There’s something strange and magical about the last day of the Missouri State Fair. I am not happy that it is over — I think the fair should be longer, even. But no matter how long it lasts, the last day is always going to be my favorite day.
I saw people on Facebook admitting they’re glad the fair is over as early as Saturday night. There is another day of the fair, and you might just be missing out if you’ve never bothered to go. Sure, there’s none of that crazy fair nightlife and the air is filled with the sound of a tractor pull but there are sights to be seen.
First, it’s got to do with the prices: they set the standard as soon as they open for the day by making the fair admission half price. It is officially half-price day and a number of goods on the grounds can be had for reasonable prices. It’s just like the Missouri State Fair, minus the sort of localized inflation that normally only happens in permanent theme parks and places like Las Vegas.
And better than that, at many stands and booths the prices just keep getting better as the day goes on. There’s a notion among people who visit the Missouri State Fair that it’s impossible to have an authentic and complete fair experience without having at least one genuine fair corn dog. Many fulfill this self-imposed requirement during the final hours of the fair to save a couple bucks.
Weary concession vendors, eager to wrap up their operations so that they can get a head start on getting out of the State Fair City, begin to offer unadvertised deals to get rid of their stock. They are happy to sell their dogs and cakes at full price to random customers that don’t know better but as the mighty fair dies, they suddenly become more open to negotiation. Offer to buy in bulk at a reduced unit rate, or tell them that you’ll pay full price if they throw in a drink or a topping for free.
The white shirt tent in front of the Administration Building and the official Missouri State Fair merchandise booth just a few feet away begin the day by reducing their prices to $5. By the end of the day, the shirt tent was even trying to sell their overstock and display shirts for a single American dollar each. At a price like that, it made me want to pick up a few and start randomly gifting them to my friends. Who wouldn’t want a fair shirt for a dollar? In the background, a significant white tent was being taken down and packed up, but in front of that, the tables were still loaded with shirts and being sold by the sack.
But there’s something more than that: on a visceral level, it’s interesting to watch the tents and booths of the Missouri State Fair being deconstructed. A thousand different relatively independent businesses and individuals loading their trailers and cars in a mad dash to abandon the city within a city that is the Missouri State Fair like it had just been hit with a serious outbreak of something or a lot of nuclear fallout. When the sun goes down on the last day everyone and everything left on the Fairgrounds becomes stuck there permanently, I guess.
It’s interesting to sit in the Mathewson Exhibition Center, watching the booths disappear at a steady rate. It’s interesting to see just how fast it turns from a daily event venue into just an occasional event venue. Work release workers mop the spaces between the rows of seats and the trash cans overflow with the remnants of surviving a week of the fair behind a booth.
It’s a little satisfying to see this huge financial beast breathe its last breaths. The biggest thing in Sedalia, an annual financial stimulus with few downsides, is dying before my eyes. Not even the Fair can last forever — it’s got to end so that the Sedalia area schools can finally start. It’s when the Fairgrounds go back to just being another part of Sedalia.
The big Budweiser truck slowly moves down Guardsman Security Boulevard, picking up the neon beer signs and tap handles from Good Time Charlie’s, the Moose Lodge, the Roadhouse and the Hacienda. The cardboard boxes that hold the signs are already marked and loaded so that they can be unpacked correctly next year.
And even as the evening approaches, people are still arriving at the fair, taking advantage of the unmanned main gate in order to get just one last taste of the fair. They want to sit on the grounds on a bench and get in some minutes while it’s still technically the Missouri State Fair.
They stroll in, take a long look around, buy a last call corn dog and call it a fair. Deep down, even the most jaded Sedalian wants to sample a little fair and some of them do it at the end.
I don’t like to see it go, but I love to watch it leave.