Best of the Valley?
The Greater Springfield Convention and Visitors Bureau has a nice little website that has a section devoted to what they claim are the ten best tourist attractions in the Pioneer Valley. I don't know how they arrived at that list, but as I have visitors from out of state coming to the area soon I thought I'd check it out. It turns out I've been to every one of those tourist spots save one. Here's a review of these attractions as seen from my perspective.
Yankee Candle Company
Routes 5 & 10, South Deerfield, MA
Who'd a thunk there'd be that much money in hippie candle making? The company website describes their humble beginnings thusly:
Christmas 1969. Seventeen-year-old Mike Kittredge, too broke to buy his mother a present, melted some crayons to make her a candle. A neighbor saw it and convinced Mike to sell the candle to her. With that small stake, he bought enough wax to make two candles - one for his mom, and another to sell. That was the birth of Yankee Candle.
And I'll bet a Grateful Dead record was playing in the background. Things have changed a bit since then:
We sell our candles and other products through a growing nationwide base of over 450 company-owned retail stores (423 Yankee Candle stores and 27 Illuminations stores). We also have a vibrant and growing catalog and online business, an expanding North American wholesale customer network (including approximately 17,500 specialty retailers in the U.S.), our Yankee Candle Fund-Raising division, and international distribution.
Yikes, makes me wish I'd taken the money I used to buy a bong to buy a candlemaking kit instead! I've been to the factory, and it's a pretty nice display. Men can be entertained there for an hour, women for a few hours more. But let's face it, candles are only so interesting, and the kids will be bored unless you go at Christmas time.
Grade = B
Six Flags New England
1623 Main Street, Agawam, MA
Part of a multi-billion dollar national chain, this outfit specializes in knock your eyes out special effects and take your breath away thrill rides. Unfortunately, it is hard not to look behind the glitter and not see the remnants of the old Riverside Amusement Park. Considered chintzy by modern standards, Riverside was none the less more charming, family friendly and a hell of a lot more affordable than this pre-packaged corporate experience. Don't get me wrong, you can have fun here if you bring a lot of cash, but something in me will always yearn for the old Riverside, in particular its white trash car racing subculture. The Valley ain't never been the same ever since you could no longer go to Riverside, get shitfaced on beer in paper cups and stagger down to the racetrack to scream with joy over car crashes! And while they're at it, they can bring back Mountain Park too.
Grade = C-plus
The Big E/Eastern States Exposition
1305 Memorial Avenue, West Springfield, MA
Thousands flock to this event every year, and only God knows why. The smelly pigs, noisy fowl and stupid cows are the same year after year. Most kids will weep with boredom unless you leave them in the carnival section. In fact the only thing about the fair that ever changes is the constantly rising prices. Anyone who attends this predictable yawner more than once every five years is a fool who deserves to get ripped off.
Grade = C-minus
Old Sturbridge Village
1 Old Sturbridge Village Road, Sturbridge, MA
I have very fond memories of coming to this magical land of the past as a child on school field trips. A beautiful setting and high educational value combine to make this an essential visit for all who appreciate the wonders of history.
Grade = A
The Springfield Museums
220 State Street, Springfield, MA
Surprisingly underrated and overlooked by the locals, outsiders who visit the Quadrangle museums are very impressed to see something so special in a place so small. Unfortunately the Quadrangle itself has become cluttered by an otherwise fine Dr. Seuss display that actually should have been erected over on the far more appropriate Mulberry Street. Hey, it is still not too late to move it there! Anyway, the museums themselves are endlessly fascinating and well worth the pittance you have to pay to get in if you are a non-Springfield resident.
Grade = A-minus
Bright Nights at Forest Park
Sumner Avenue, Route 83, Springfield, MA
How many times can you say, "Oh look at the pretty lights!" before you want to just slam on the gas and go screeching out of the park? Kids are only mildly entranced, and even then they have to be under age ten. Irony abounds, as a lightbulb version of the Barney Mansion, destroyed as the result of a crooked political deal, now exists as a ghostly electric outline. What next, a glow in the dark Phillips hanky?
Grade = D
One Columbus Center/Court Street, Springfield, MA
Although a fiscal boondoggle from the taxpayer's perspective, from an artistic one this is a first rate pair. The theater always has solid shows now that Dave Starr is no longer meddling with the line-up, and the Symphony is the Valley's most respected live music ensemble. The conductor is a maniac, and talented enough to get away with it.
Grade = A
Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame
1000 West Columbus Avenue, Springfield, MA
A good test of whether someone is a Springfield native is to ask them if they've ever been to the Basketball Hall of Fame. If they answer no, chances are they were Springfield born and raised. I've never been there, and it's not because I have no interest in basketball. In fact my team at the Our Lady of the Sacred Heart catechism league won the diocese championship one year. But nothing I've heard about the Hall has ever intrigued me. There's a place where you can shoot hoops? Yeah, so does Balliet playground. Once you've seen one superstar's smelly old sneakers you've seen 'em all. I'm told some of the attached restaurants and bars are nice, but I also hear that Michael Albano and his friends hang out around there. I may be a reformed drug addict, but I never fell in with a crowd that bad.
Grade = Who knows or cares?
Brimfield Outdoor Antique Shows
Route 20, Brimfield, MA
There's gold in them thar trash piles! Brimfield is where the Valley's attics and cellars open up to surrender their treasures. You have to know what you're looking for, but the astute Valley historian and antique lover will shout with delight over what they can find at this affair. Of course the dealers are sharp, and know the value of their wares, but there's still a bargain to be found by the true connoisseur.
Grade = A
The Zoo at Forest Park
Sumner Avenue, Route 83, Springfield, MA
This is a worthwhile place to visit. Essentially a petting zoo for small children, it suffers by comparison to the old Forest Park zoo which had lions and tigers and bears oh my! There's nothing here that could hold a candle to the old monkey house, where the rude simians used to wave their hard-ons and throw their shit at the audience. Now that's entertainment! Yet judged on its own merits the current zoo is a fine educational experience and a solid weekend morning's adventure. Adults will not be bored.
Grade = B-plus