The Ren Faire and me: the social connection, part 2

(This post is part of a series that goes over why, after 13 years, I’m leaving the New York Ren Faire.)

Walk through the gates of the New York Renaissance Faire. Continue straight along Spendepenny Lane. You come to the Hawker’s Crossing Tavern. Bear left at the fork, and you’re on Mystics Way. There you find the largest gathering of psychic readers to be found at any Ren Faire.

In the mid ’90s, it was my custom to get a reading there every summer. The person I went to most often was Sally Eaton, who runs two booths on Mystics Way: the Emerald Soothsayer, and Wise Woman. In 1995, she offered me a chance to work for her the following year. (No, Sally does not ask all her regular customers to work for her; I’ll discuss her reasons for her offer in my next post in this series.)

If you go by the definitions in my previous post, in 1996 I moved from being a "type 1" Rennie to a "type 2": I was now working at the Ren Faire. This was a fantasy I had back in my AU days, and now it was a reality!

(To be fair to my fellow Rennies, I was far from the only Ren-Faire groupie to get a job at the Faire. Years later, I still saw people from the old AU days working at the Faire, usually at a booth, occasionally in a performance role.)

This had several effects on my social life at the Faire.

As someone who worked at the Faire, I could hang out with my fellow Rennies (now type 2) after working hours. The Ren Faire keeps one of its drink booths after hours on Saturday nights. I’d go and have a quick meal at a local diner, then head back to the fairegrounds and chat with performers and fellow vendors.

At the time, I was still enchanted with the idea of reading for people (I’ll go over the disenchantment in my next post). I’d bring my cards to the Rusty Knife and offer readings in exchange for a Diet Pepsi. At a buck for a reading, it was a great deal!

Working at the Faire, I found my ways to leave my mark in little ways. The Faire requires all the vendors to participate in a daily parade around the site, holding signs that advertise their wares. I’ll be blunt: most vendors see this as a waste of time. This is especially true for psychic readers; maybe a patron will see a sign and visit a blacksmith, but no one is going to decide to see a reader based on a sign they see in a parade.

Instead of treating this as obligation, I found a way to have fun with it. I chose to march in the parade holding Sally Eaton’s sign for Wise Woman. When patrons looked at me and asked "Wise woman?", I’d respond "Think m’lord. She got me to carry the sign, did she not? Wise woman she be!"

Presently I discovered another way to have fun on the parade: smiling and waving. I don’t mean by doing that while marching in the parade, though of course that’s what I did. I insisted that all the parade watchers smile and wave at us. Many an unsuspecting patron found themselves the target of my pointing finger and orders: "Smile! Wave! A parade doth pass thee by!" It added a certain energy and zest to a task that would otherwise be dull and tiresome.

Not all my fellow vendors agreed with me, especially those who hadn’t had their first cup of coffee that morning. For some reason, they were irritated by a loud voice booming voice right behind them screaming "SMILE! WAVE!" To this day, most of the vendors at the Ren Faire know me as "Smile and wave"; they don’t know my name.

That was not my only piece of "street theater" (and my apologies to all the dedicated performers who practice real street theater, as opposed to my poor imitations). The Faire opened at 10AM, but it was unlikely for a reader to get any patrons before noon. So I’d entertain the passersby with small bits. Sometimes it would be as simple as "Smile! ‘Tis a festival day!"

Another fantasy came to life: I had my "meet cute" moment.

The first year I worked at the Faire, a woman came into the booth space Sally had given me. She chatted with me for a while. Then she said, "I don’t have twenty bucks for a reading, but can I give you my phone number?" I said yes. Then after she left the booth, I clutched that phone number in my fist with a "YES! YES! YES!"

We dated, and it was magical. For a while.

This was not Walter and Deborah’s story, it was mine. After about three months, it became clear that my lack of relationship experience was a serious factor. We lasted for about a year, but it ended.

Then a year or so later, it started again. We drifted in and out of each other’s lives for a while; it took time for that initial magic to completely fade. But fade it did.

We’re still friends. She was at both my 40th and 50th birthday parties. She might even be reading this now.

In 1999 I first met a Ren Faire performer; in 2000 it blossomed into a serious attraction… on my part. Unbeknownst to me, she was attracted to me too. Over the next several years there was another kind of drifting, as she and I unsuccessfully tried to give one another hints. That faded too. The simplest way to put it that we mutually unfulfilled one another’s fantasies.

After that there were no new romantic interactions at the Ren Faire. I still met people and made new friends at the Faire, but that particular notion/fantasy/obsession had passed me by. Part of the reason was the harsh reality: the kid who’d first walked through the Ren Faire gates at the age of 28 was now approaching the age of 50; he’d weighed about 220 pounds back then, and now weighed close to 300. The women I’d meet at the Ren Faire valued me as a father figure, but not potential dating material.

Another reason was a change in circumstances. In 2004, I had a chance to get a booth of my own on Mystics Way, to stop working for Sally and start working for myself. I took it. It seemed like a good idea at the time, but it marked at end of my social interactions at the Faire.

When I worked for Sally, I was part of a team. I could occasionally get up, walk around the Faire, catch a show, and so on; someone could watch my table for me. When I became the sole proprietor of a booth, that stopped. I was pretty much locked into that booth for the nine hours of the Faire day.

The Rusty Knife was still there, but I found that I no longer had the energy at the end of the day to go there. As I’ll discuss in a later post, the thrill of doing readings for friends had worn off. I was doing more readings every day, but that left me with less energy at night; I had to go home and rest for the following day.

I had an epiphany when I made a bunch of new friends who worked at the Faire. But I didn’t meet at them at the Faire, I met them at a party thrown by my friend Vann. The Faire was no longer a source of new connections and friendships for me. The booth that had once seemed like such an opportunity had turned into a social isolation chamber.

There are no problems without some sort of solution. I could have found someone to work with me, or given up the booth. But because those solutions are tied into some other issues, I’m going to reserve discussing them until a later post.

So reason #1 for my departure from the Faire: While I continued to work there, the social network I sought from my first visit in 1988 was not there for me in 2009.

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