Tuesday, September 25, 2007

I just got a press release about carbonated squeeze yogurt...it fizzes! Undoubtedly a sign of the end times...anyway here's a quick post. I'm going to post a more hulking entry tonight, including a very controversial and provocative photo...It's hot, baby! It might change the course of mankind as we know it.

I do love the Eastern States Exposition, a five-state fair that is among the 10 largest such events in the nation. It attracts over a million visitors during its three-week run. The following is my contribution to our multi-reporter written story.

I love The Big E because it is one of the few places where raw showmanship and bally hoo still exist. There are still guys who make their living trying to sell us "miracle" knives, irons, mops, laundry products. There are still people who have the world's biggest pig and the smallest and largest horse and we can see them for just one thin dollar. There are still attractions and exhibits that are designed to make us stop and gawk.

In this very cynical been-there, done-that world in which we live, I revel in the relatively few moments when we are reduced to mouth agape children, staring in wonderment at something. We need more amazement in our lives.

Speaking of amazement, shown above is a display of Mexican wrestling masks a vendor had at the fair. Nothing says new England state fair better than buying a wrestling mask! Naturally I wanted one, but I resisted as the price was $25!

WEST SPRINGFIELD – The annual Eastern States Exposition is in the middle of its run and my team of reporters and I went to the fair and left no corndog unturned to find the truth.

The truth is the fair maintains its dizzying mixture of exhibits and features that underscore the agricultural side of the five New England states and unapologetic old-fashioned showmanship.

Where else could you see a line of cows being milked and then celebrate your Irish heritage by hoisting a Guinness? There are few places you could then buy not one but two different "miracle" irons, see a butter sculpture, watch a guy interact with a shark, and pick up a knife that can perfectly slice tomatoes after they've cut through a soda can and a gizmo that makes putting masking tape on a window ledge a breeze.

You can challenge your stomach to an assortment of sit-down dining experiences as well as every walking-around food item imaginable. No matter how many London-broil sandwiches, hot sausage grinders, fried vegetables, pierogi, milkshakes and smoked turkey legs you down, you must leave room for the fair's signature food item, the Big E cream puff.

Don't worry, there is plenty of medical help available after you collapse into a food coma.

The state buildings always offer something interesting and this year was no exception.

In the Connecticut Building, Mel Gancsos of Fairfield, Conn. was handing out free samples of his Mel's Hellish Productions hot sauces and salsas. Llewellyn, suffering from a head cold, eagerly went for the chance to clear her head, and although the salsa she tried was tasty it wasn't hot enough for her.

Gancsos said that was his hottest product, of which he was temporarily out. Gancsos knows hot, though. His products have been first place winners in the Scovie Awards, the annual industry competition for spicy food item.

Gancsos said that his concoctions have heat, but most importantly, they have taste. He said that people put them on everything from salmon to cheesecake.

For more information, log onto www.hellishrelish.com.

Over in the Maine Building, the case of the sought-after baked potato remains a mystery. People had filled the overflow tent area outside of the building waiting for their chance to customize their potato.

It's just a baked potato for goodness sake, albeit a big one you could load with cheese, sour cream and bacon. You can do that at home, though.

There was square dancing outside the Rhode Island Building and inside there were the usual seafood and candy offerings. There was also an artist dedicated to saving little bits of Americana. William MacGregor, Jr. of Johnston, RI, sees the beauty of diners, donut shops, amusement parks, and junkyards and creates watercolor paintings of those subjects for prints and T-shirts.

MacGregor said he tries to be as realistic as possible with his nostalgic paintings of scenes from Rhode Island and Massachusetts.

There are more of his images on his Web site, www.junkyardartist.com

And what would the Massachusetts Building be without Western Massachusetts? The Beekeepers of Hampden County, Rollie's Sodas from Holyoke, Koffee Kup Bakery of Springfield, the Granville General Store, the Charlemont Inn, the Chili Station from Ludlow, Blue Seal products from Chicopee and the Western Massachusetts Master Gardeners were all exhibitors.


I miss the carney aspects of Big E from many years ago. I vividly remember an attraction in which a young woman was changed into a gorilla before my eyes. Another booth touted a South American "giant rat" that pulled dead bodies out of graves. The "rat" was a thoroughly benign capybara.

My favorite sideshow was one in which there was a reproduction of the famed "Minnesota Iceman," allegedly a Big Foot found encased in a huge block of ice. The show at the Big E many years ago was a reproduction of something that was undoubtedly a fake to begin with. I loved that showbiz logic.

Those days are long gone. This year's edition has a giant pig, a giant horse and a small horse in three different booths all on view for $1 each. I peeled off a single to cast my eyes on the giant pig. I'm here to say there was a very large pig snoozing away.

The Live Shark Experience provides some of those carny thrills in a wholesome and politically correct setting. The free show runs three times a day during the week and has a fourth show on the weekends.


Victoria Taranowicz was hard at work at the fair. The young woman was making cigars at her family's booth Connecticut Valley Tobacconist. The cigar company, located in Enfield, Conn., has been in business for 11 years and at the Big E for 10 years.

Taranowicz was making the inside of the cigars. Her mother, Karen, explained they used Honduran or Dominican tobacco for the centers and Connecticut Valley broadleaf for the wrapper.

Victoria admitted she thought cigar making was easy before she tried it, but it took her two months to learn how to make the center and another six months of practice to wrap the cigars.

Once she rolled the center she placed them in molds that use pressure to firm up the centers before they are wrapped.

Karen said the company's standard cigars range in price from $5 to $7, while their signature battleground line of cigars cost between $6 and $10.

For more information on their company, go to www.cvtobacco.com.

© 2007 by Gordon Michael Dobbs

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