Saturday, September 23, 2006

My Day at the Big E 

I'd have to say that one of the best kept secrets of western Massachusetts is The Eastern States Exposition (aka the Big E). It is kind of like a state fair, but involving six states and lots of different activities, making it the biggest in the northeast. It is one of those traditions I've had with my Mom since I was a little kid, but we hadn't been able to visit for a couple of years. And the last couple of times we went, our health wasn't the best. This year the health/money situation was doing well, Friday's weather looked good, and took the day off from work. Was very glad that I did!

It ended up being a great day, seeing many great sights and buying some fun stuff, so here's a quick overview.

Arrived at around 9am. It's nice to get there early since you can check out the vendors before things start to get too busy.

At 11, we watch a performance of the Peking Acrobats on the small stage. I think it was worth the price of admission just for that! There was about ten performers, split between male and female, doing a half-hour show. It was a very solid show with acrobatics, jumping through stacked hoops, balancing, contortion, plate spinning (one of the more extensive examples I've seen), unicycles, juggling, etc. They managed to pull off quite a bit on that little stage.

Went off to the State Houses for lunch. The Avenue of States is pretty unique to the Big E, with a bunch of large buildings (looking almost like old churches or schoolhouses) that act as embassies to six northeast states, with each state actually owning the land for their building. If you're looking for Cod Cakes, maple goodies, apple dumplings, pumpkin ice cream, fried dough, cider, cider donuts, baked potatoes, pancakes, etc these are the places to go to.

There's also lots of interesting stuff to buy from each state. I ended up buying two wooden yo-yos from the Maine house, which work pretty well.

After eating most of previous list, went off exploring more of the fair. Got to see the Budweiser Clydesdale horses up close (both in their cages and in a parade) which are amazing animals. Their shoulder is 6 feet tall, so I couldn't even see over the body, and they weight over 2000 pounds! They are just massive. I couldn't help thinking that Death Dealer would ride one..

One cool experience was seeing a little Circus Museum they have set up, with the focus on a model replica of the Barnum & Bailey Circus. It is truly amazing, with the big tent having 10,000 inch high figures in it, most of them setting on folding chairs that really fold! It also had all the train cars and some buttons to make certain things move. The man that created it was there and so it was amazing to hear about his past experiences in circuses/carnivals and the creation of the miniature circus.

Also flitted around the Better Living Center, getting out with just a plant stacking thing and some Coolattas. Back in the outside booths, I managed to avoid buying any t-shirts, but did grab a new wallet (monogrammed no less!). The weird thing is that about two hours after buying it, the zipper on my old wallet broke! Mom grabbed a hat and a key-chain (it was weird how hard it was to find key-chains).

Around this time, the parade came by, with some local marching bands, cars, Budweiser wagon and Clydesdales (it was funny how there was a cleaning car after any horses), and misc things. Couple of baton twirlers and flaggers mixed in there too.

We next went to Storrowtown Village, which is kind of a mini Sturbridge Village, with people demonstrating old New England life. Who knew that the "Peter picked a pickled pepper" tongue twister was originally used to help teach English? Was also more booths in that area, where I picked up a Harmonica and a Bamboo flute. I'd actually bought a flute from them 10 years ago or so, but I'd never gotten around to using it and it eventually cracked. This time I'm going to make more of an effort to learn it!

While in this area, it happened that Nuttin' But Stringz started to perform. This is a pretty unusual act, involving two brothers who play the violin on top of hip-hop beats (and some rap here and there). The result worked out really well and it was great to see a big audience of people from many ages and backgrounds totally into it. In fact, when they ran a little late and were going to stop a song short, the crowd booed hard enough that they got to do one more song. Ended up buying their single Thunder and getting it signed. It sounds like they have a full album out soon, so that should be cool.

By this time it was around 7pm and we were getting hungry again. We gravitated back to the State Houses and ended up getting some chili dogs and sodas, topped off with a cider donut. Also got to listen a bit to a band in that area. We also happened to see the mini-Mardi Gras parade and get some beads.

We wandered around a bit more and eventually crossed through the midway on our way out, catching a bit of the main stage musical performance as we passed. We were both pretty exhausted at this point so didn't end up doing anything (not sure if I could have convinced Mom go to on the Ferris Wheel anyway, but maybe next time.. heh).

So, we finally got out at about 9:30pm, so 12 and a half hours at the Big E! The weather was great and it seemed like we saw almost everything there was to see without even trying that hard. Bought some fun stuff (but not too much) and ate lots. It's just as well that I didn't bring a camera, since I would have spent way too much time shooting instead of just experiencing it. I feel really lucky to have something like this in the area. I'd say it is definitely work the trek if you're anywhere near this area.

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