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HomeLife In the BerkshiresThe Big E-xcitement:...

The Big E-xcitement: My day at the fair

I also learned that there’s plenty of good beer there, brewed in New England. And if you stand on one of the tables in one of the beer gardens, you can watch people pay 10 bucks for a lame monster truck ride.

I’d never been to the Big E.

Twenty years in the Berkshires and I didn’t even know what the Big E was until about a year ago. And I still didn’t go. Perhaps it was the fear of massive crowds, traffic and pain-in-the-ass parking. Or the fear of returning home 2 pounds heavier with a belly full of beer and corndogs.

That’s what state fairs were like in Iowa, where I lived for a couple of years: corndogs, the giant butter cow, pork-everything, and that evil clown in the dunking booth who kept calling kids in the audience “bedwetters” and “booger-eaters.” That was one mean clown. Then again, the corndogs were pretty brutal, too.

You can learn a lot at a state fair. In Iowa, I learned that anything and everything can be fried, except maybe a stick of butter. But I wouldn’t put that past the Iowans I know.

Deep-fried Oreos fighting over the bedsheets. Photo: Andrew Blechman

I learned a lot at our state fair, too. I learned something on the way over, even. My friend, Mark, wanted to take the back way — Route 23 and all that.

First off: Did you know Blandford is an actual town? I could have sworn it was a truck stop with a McDonalds on the Mass Pike. But there I was, driving down Blandford’s Main Street. There was a post office, a small library and a little town hall, I think. Actually, come to think of it, I can’t remember much about Blandford except that it exists. But hey, that’s something.

Okay. So we arrive. The parking wasn’t all that bad. Then again, we were there on a Wednesday morning and with rain predicted for later that day. So, no, there weren’t a lot of people, although something tells me that maybe Tuesday is the even more lame day to go. Anyhow, easy parking for only $10. A short stroll to the ticket booths, and we’re in for $15 each, although I have a sneaking suspicion that Mark took advantage of the senior discount when I wasn’t looking.

And here comes the Butter Band! Photo: Andrew Blechman

In Iowa they carve the legendary “Butter Cow.” Here in New England, we get a bit more sophisticated. This year it was a whole downtown-of-yesteryear panorama, replete with draft horses pulling a giant wagon of milk and a full-on marching band. Yes, a marching band.

Inside the agriculture building, I learned that those beautiful shearling coats — the ones that folks like Robert Redford wear — are actually the hides of slaughtered male sheep. They give them one last trim before the truck comes, and then they’re butchered and their skin is turned inside out and cleaned up. So, yeah, Robert Redford’s wearing a skinned male lamb, which, come to think of it, has frankly uncomfortable religious connotations.

Boo! Photo: Andrew Blechman

Next was the Ferris wheel. I like them because you can see the lay of things — where the different buildings are, the outline of the place and where the beer is sold. By the way, did you know that the Ferris wheel is named for the man that invented it for the Chicago World’s Fair in 1893? And that “ferris” is etymologically related to the Latin word for wheat? So they might as well call it the Wheat Wheel.

But first — back to the basics. Did you know that our state fair is actually a multi-state affair? It’s actually New England’s state fair, which is an odd moniker, kind of like Lone Star calling itself the national beer of Texas. I actually like that beer. Anyhow, the fair’s real name is the Eastern States Exposition and includes us, Vermont, New Hampshire, Maine, Rhode Island and Connecticut. It’s 102 years old and began as an agricultural fair. Folks didn’t start calling it the Big E until around 1967, probably due to clever marketing. Curiously, even though it includes six states, it’s still only the seventh largest state fair in the country.

Totally horny! Photo: Andrew Blechman

I also learned that there’s plenty of good beer there, brewed in New England. And if you stand on one of the tables in one of the beer gardens, you can watch people pay 10 bucks for a lame monster truck ride.

Next was the Avenue of States, where each state has a dedicated building to show off its wares. Several of them had lobster rolls, but I can fairly say that Maine’s was the best. But the longest line at the Maine exhibit was for the potato bar. There was even a dedicated entrance for it. Go figure. I was proud to see that Massachusetts had a bunch of contributions, such as a dedicated tent for Mass Lottery tickets. Plenty of smokers there, filling out lotto cards, and plenty of state troopers guarding the entrance. Go Mass!

Who needs rides when you’ve got Keno? Photo: Andrew Blechman

The biggest decision at the Big E is not whether to cave in for the hard sell and buy bedding at supposedly deep discounts at the bedding stall: it was deciding what to eat. I settled on a gyro. It was okay, but nothing that another beer couldn’t help wash down. Then it was off to the music tent where Mark and I stumbled upon the Beatles cover band from Vegas. Gotta admit they sounded just like the real thing, although I don’t remember the Fab Four having beer bellies.

Talk to your neighbors and the first thing you’ll likely hear about the Big E is the “Better Living” building and what they bought. That’s essentially the several football-field sized “As Seen on TV” product-packed building. There was no way I was going to succumb to that kind of pedestrian consumerism. Nope. Not me.

This is what I bought: a dog comb so much better than the Furminator for some reason and designed for long-haired dogs. My pup Gingersnap’s a rare short-haired wolverine-honey badger mix, but I got one anyway. Just because. Then I got a funnel-shaped thingy that scrapes ice off your window like nobody’s business. Then I got a door mat that magically removes dirt and mud from your shoes the moment you briefly walk across it. Oh, and I got some beef jerky because my neighbor Nick Diller let me try some the week before. Being neighborly, I let him have some of mine, too. (A half-inch square, just like the piece he let me try of his.)

Big fun at the agricultural expo. Photo: Andrew Blechman

I’ll have you know I passed on plenty of things, like the infrared home sauna, which I really wanted. And the reusable magic lint brush. And the neck massager that costs half as much at Walmart. And the mattresses that go up and down. But I got the jerky, and that made me happy.

The best part about going to the Big E is probably checking in with one’s neighbors afterward and going over the familiar checklist of impulse buys. Turns out they knew exactly which booths I stopped at and which products I fell prey to — they’d purchased them, too.

Another thing I learned from the fair: Despite her call-of-the-wild genetic disposition, Gingersnap likes her new brush. She even rolls belly-up for it. She never liked that nasty Furminator. And her ginormous wolverine paw pads, well, they sure don’t track dirt into the house anymore. Not with my new magic doormat.

I can see my house from here! Photo: Andrew Blechman
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