Giggling children chase bubbles past the petting zoo, a distant Ray Charles song can be heard clashing against a blasting “Chandelier,” and the sweet smells of fried dough and odors of manure conspire to confuse the senses. The Big E is back in town.
The intoxicating bouquet overpowers the entrance. Smells of sweet cinnamon swirl with popcorn and smoky barbeque—stand still and one aroma overpowers the other at the wind’s fancy. Steaming mountains of nachos are cradled by hungry teenagers. Lovers stroll hand-in-hand with their counterparts holding light-colored beer, which they sip, smiling.
Just past the world’s largest horse and pig, families line up for elephant rides. Just as a crowd of interested onlookers gathers at the fence, the sizeable creature squats and excretes a dinner plate-sized pile of dung.
Around the corner, fair-goers have formed a line at the counter below a sign that reads, “Home of the Craz-E Burger.” This burger, the Big E’s signature food item, is a bacon cheeseburger made with a sugar-glazed doughnut. “My son gets them every year,” one woman says while documenting the event with her camera. “This year he’s had two!”
A man named Keith mans the dart booth. It costs $2.50 to take a shot at popping balloons of various sizes and colors in exchange for stuffed animals of various sizes and colors. It is difficult to decipher whether Keith’s apparently advanced age is actual or illusory—his speech is garbled; he’s missing teeth and his skin is weathered. He’s been traveling with the fair for 12 years, since he was laid off from his previous job and struggled to find another. The four to five months of the year he is not travelling, he resides in Puerto Rico.
On the west side of the fair is the “Avenue of the States”—a small, paved strip where the six New England states are represented by six quintessential New England-style houses. Here, we remember the Big E’s real name: Eastern States Exposition. Since 1916, the “annual autumn extravaganza” offers a chance for New England producers to strut their stuff. Flannel, cheeses and Ben & Jerry’s are featured within the Vermont house, while fudge, kettle corn and blankets are featured in New Hampshire’s. Cranberry products, apple pies and dairy items are found in the Massachusetts house, contrasting with Legos, Pez and tobacco products in Connecticut’s. Lobster and blueberry pies draw lines in the Maine house. Rhode Island’s house is full of all things seafood and fishing.
After exiting Rhode Island, full-bellied fair-goers are enticed by the increasingly rambunctious clatter of carts on tracks and terrified screams coming from the south side of the fair. Dizzying lights blare from whirring, flipping, twisting rides. Couples sit on benches, each holding an end of a turkey leg that they gnaw on with primordial hunger, and leashed children bounce past their bedtimes as they wait for the parade to march past Storrowton Tavern.•