Fast-talking, headset-wearing vendors inside the State Fair Exposition Center are as iconic to the fair-going experience as eating a cream puff or snickering at the backside of a horse.
Hundreds of vendors hawk their unusual goods every year, hoping for big sales at the fair and for some, to find themselves on QVC in the future.
Classic items like bright orange super chamois are a staple item in the Expo Center and apparently a tried-and-true product based on how many people are walking around with big orange rolls sticking out of the top of their shopping bag.
Or maybe the chamois attraction is based on the "$100 value that, for right now only, you can get for $20."
Mr. Sticky is another item that’s been available for years now, and if the name doesn’t get you to double take, one of the assertive sellers will.
"Hey, you have a pet?" one yells from afar.
I shake my head no and, for a brief second, he looks disappointed at my lack of fuzzy cats or shed-crazy dogs. He quickly recovers, however, and launches into a spiel about how annoying most lint rollers are and that they take at least two sticky sheets to de-lint a single shirt or pair of pants.
He then smears lint across the lapel of a blazer and whisks it away with a single roll of his Mr. Sticky. Then, to prove its ability to pick up more than lint and that it can be used on furniture, too, he sprinkles unidentifiable crumbs on a table top and easily removes every last crumble.
Finally, he dips Mr. Sticky in a container of warm water to demonstrate how quickly it rinses clean and dries.
Although I am impressed with the item, I’m not willing to shell out the $29.99, even though I qualified for the special Wisconsin Fair Special which also includes a travel-sized version of the product and a large, mop-sized version.
I told him I’d think about it, made a mental note that if it were my product I would name it Señor Sticky (I’m a sucker for alliteration) and moved on.
Eventually, I find my way to Some Like It Hot, a booth selling hundreds of different kinds of hot sauce. Many have sassy names, like Anal-ize This, Slap Your Mama, 100% Pain and Colon Blow.
I ask which one’s the hottest, and am directed to a less-menacing-sounding hot sauce called Mad Dog and immediately dip a pretzel into the plastic cup filled with the habanero sauce. No one will have to worry about double dippers, this sauce is so fiery it make Sriracha seem like a cousin to Kool Aid.
Good thing the concessions stand is across the aisle from this place. I shelled out $3.50 for an ice-filled soda faster than one could say "scorched lips."
According to an energetic salesman, for $25, the V-Sharpener will make your knives so sharp that vegetables will slice as if they were butter. This appeared to be true.
He demonstrated by slicing a tomato with his recently-V-sharpened machete, yes machete, and indeed, it was a smooth, easy slice. I was hoping for a little more whack for dramatic effect – he sliced it rather gingerly – but then again, nobody wants to get an eye full of tomato guts at the fair.
We also tried the coffin-esque Aqua Massage for the first time. Five minutes costs $7.50 and the time frame / price goes up from there. It feels really good, but it’s not recommended for the claustrophobic, even though your head sticks out of the end of the unit. The end result is, indeed, relaxing, but, like all massages, leaves you craving more.
There were many other products that caught our attention for various reasons. The German glue’s sign promised "New German Technology" (why the quotes?), for $2 you can get a bandana printed with anything from pink ribbons to Confederate Flags and the reusable stretch lids claim to be ideal for even the oddest-shaped fruits and vegetables.
To get a taste of local at the Expo Center, there’s Hootch’s Backyard Bar that features Great Lakes Distillery cocktails including the Sconnie Splash, Original State Fair Vodka Lemonade, Milwaukee Breeze, Milwaukee Bloody Mary and more. It was a nice surprise seeing GLD here.
The best visual effect in the Expo Center goes to Culligan, for the seemingly-suspended-in-the-air large faucet gushing a six-foot water stream. Swing your kid by, ask her or him how they think it works.
Finally, we enjoyed spending time with the Forkologist, a Brooklyn-based artist named Anthony McCann who has been making jewelry from vintage utensils for 16 years. His products stand out from the rest. They are not gimmicky nor mass produced; every one is hand-bent. He pointed out one that was from 1915. Another was made from a spoon with a star on it used in the First Class section of United Airlines from the 1950s.
"Each spoon or fork has a history," says McCann.
Molly Snyder grew up on Milwaukee's East Side and today, she lives in the Walker's Point neighborhood with her partner and two sons.
As a full time senior writer, editorial manager and self-described experience junkie, Molly has written thousands of articles about Milwaukee (and a few about New Orleans, Detroit, Indianapolis, Boston and various vacation spots in Wisconsin) that range in subject from where to get the best cup of coffee to an in-depth profile on the survivors of the iconic Norman apartment building that burned down in the '90s.
She also once got a colonic just to report on it, but that's enough on that.
Always told she had a "radio voice," Molly found herself as a regular contributor on FM102, 97WMYX and 1130WISN with her childhood radio favorite, Gene Mueller.
Molly's poetry, essays and articles appeared in many publications including USA Today, The Writer, The Sun Magazine and more. She has a collection of poetry, "Topless," and is slowly writing a memoir.
In 2009, Molly won a Milwaukee Press Club Award. She served as the Narrator / writer-in-residence at the Pfister Hotel from 2013-2014. She is also a story slam-winning storyteller who has performed with The Moth, Ex Fabula and Risk!
When she's not writing, interviewing or mom-ing, Molly teaches tarot card classes, gardens, sits in bars drinking Miller products and dreams of being in a punk band again.