So the year was 1983. I went to the State Fair with my parents and two older sisters. On the way there, my dad made clear to us the plan: should any of us get lost, we were to find our way to the yellow slide, where we would meet up.
Sure enough, late in the day I became mesmerized by the prizes in one of the booths. I went up close to look, and when I turned around, I couldn’t see my family anywhere. I wandered around looking for them, but in the sea of people, I couldn’t find them. Eventually some lady came up to me and asked me if I was lost. Desperately shy, I nodded my head, and she held my hand and took me to a police officer.
I knew I was supposed to tell them that I needed to go to the yellow slide, but unfortunately my overwhelming shyness prevented me from speaking up. Instead, I was put in the back of the police officer’s squad car and taken to the Lost Persons building. I remember being in the back of that car as it drove very slowly through a crowd of people. A woman in the crowd pointed at me and said “Look, a lost child!”
When I got to the Lost Persons building, I must have given them my name and information, although I don’t remember doing so. Still, I didn’t mention that I was supposed to go to the yellow slide. My father’s plan to find each other didn’t take into account his five-year-old’s fear of talking.
I waited for what seemed like hours in a sterile looking room. There were other children there too – more lost sheep waiting to be rescued. Eventually, after going to the yellow slide and not finding me there, my parents heard about the missing persons building and came and got me. “Why didn’t you go to the yellow slide?” they asked. I didn’t have an answer. The next year, when I went to the fair with my little sister and my dad, we had to wear balloons on our wrists.
A lot has changed since then. Brienna Schuette, Communications Director for the State Fair, said that cell phones have greatly reduced the number of children getting lost. In 2008, there were only 99 missing persons, compared to 128 in 2007 and 144 in 2006. The first year they started documenting the number of missing persons was 1999, when 400 missing persons were reported.
Schuette said that parents with children can get an ID bracelet at any information booth at the fair. Parents can write their contact information and cell phone on the bracelet, which the child or other person wears.
Schuette also recommends that parents with older children have a meeting place should anyone get lost. That plan obviously didn’t work in my case, but can be a good way to keep track of older children. If that doesn’t work, well, there are always leashes.
Sheila Regan is a Minneapolis theater artist and freelance writer. Email firstname.lastname@example.org
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