Public Events, Private Values: Some Observations

It is the annual autumn season of fairs and festivals. When I visit such events I notice a continuing set of issues that trouble me; issues that concern not only the event venders but should concern visitors as well. My concerns touch on the intersection of public gatherings, where the wider community comes out to enjoy being together to celebrate the season or a cultural theme, and the ways private families organize their behavior within the public setting. Unfortunately there are times when that intersection is messy.
When walking through the crowds what I see far too often are unsupervised children handling items or otherwise distracting the vendors at booths, sick children with runny noses, suspicious rashes and coughs, and folks who seem to believe their dog should always be welcome anywhere. I’ll take each in turn.
A vender has paid a fee (sometimes a substantial one; as much as $200+ for a 2-day event) to bring their products and creations to a festival. The way they display the paintings, or clothes, or carvings, or baked goods has been thought out to attract buyers while protecting those goods from damage (and/or theft). The vender will spend the day talking to potential patrons, handing out business cards, and showing off their crafts with the goal of making sales. It is not a vacation; it is a business with the goal of making a profit, hopefully more than the entrance fee. The venders should not be expected to act as supervisor to unsupervised young children. Checking to make sure children do not handle the merchandise while trying to talk to a customer, or just trying to ignore a silly stick-fingered kid crowding up against the table is part of what makes working festivals a pain in the ass for many a vender.
Parents need to speak to their children about public behavior rules before they leave the house but also review the rules when they arrive and see the set up so the kids understand what is allowed and what is not. In other words parents need to parent their children while in a public place. It is not the time to abdicate your role assuming your kids can now run loose with no problem. Many times there are booths especially for young kids and parents should make sure their kids access them. If a child spots a vendor booth with interesting objects the child should wait to get their parent’s attention and go to see it in company with an adult, please. And for parents who do not wish to supervise their children at these events perhaps you should not bring your young children.
Then there are the sick. I have it from several reliable witnesses that at last weekend’s Oktober fest at the IX there was a little kid who was quite obviously ill with either chicken pox or measles. The child walked along through the crowd for well over an hour with sweaty spotted skin and runny eyes. What could those parents have been thinking? Were they so determined to have a good time that they just ignored the sick child? When your child is sick keep him/her home! It is not fair to all the other children present.
And speaking of keeping someone home; keep your damned dog at home, will you please? What makes people think everyone wants to see their dog? I have paid to attend the festival and with that payment came the expectation to be comfortable on the festival grounds. I’m pretty sure your dog didn’t pay. If you had to pay an entrance fee for your dog I bet you would’ve left the animal at home. OK, I know there are free events but that does not negate my argument. Last year I watched three growling dog interactions at Orange Fest which turned into snarling confrontation before the owners pulled the leashes tight enough to separate the animals. It was scary enough from a standing adult perspective; can you imagine what it looked like at the 2-3ft high little kid’s perspective? One woman at the IX event had a reel leash for her dog and yet the dog was never any closer than 20 feet to its master. While the woman stopped to talk her dog was essentially free to wander. Many adults (including me) are frightened of dogs; and do not tell me your dog has never barked, jumped on, snapped at, or bitten any one. I don’t care. That is not the point. At a crowded event full of slowly meandering people I don’t want to also have to navigate around people’s dogs.
Do the owners think about where their dog will pee while on the festival grounds? I can’t think there are many vendors who would welcome a dog lifting a leg against a tent or table leg! And I don’t even want to think of the handling of dog feces in that setting. Festivals are places full of food venders and people eating while walking; food consumption does not mix with dogs.
So let’s cultivate some simple civility folks. Good loud live music, lots of laughter, food smells drifting, meeting friends, seeing great creative work, drinking a fine wines or beer, eating delicious munchies, all are part of a wonderful day. To make it even better let’s agree to aim for the best environment for the vendors and the best experience for the children and adults who attend.