The Fairest of Them All

August 24, 2013       Hamline, Como Park  15.5 miles

Today’s ride is one that I considered for a couple of months. You likely know the Minnesota State Fair is in Falcon Heights and has been, on the same grounds, since 1885. (An aside: You’ll notice with even a fleeting look at a Saint Paul map that the Fair grounds appear to be carved right out of Saint Paul.) While Falcon Heights hosts the Fair, there is a great deal of Fair-related activity in Saint Paul. Today I rode to investigate what and where those activities were.

Hamline University junior Tori Liston relaxes as she oversees the school's parking lot on Pascal Street.

Hamline University junior Tori Liston relaxes as she oversees the school’s parking lot on Pascal Street.

Saint Paul’s most significant contribution to the State Fair is likely parking. I came upon the first Fair parking lot, and attendant Tori Liston, at Hamline University. Tori said that Hamline U mailed free parking vouchers to alumni, who could walk or take a shuttle to the Fair. “So I’m just sitting here keeping track of who’s going into the parking lot. All of our students can still park there as much as they want today. We’re just making sure the alumni going in have their actual vouchers and then just giving them directions to where they can grab the bus.”

According to Tori, her post at the lot entrance on Pascal Street between Hewitt and Taylor was extremely slow. She’d been there for about six hours and a half hours-since 8  a.m. -and only talked to about 10 people.  Tori chuckled and added, “I gave directions to two or three who had vouchers.”

Technology, said Tori, kept boredom at bay. “I have my phone which has music on it; I’ve been talking to people. We have to limit our walkie-talkie conversation because Safety and Security is on the same channel and they get irritated. So I’ve been on my phone. I was going to bring a book but I’m moving next week and I packed all of them, so that was a mistake.”

In total, Tori and I talked for less than 15 minutes during which time no one parked in the lot where she sat.

These $10 spots hadn’t gotten popular yet.

These $10 spots hadn’t gotten popular yet.

The next lot I biked past was the bus garages on East Snelling Service Road, just east of the Snelling Avenue bridge over Energy Park Drive and railroad tracks.

Meanwhile, Snelling Avenue opposite the Fair was starting to resemble a parking lot.

Looking south on Snelling Avenue at Canfield, traffic is beginning to back up.

Looking south on Snelling Avenue at Canfield, traffic is beginning to back up.

Snelling and Canfield again, this time facing north.

Snelling and Canfield again, this time facing north. The blue flags on the left mark the Fair’s Snelling Avenue entrance.

Many of the front and side yards of the homes along the 1200 through 1500 blocks of Snelling become parking lots during the 12-day run of the Fair. These are prime parking spots and some reach “rock star” level. You can bet that parkers pay a premium, $15, $20 or more, for the convenience of a short walk to the Fair entrance.

Parking on the front lawns of houses in the 1400 block of Snelling.

Parking on the front lawns of houses in the 1400 block of Snelling.

I wanted to hear the stories of some entrepreneurs who sacrifice the embodiment of America, a dense, green lawn, for another kind of green, money. Homeowners were cautiously polite upon first encounter but as soon as I mentioned an interview, folks became just short of rude. This reaction was quite bewildering because it was the first time biking Saint Paul I had any negative interactions with people.

Parking on the front lawns of houses in the 1400 block of Snelling.)

Arona Street parking. Someone is making some nice money here.

Lawn parking certainly isn’t exclusive to Snelling. Lots of homeowners along streets to the east open their lawns to cars. Arona Street, a block east of Snelling, looked like a string of car lots. I got the same cold reaction to my interview requests from a couple of people on Arona Street. One woman did agree to talk but provided little information (none useable) in her one and two-word answers. Finally, another woman parking cars explained that either the IRS or the Minnesota Department of Revenue had notified homeowners around the Fair that they’re required to pay taxes on all earnings from parking cars. Obviously people were very unhappy about this. She said that some may have thought I was an undercover revenue agent, sparking the reticence to talk. I appreciated the explanation for the cold silence.

Free Fair parking on Fair Place!

Free Fair parking on Fair Place!

 Cars packed into free on-street spots along Albany Avenue, east of Asbury Place.

Cars packed into free on-street spots along Albany Avenue, east of Asbury Place.

Free on-street parking in this neighborhood during the Fair is scarcer than a clean car during a snow storm. Either you get here before 7 a.m. or you’ll be parking on someone’s yard.

The parking signs in these neighborhoods were frequent and assorted. (Click on a picture to enlarge it.)

Another reminder of the proximity of the Fair is garbage with State Fair logos.

Another reminder of the proximity of the Fair is garbage with State Fair logos.

The main entrance to the Minnesota State Fair at Snelling and Midway Parkway.

The main entrance to the Minnesota State Fair at Snelling and Midway Parkway.

fair entrance 2

Two officers are necessary to keep some semblance of order to the vehicular and pedestrian traffic at the Snelling Avenue entrance to the Fair.

When vehicular traffic is stopped by police officers, the crosswalk to the main entrance of the State Fair at Snelling Avenue resembles a very casually dressed Manhattan. Dozens of people headed both toward and away from the entrance at each time the traffic stopped.

Another police officer manually controls the stoplights at Snelling. He also visits with passers by.

Another police officer manually controls the stoplights at Snelling. He also visits with passers-by.

Midway Parkway is one of the staging areas for Fair shuttle buses.

Midway Parkway is one of the staging areas for Fair shuttle buses.

Front lawns aren’t used solely for parking. Street vendors who can’t or choose not to locate on the Fair grounds ply their wares on Midway Parkway.

Front lawns aren’t used solely for parking. Street vendors who can’t or choose not to locate on the Fair grounds ply their wares on Midway Parkway.

Como Avenue Fair traffic.

Fair traffic on Como Avenue.

Como Avenue borders the south side of the Fair. It is another hectic thoroughfare that is filled to capacity or beyond with buses, cars, bikes and trucks nearly exclusively connected to the State Fair in some way.

A biker moooves past a State Fair sign on Como Avenue.

A biker moooves past a State Fair sign on Como Avenue.

Fair employees load a car with supplies.

Fair employees load a car with supplies.

The Minnesota State Fair employment office is an important piece of the Fair that is located in Saint Paul at 1129 Cathlin Street, just south of Como.

The 12 days of the Minnesota State Fair are frenetic in the Saint Paul neighborhoods nearby the Fair grounds. Some take advantage of that to make money and some grit their teeth and just make the best of it.

Here is the link today’s ride: http://www.mapmyride.com/routes/fullscreen/325541805/

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