Monday, August 6, 2012

It's Not Fair

Lima, Ohio held their annual Square Fair this past weekend, an event sponsored by local downtown businesses and put together by volunteers who grew tired of watching tumbleweeds roll by while everybody kept running to the WalMarts, which somehow always locate themselves on the outskirts of a town, usually on the other side of the interstate. Square Fair is a daring enterprise in that while it attracts people to downtown it also blocks off a sizable portion of downtown parking, thus making a bad situation worse, but not that bad. After two months of no rain and Allen County being declared to be in state of severe drought, it was only natural that a monsoon just had to strike Saturday evening with a neighboring county engaged in the obligatory every time thunder rolls tornado warning. The headline concert had to be cancelled, and the vendors had to pack up and run like a refugee camp. At least now the tumbleweeds have been replaced with pieces of roofing material and the trash left behind when a dozen or more trash cans are blown several blocks down the street.

These are tough times for local outdoor events. It's a horrendous gamble to put together a county fair, founder's day, or any kind of event to bring people into town, when it's common knowledge the kids would be far more entertained by their iPhones or Smart Pads or whatever. In the area where I grew up, it's particularly hard. Why would a kid get excited about a Ferris wheel or a Tilt-a-Whirl when most of them have a season pass to King's Island and ride The Beast at least once a week? And even when they're riding it, they probably don't stop texting. Given all the high-tech choices people have for entertainment these days, the modest community event is on the endangered list.

Local events are a lot of work. Months of planning go into these things. Logistics have to be worked out. Where will people park? How will we reroute traffic. That's a big one. In Delphos, Ohio each year they hold Canal Days, during which time Main Street is blocked off for what amounts to a weekend carnival. The largest industry in town is a grain processing depot, which means the majority of traffic through this small town is comprised of fully-loaded semi tractor-trailers, each about the size of a small European nation, trundling through back streets, barely missing parked cars, yanking overhead cable TV wires and thus de-Time Warnering entire blocks of homes with a single pass, and navigating tight corners never intended for such vehicles thereby causing the back wheels of the trailers to, in the poetic language of one citizen, "jump more curbs than a twenty-dollar whore." One street sign directing traffic onto state route 190 kept getting clobbered by wide-turning trucks so many times, the city finally put the sign 15 feet up a pole... where most out of towners don't see it, miss their turn, and end up pulling into the A&W Root Beer stand to ask directions. So at least one local business is seeing an up side.

You have to book talent, who may or may not show up. Not only did Lima's Square Fair lose their headliner Brownsville Station due to nobody's fault but the weather, but Friday night's act, local American Idol contestant Crystal Bowersox, almost bowed out a few days before the show. Seems she and/or her band was concerned about the safety of the stage. This is understandable given the incident at last year's Indiana State Fair when a gust of wind during a storm blew the stage construct down onto the performers and the front rows of the audience, something else to worry attendees and raise the event's liability insurance. Nerves were already a little on edge, as a serious accident was still fresh in the minds of local residents. During one of ArtSpace Lima's Rally in the Square events earlier this year, a car lurched from a parking space and slammed into the crowd, seriously injuring several people. The cause of the accident has not been officially determined, and I will not add to speculation at this point. It has been determined that alcohol was not a factor. Needless to say, extra precautions were well in place for Square Fair, a much larger event where motor vehicles are kept well clear of the people - except for the event staff golf carts.

So, there's talent to be booked, insurance to buy, traffic to be coordinated, law enforcement and security issues to be addressed, and this is all before anybody decides which direction in which to take the event. Maybe last year attendance was down. Was it the band? Was it a lack of publicity? Or was it because of scheduling the event the same Saturday as the Ohio State/Michigan game? (Yep. That'll do it.) Maybe last year's event was too artsy-fartsy, attracting an affluent and well-behaved crowd, but not enough of them as the eggheads stayed away in droves. Maybe that was because the year before that the event was pretty much MTV Spring Break in Your Backyard, which was well attended by nobody of legal drinking age, resulting in multiple arrests for public intoxication, indecent exposure, vandalism, urinating in the fountain, and performing unspeakable acts of debauchery to LambChop the city mascot. The only reason the event keeps coming back year after year is because there's always a fresh crop of volunteers ready to replace the entire heard of last year's volunteers who will never go anywhere near this thing ever again. Especially the guy in the LambChop suit.

And no matter how well the event turns out, there will always be somebody complaining. There's the aforementioned parking issue, which has no easy cure and never will. Some businesses don't like the streets being closed - in some cases because their aged 70+ clientele has used the same parking place since Nixon was nominated... for vice president. And then there's the beer. Now I understand how you might feel about this: why do we have to have beer at everything? You don't want people getting loud and stupid and obnoxious at a community event; you get enough of that at work. But Friend, I'm hear to tell you booze has been an integral part of society for thousands of years. It's the nature of mankind. A beer tent at a local carnival will not bring about the downfall of civilization. However, the lack of beer at an event may bring about the demise of that event. Beer draws a crowd. People want their brew. The cheaper and more watery, the better. Without beer, you risk attracting only teetotallers and goody-two-shoes with fish on their trunk lids, and that could lead to a Creed concert breaking out, and we can't let that happen.

I'd hate to see small community events die off. They may not be perfect, but we don't want to lose those moments when you're drinking a lemon shakeup, and the bees the size of F-15's haven't found you yet, and you smell the carnival food, and hear the area concert band playing a Sousa march punctuated by the clink of a plastic hoop dancing off of a Coke bottle as somebody tries to win a stuffed bear, or the pop as a dart hits a balloon. It's the people who decide what kind of event your community has, or if it has any at all, so attend your hometown events. Or, if you can, volunteer to work on one. You'll have a say in how the event is run, take pride in making something good happen in your community, and get to ride around the place in a golf cart. Now there's something no iPhone app can do.