Saturday, September 20, 2008

The Big E is dead

Don't get me wrong, the kids loved it, as evidenced in the photos above. They (the photos of the kids from that day) all look like that. My experience was different, and here's the story. 

Once upon a time long ago my family (which would be my parents and me as I'm an only child) lived in a far away land called Ludlow. Mass, not Vermont. It was a happy place, with lots of Portuguese bakeries and Catholic churches. We lived simply, with one car - a two door green pinto wagon with wood paneling - for the longest time before my folks ponied up the cash for a second one. That second car came around right about the time I was old enough to walk home from the bus stop and stay home for a few hours alone after school. The memories have faded but yes, there was a time when the bus didn't stop at each and every house. I know, seems impossible to imagine.

My mother worked at the Storrowton Tavern, a colonial themed restaurant much like Sturbridge's Public House and Uxbridge's Cocke and Kettle. The food was... ok. I liked the chicken pot pie and the house salad dressing the best, the rest was a bit too meat and potatoes for me. The restaurant was open year round and was part of the Storrowton Village, a collection of a dozen buildings that were either preserved in place or moved to form a miniature Plimouth Plantation/Old Sturbridge Village right there in beautiful scenic West Springfield Massachusetts. In fact, the Storrowton Tavern and the associated village is located within the grounds of the Eastern States Exposition... The Big E.

The fair grounds are massive if you have never been, hundreds of acres I'd guess, with six or seven warehouse sized permenant buildings that host camping and livestock shows throughout the year. But the place is rather empty and creepy for all but three weeks in September, when the Carnies come to town. 

To a kid, the place is great and membership has it's privileges. My mom was a full timer at Storrowton, so I got to spend just about every day and night the the Big E was in town wandering up and down the place, checking out the junk food and useless toys and of course the carnival rides and games. One year I won a giant parrot tossing a softball into an apple basket.I had to trade two ETs for it but it was worth that small price. The Zipper was and probably still is the single greatest amusement ride ever, once I was spinning so fast head over feet that the ride stopped and I had no clue.  

There was this guy who sold pickles out of a (sanitary I'm sure) 55 gallon plastic drum for $.50 each. Those suckers were huge and super sour. I was quite fond of the stunt paper airplanes as well, $2 for a pack of two or... 3 packs for $5. No matter how you threw them, they would bank and fly right back to you! I watched them slice tomatoes and soda cans for hours, saw countless gallons of diet coke get sucked up by magical orange cloths, and learned that there were mops that could handle any mess you could throw at them.

Do I even have to mention Joey Chitwood? Five shows a day and I never missed one of them.
I could recite the dialogue by memory, to this day. Here's a sample...

Announcer: Crash, what are you doing out there? You're going to get yourself killed!
Crash (the Stunt Clown): Hey! I'm studying up on my foreign languages! How do you say 'Cut the Grass' in French?
Announcer: I don't know, how do you say 'Cut the Grass' in French Crash?
Crash: 'Mow de Lawn!'
Announcer: Caaraaaash!!

"Central Chevrolet... The Big C by the Big E... is a proud sponsor of the Joey Chitwood thrill show, providing the same fine Chevrolet cars and trucks to our performers that you can test drive on your way home tonight folks..." 

I loved the Big E.

But the magical place that I remember has died. 

For starters, it is disgusting on a number of levels. 

First off: The Food. I'm amazed at what people will shove in their mouths. Fried... anything really. One sign read "Fresh Fried Vegetables." I did manage to find a pretty good grilled chicken gyro stand that heaped on some good looking lettuce and tomatoes, but there were some folks there that did not need another corn dog... but ordered one anyway. Maybe this is more about the people and what they will eat. Segue...

Secondly: The Patrons: Wow. Mid week carnival crowds are scary. I'm sure that the weekend crowds are much better. Right. Anyway... let's leave it at that.

Third: The Bathrooms: The permanent structures I mentioned earlier all had bathrooms in them, but they were in rough shape. The missing cinder blocks and exposed electrical wiring and conduits made them look like the sound stage for one of the Spiderman movies. Masking tape held pink 8x 11 paper sheets of paper above the urinals that read "Tips Appreciated." I then noticed that there was an attendant advancing the paper towel dispenser for each guest and handing them their own fresh piece. A small bowl of tootsie rolls and pinwheel mints was available for sampling, and the sound of buzzed angrily from the small clock radio on a box of toilet paper. Nice touch.

Finally: Livestock: I love walking through the cow, sheep and poultry displays, and there is an assumed risk that you take when you do so. Fine. Walking around the food and entertainment areas should be a safe place, a Green Zone if you will, free of poop and live animals even. Well... not so much.  

My second huge problem I'm having with the Big E is that it has become one big Jack.

15 bones to get in. $4 water. $4 for a stale slice of pizza. $1 per ride ticket, most rides taking 3 tickets at a minimum. Adults can accompany their smaller children on the rides of course, provided that they too pony up the tickets. The giant slide, which predates the pyramids and was paid off sometime in the Truman administration, is $1.50. Cheap beer was $6.75. Good beer.... was also $6.75... and people were actually drinking the cheap stuff. See my second point above on that one though... My sandwich was $8 and Ali's... which consisted of a single pork chop on a seedless hamburger bun... no plate... and one napkin only because I asked... was $10. 

Listen, I don't mind spending money on a day out with the family, but when prices are super high for no other reason than that you have no alternative then I take exception. 

The pickles are still there and are up to $1.75 by the way, but it was the best money I spent all day.

1 comment:

G-ride said...

that is so funny. sooo similar to my feelings about the Champlain Fair, which sent me to Tunbridge, which is very Big E like. Past its prime. And a huge rip. But I just ponied up 50 bucks for the mongo pack of tickets and turned the kids loose and tried to enjoy it.

The ox pulling and such is still always cool.

My hometown fair, Plymouth, NH, is no longer. I love the fairs, my Dad did the woodsman competitions so we did the whole circuit every year as a kid. Good memories. In fact I am taking the boys to Fryeburg on Monday to show them a real live woodsman competition. Its one of the few original ones remaining.