Lauren and I were off a little earlier today, around 9:30. We headed back to the Springfield area, but this time got off the Mass Pike slightly earlier for the Big E, aka the New England State Fair. Unlike the last time we went to the Big E in 2008, we came on a gorgeous day. It was sunny and breezy when we headed out, with only a few clouds in the brilliant blue late summer sky. We parked in a large field with many other vehicles; it took us less than a minute to hike to the gates.
Getting into the gates was slightly more complicated than last time. Lauren bought tickets ahead of time, so we didn't have to get into the line to buy them. We did have to go through a metal detector, but I left my jewelry at home and we both brought small purses, so that could have been worse.
The Big E is mostly your typical state fair. The huge area has tons of bright-colored booths advertising every food that can possibly be fried (including Kool-Aid), animal exhibits (I saw one with camels and another with an elephant, as well as a horse show), a petting zoo, a pony ride, the world's largest pig, a midway with kiddie rides and two Ferris wheels, and buildings featuring displays of the wares of farms and various local companies. There's two arenas for musical performances, the smaller Court of Honor Stage near the main gate and the larger Xfinity Arena. We caught a bit of a Tony Orlando concert going on at the Court of Honor as we went by there later in the afternoon. (He was really getting into "Knock Three Times.")
(Incidentally, Micky Dolenz would be happy to know that the formerly outdoor Court of Honor Stage has now been covered with a large tent.)
Our first stop of the day was at one of the smaller trailers for lunch, near a display for Harley-Davidson bikes. The Granville Country Store sells variations on grilled cheese, including a grilled mac-and-cheese sandwich. Evidently, Mr. Miller heard about them on the news and told his daughter about them. Lauren got the mac and cheese sandwich, but it sounded a little decadent for my taste. Besides, I wanted some vegetables with my lunch. I ordered the feta cheese sandwich with bacon and tomato. Yum! I love feta cheese, but it's so expensive, I rarely buy it. It paired nicely with the real bacon bits and thick slices of tomato. We enjoyed our outdoor meal on benches in a quiet corner across from the trailer.
We strolled around in the Better Life Building next, since we were right there. This is where local businesses display everything from hot tubs to leather goods to sports T-shirts to rare DVDs. (The TVs at the DVD area were showing They Live, the cult horror film starring Lauren's favorite wrestler "Rowdy" Roddy Piper, to her delight. It was even the scene with the famous "bubble gum" line.) We went to the bathroom, but otherwise just browsed here.
The streets outside the main buildings are lined with shops selling appliances, crafts, leather goods, toys, face-painting, and airbrushing for t-shirts. Lauren stopped by one such shop with a wide assortment of mostly political t-shirts. I joined her to browse. She found a really nice backpack with a vinyl drawstring and a pretty lavender, teal, and black floral pattern. I don't want another drawstring bag after the string came out of my last one within weeks of buying it, and the only zippered bag they had looked kind of cheap.
Next up was the Avenue of the States. Each New England state touts its well-known wares in a recreation of its capitol building. Lauren bought fudge for her parents at New Hampshire. She and I picked up plaid flannel scrunchies at Vermont, and I saw booths selling Ben and Jerry's Ice Cream and big blocks of Cabot cheese. People stood in a long line to buy loaded baked potatoes, blueberry pie, and bottles of Poland Spring water in Maine. Children clamored for Pez dispensers in Connecticut. A booth in Massachusetts sold golden and red raspberries - we both had little containers of them. I saw a Del's Lemonade stand in Rhode Island. This is apparently a popular Ocean State institution often mentioned by my older friend Linda Young in her essays on growing up there.
The New England Grange Building mostly showed off crafts and jams and jellies made by folks across New England. She admired knitted outfits, small quilts, sweaters, and a fall display in the back. I'm afraid that while I appreciate the effort and artistry that went into their work, I can make many of the items sold myself for far cheaper.
By the time we did a second go-around at the Avenue of the States, I was worn out. Lauren had originally suggested having an early dinner at the Big E, but it was only about 2:30 when she bought the fudge. She'd checked several food locations, including the Food Court, but everything was too expensive or junky. After a last peek at the stuffed animals, knitted and wool goods, and jellies and condiments sold at the Eastern States Farmers Market, we finally just decided to head out early.
Lauren took a different way going back, one that gave me a quick glimpse of a bustling downtown Springfield before we headed back to the Mass Pike. Unlike the trouble getting to Holyoke on Saturday, this time there was no problems. The only traffic was near the Big E, and even that could have been worse.
We finally ended up having dinner at Athena's Restaurant and Pizzeria, just off the Mass Pike entrance in Lee. They were a lovely little building on the edge of downtown Lee, with wooden booths and tables and an outside area. Lauren had a buttery scrod, mixed carrots and green beans, and a salad that she said was delicious. I had an incredible chicken gyro with lots of seasoning and tzaziki sauce.
The clouds were starting to gather as early as our ride by Springfield, though the sun tried to peek out briefly when we were at Athena's. When we got in, we gave Mr. and Mrs. Miller the fudge, and I took a shower. We finished the night playing Captain Toad's Treasure Tracker and watching WWE Raw on the USA Network.
Tomorrow, we'll dodge the heavy rain that's supposed to hit New England and return to Albany to check out two large area malls, the Crossroads and the Colonie Center.