It was decent fun. The MC could have been slightly more entertaining but the show wasn’t horrible.
When we find the sealion show, which is conveniently located near the fair gate we had entered six hours ago, we’re pleasantly surprised. These creatures were trained incredibly well. The amphibious mammals interact with the crowd and their trainer. Not only that, they perform some pretty mind blowing tricks.
Finally, its time to leave. I really don’t want to, but it’s been a long day and the drive back is about an hour and a half. So we exit with smiles on our faces and money still in our wallets.
I gained a new appreciation of the fair this time around. Maybe the event has changed or maybe, quite possibly, I have changed. Whatever it was, I had a blast!