Tuesday after work, I headed to the Minnesota State Fair for my annual solo trip where I let my inner child out to play: I go where I want, eat what I want, and drink what I want.
Tuesday was cool, the fair unusually uncrowded. That let me see a lot of stuff in a few hours. Eventually I chose my last food item of the evening: an andouille sausage with fried onions, cheese sauce and pizza sauce.
After adding some spicy mustard to the top, I strolled down Judson, took a right on Nelson, and then a left onto Minnesota en route to that bar by the midway where I knew I could get a good pour of my favorite State Fair beer: Grain Belt Premium.
As I bellied up to the bar, I reached into my pocket. Phone was there, keys were there, but no wallet.
Are you kidding me?! At the State Fair, of all places? &$*@!
I retraced my steps, knowing the chances were zero that I would see my billfold on the street. Even though it was a cool weekday evening, there still were tens of thousands of people on the fairgrounds.
Somebody had picked up my wallet. Worse yet, I figured somebody had picked my pocket. The situation was made worse by knowing I would be traveling soon and would need my driver’s license and credit card. What a mess.
Google got me to the State Fair’s lost-and-found phone number. The voice on the other end was reassuring and surprisingly chipper, not unlike the restaurant cashier in the movie “Fargo.” She seemed to think my wallet would show up. It happens all the time, she said.
Uh-huh, I thought.
But she was persistent. Let me take down your information, she said. Here is your item number. We’ll call you when it turns up, she said. If you do not hear from us tonight, call tomorrow morning, she said. You’ll get it back.
It was true I had karma on my side. I’ve found four wallets in my lifetime and I have never touched a dollar in them and returned them to their rightful owners. But I had my doubts. After all, it was dark and there are bad people even at the Minnesota State Fair.
Karma or not, my trust was in my fellow Minnesotans, my fellow happy fairgoers. One of them would have to do the right thing for my situation to be less than awful.
I got home and canceled the credit cards. No call from the fair. I turned on the ringer overnight. No call from the fair. I got up, made breakfast, and did some work from home. No call from the fair. I headed to work. No call from the fair.
I prepared myself for facing the reality that one of my happiest places on Earth was about to become unhappy for me. I would never be able to look at the fair and fairgoers the same.
Midmorning, I headed to the gym to squeeze in a workout. During the walk, I called the fair.
“We have your wallet.”
I stopped in my tracks. Seriously?
“Go to Gate 9. Tell them you need to go to lost and found. Do you know where that’s at?”
“It’s by the fried pickle booth, across from the Skyride. Do you know where that’s at?”
Well … yeah, of course I do!
Gate 9 is by the Miracle of Birth barn, if you know where that is. I started to feel like a miracle was imminent. The lost-and-found department is a busy place, staffed by two pleasant workers at the front desk. One was on the phone but the other was free. “How can I help you this morning?” A pile of wallets, purses and various other belongings was behind her.
I explained my situation and provided my item number. After about a minute, she retrieved the wallet and confirmed my address. Just then another lost-and-found claimant walked in. I took possession of my wallet, pried it open, and whispered that all the bills were there.
“Wow,” the other claimant exclaimed.
Just like that, all was right again with the world and the Minnesota State Fair. As I strolled past the grandstand, toward the front gate, and then toward where I had gotten in free, I looked at the broad cross-section of Minnesotans, trying to picture the person who had taken the time Tuesday evening to do the right thing.
Who was it?
It could’ve been a farmer or 4-H kid. It could’ve been a suburban couple heading to the park-and-ride, or a city kid heading to the midway with his group of buds. It could’ve been a single mom with a stroller, a Vietnam veteran who uses a cane, or a grandmother who ran over my wallet with her scooter. Maybe it was a Lutheran pastor from Frazee. Maybe it was the daughter of a Hmong immigrant from Frogtown.
One of them did the right thing, and for that I am grateful.
Thank you, fellow Minnesotan, whoever you are. I wish I could thank you in person. And if you are at least 21, the next round of Grain Belt Premium is on me.
Steve Aggergaard is an assistant professor of legal writing at Mitchell Hamline School of Law. He lives in St. Paul’s Summit-University neighborhood, within easy biking distance of the State Fair.