There are a few things in life that you can truly call an annual tradition. There are the holidays of course, perhaps a few family customs that you can be sure will pan out during the year, but one such tradition that I can truly say has been a yearly event, for as long as I have been in NY (which for the small existence of my first four years of life has been) is at least one trip each summer's end to the Great NY State Fair.
As a child, the Fair was about rides, junk food, the animals, and the multiple array of fun things to do. Every year after my first trip (which was with my parents of course) was anticipated with a bittersweet sign that summer vacation was at it's end and school was shortly behind those few days spent mingling at the 4-H building, riding the scrambler, catching a tribal dance in the Native American village, and eating a baked potato while washing it down with chocolate milk.
My tween years were focused on taking all the spending money you had saved that summer or begged from my parents, purchasing items that logo'd my current favorite band or heart throb. Most of these trips were taken with my bestie Lynne, and either her parents or mine would bring us with instructions to meet up at such in such time to check in. The fair was perhaps my first experience of "being" parentless. Lynne and I had a pretty good strategy of filling our FREE bags up with goodies we would pick up from the numerous vendors throughout the Fair buildings. Balloons, squeeze toys, multiple pens and pencils, magnets, and additional, in essence garbage. One of my most memorable FREEBE item from the fair was the blow up pool toy from the Dairy building. It was, as I recall, one of those floaties you could wear around your waste with the head of a cow wearing a big smile with one of those Drink Milk catch phrases. Lynne and I made spectacles of ourselves by quickly blowing up our find and wearing them though out the park that day. Another tween favorite and a never miss was the haunted house. It has since burned to the ground even before I was in high school, but the Fair Haunted house had to be my most favorite "ride". Unlike the stationed haunt rides found on the mid-way where some electronic ghost on a pulley swings down upon your moving cart coordinated with a blow of air and sketching noise, the old haunted house was posted with REAL people that hid in the dark waiting to jump out and scare the bejehus out of you. I just LOVED that.
Adolescent fair days were usually spent with tons of friends taking in multi-days to "boy" watch, and catch the Grandstand concerts. Aerosmith, Bryan Adams, Loverboy just to recall a few, and several more that we attempted to sneak into, or watched from outside the gates with anticipation of catching a view of the performers as they exited the stage unsupervised by a preoccupied bouncer. (I never did get such a lucky break, but we all heard the folklore about someone's Cousin, friends, Aunt (you know the ones) who by chance was spied by some famous band member and was able to party it up the rest of the concert back stage and later at the bands local hotel.) Food, trying to score a beer by some clueless by passer, boyfriends and hanging out with "hot" carnies (as if there ever was a hot carnie) or at least flirting with one even less then "hot" in hopes of an extra long ride on the super-loop or a free giant stuffed animal took up the hours of my fair adolescent days.
In my early 20's the fair was a junk filled dinner, mini skirts, and lots of drinking. It often included a few staggering dances at the free concert held at Miller court or Cole Muffler Court or whatever court it was currently being called, a gigantic wine slushie (back then you could actually get a wine slushie that included by all accounts an entire bottle of wine) more "boy" chasing, and a following day hangover. Attendance to the Fair in those days coordinated with when everyone else was going and what concert you would at least enjoy. One favorite I recall was KC and the Sunshine Band. I love 70's music, add a little wine slushie and I was out of control.
Once my kids were born, the Fair took on a new meaning. The fair focused on everything kids. Kiddie rides, kiddie shows, giant stuffed characters walking aimlessly inviting a hug from any child not fearful to approach. It became shows, and barnyard animals, strollers, and sticky candy apples. It also became hard work, and preplanning. Trips to the fair although enjoyable, often became less much more tiresome and certainly free of any more wine slushie. It did bring on a new perspective of the Fair. A new found appreciation and I was introduced to new things to enjoy at the fair. Watching the Police shows, where professionals would scale a mock building or their trained dogs would seek out a hidden sent. It was catching a puppet show, really enjoying the 25 cent chocolate milk and admiring the butter sculpture. It was avoiding the Mid-way at all cost, and wishing for days when I could purchase that really awesome Jacuzzi and touring that camper with the bunks build in the rear. Free finds of pencils and note pads were sought out, not just to fill my bags with endless junk but for preparation of school days in the following weeks. The fair became a new found joy as seen through their child eyes.
Of course there were still the occasional adult nights at the fair. Just in the last few years I made a few girls nights out where Wine slushies were consumed (from a small plastic cup and restricted to the alcohol only tents) and staggering dances at the free concerts were a welcoming reminder of my youth. The free concerts have become a true reminder that I have aged, as I find myself much more interested in the bands they hold there then the grandstand. Although I did make a pilgrimage with my gal pals to take in Def Leppard at the Grandstand a few years ago. Bands like Styx (which was Sunday evening) and Salt and Pepper have played for FREE so far this year. We got to enjoy the Man vs Food guy once and even caught a show by Bruno Mars at the free court although Bruno's attendance within that space was so crowded I could barely stand it and we left early.
The last few years I have typically per-purchased tickets and taken the bus in to avoid traffic, and parking costs. Often times I have gone with my little man to meet up with his dad later in the evening. My older kids have had their own fair growing timeline from days of going with their mom, to their first parentless freedom clutching begged $20- bills in hand off to enjoy their own experience of the fair. Last years trip included working one of the booths myself. I worked the SBH booth and my son joined me. Yet another experience to have at the fair.
This year marks yet another traditional trip. I am working the Vera House booth, and plan to take the bus in with both the boys, enjoy the morning at the fair, do my shift and meet up with the hubby later to have some more fair fun. I anticipate creating a new memory and continue to keep the tradition alive. I might even grant permission for my approaching tween to try his first parentless adventure at the fair, (with his older brother of course and strict instructions on where to find me if they separate). This post and memory yet to come.