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Alicia Explores the Southtowns: Forming lifelong traditions at the New York State Fair

One Greco family trip to the New York State Fair. I’m the blondie in the middle.
SYRACUSE — Whenever it’s fair season, all I can think about is the New York State Fair.

My entire family and I attended the fair each year, from the time I was an infant until I left for college. It was a sad moment for me when I realized that, since college started in late August, the annual tradition would begin to peter out.

The New York State Fair takes place in Syracuse, N.Y. — my home city — and it was a surprise to learn how few people in the Western New York area have gone or even knew that it took place so close to Buffalo.

From my childhood, I only remember brief yet vivid glimpses of the fair. Holding my mother’s hand, we would stop at the lost children’s booth to write down our information on a tag and then tie it to my 1990s neon fanny pack.

I remember sitting next to my late grandmother at the “Indian Village,” which was the area where we would watch traditional Native American dances and peruse an array of turquoise beaded jewelry. The innocent fascination with the collection is still fresh to me.

We would always stop in the dairy building to see what that year’s butter sculpture would be. When I was young, it was unfathomable how they carved such a massive piece out of something I knew only as what I put on my toast.

My young eyes would stare terrified at the fire safety display of simulated situations posed with the creepiest and most likely antique mannequins.

Our day and night-long excursion would end by dropping a couple quarters into the Footsie Wootsie. The seat and vibrating metal plate at your feet was a revitalizing end to the night.

As I got older, I began to evolve with the fair.

I began truly loving the Pan-African Village where there was African-inspired art and jewelry. Also the Center of Progress building where a slew of informational booths.

But what could be better than the food of the fair?

Obviously, there was the ultra-fattening treats (like deep fried candy bars) that would leave you wanting to vomit behind a tree somewhere. But there were those other foods that only inspire the fondest memories.

The Villa: home of the pizze fritte. We would step into the bustling crowd in front of the purple house-shaped food stand. The music would blast, which I realized was dance music when I grew older; no wonder I loved that place so much.

Pizze fritte, I dare say, is a delicacy that will change your life. Overdramatics aside, it is better than simple fried dough.

It’s a foot long of chewy, scalding hot dough that is covered in crystallized sugar.

Each year, I would always feast on a gyro in the International Building.

The Great Potato Booth was another tradition. For just $1, I would post up with a baked potato. As an avid fan of potatoes, with salt and pepper, butter and sour cream, I would eat the entire thing, skin and all. Sometimes I would hop back in line to buy another.

My first official job was when I was 15 years old, when I worked in a giant lemon at the fair. The owner of The Villa also owned many of the lemonade and water stands throughout the grounds. At that time, I was also a dedicated runner, and track practice lasted all year long. The summer before cross country season started, my team had practice nearly every day. I would wake up bright and early to run the anxiety-inducing Rolling Hills at Green Lakes State Park or we would be doing mile intervals at the high school track.

After practice, I would change into my bright yellow T-shirt in the car and when my parents dropped me off at the front gates of the fair, I would make my way to The Villa to sign in and then head over to my designated lemon, where I would stand and shake lemonade, for hours.

My fear of bees was conquered, since we were swarmed with them everyday and there was nowhere to run. I made friends from other area high schools.When we weren’t shaking lemonade for our customers, we provided commentary for the people-watching we did, all the while with the nearby “Fool the Guesser” spouting out his one-liners, hoping to draw people in to guess either their weight, height or birthday.

As for the Footsie Wootsie, it came full-circle again. After pounding out miles to standing for hours, that machine was my oasis. Even though I reached an inexplicable exhaustion level, it remains one of my favorite jobs.

The New York State Fair will always be home. And for many, I know that plenty hold that same sentiment for the Erie County Fair. Whichever fair is dear to your heart, savor the time and enjoy the memories. Bring your friends and your family. Delve into another world, for a moment.

The rides, food, animals, music, activities: All of these fair factors are commonplace on their own. But together, they create a realm that is not quite like any other. It is a place to establish traditions that will last a lifetime. What a rare and beautiful thing to have the opportunity to do.

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