When the officer off the exit points you to pull to the right up to the Orange lot to park on the way to fairgrounds, you know something big's going on.
When you drive down and down and down the road past rows and rows and rows of cars, and hop our to ride an already full bus to shuttle you to the front gate across the boulevard, you know something big's going on.
And the New York State Fair doesn't start until four weeks and a day from now.
The Syracuse Nationals had its way with the big space in Geddes last weekend, and it was a something really big. Oh, I had an inkling that this car show thrown for Syracuse by the Right Coast Association since 2000 was more than a little automobile rodeo.
When I covered music and entertainment for the big daily, news releases about the entertainment portions of the event always crossed my desk, Central New York bands playing on the Chevy Court stage for lovers of songs about racing in streets. Long standing relationship, that. Dan Elliott always gave me a call and was quite enthusiastic about the Monterays playing classic rock at the Nationals.
And my eyes and ears were always open to the sights and sounds of the classic cars roaring about the streets of our city at this time of the summer. I'd see them parked in the lots of restaurants and shopping centers and take a long, happy look.
Saturday my dear wife and Karen got off that school bus, bought our tickets at the gate -- 17 bucks apiece, $7 more than the same-day price at the state fair, mind you -- and were met by a scene out of ... well, not quite the movie "American Graffiti" or the parking lot of Arnold's from "Happy Days," but if you wanted nostalgia, it sure was there for the taking.
The joint was hopping with cars of all kinds. Trucks, too. Classics. Antiques. Cars restored lovingly and now for sale by owner. Cars somehow kept pristine since they rolled off the Detroit line decades and decades ago.
Yeah, there were some new cars, too. And car stuff for sale. Hawkers galore, in fact, selling car tires and car mats and car fuses and all sorts of car parts for everywhere and anywhere, inside or out.
The cars and sellers and crowds were all mixed together on the Chevy Court lawn and that rectangle extended.
And inside the buildings, too.
Hey, it was a lot like the state fair.
A tight knot of folks participated in an auction for auto-related doo-dads. When we walked past, some sort of plaque with an endearing or loyal or significant message appeared to be fetching $160.
I love my Chevy Cruze, and I can very fondly recall how foolishly fast I used to drive my first car, a blue '69 Chevy Nova with the floorboard rusted through that made me feel somewhat like Fred Flintstone. But I felt like nowhere near as passionate about the world of the Syracuse Nationals as this big crowd.
I admired the big old family cars and classic old fast cars and fiery ZZ Top sedans. The old police car with the vanity plates that read Mayberry with a cardboard poster of Don Knotts as deputy Barney Fife peeking out of the windshield.
Karen enjoyed attempting to pick out the cars that her Aunt Pauline used to drive while she was growing up, all of them a Chevrolet.
We both smiled walking past the Mustang section. Who doesn't appreciate Ford Mustangs produced from 1964 through the '70s?
As we walked around, stopping and staring and smiling, I knew why this event has been so popular here for 15 years now, why it's billed as the largest car show in the northeast, why so many people go to be next to these vehicles.
The Syracuse Nationals is a pretty swift place to dream, about what it was like back in the day, and about what you'd put in your driveway tomorrow if there was another zero on your paycheck.