Some of you may remember the LIVE Show--our first and only show for professionals in the parks and recreation and children’s camp industries.
The show was held outdoors at Salt Fork State Park in southeastern Ohio. The concept was simple--instead of a “traditional” show full of rows of booths, we hosted an interactive show where attendees could drive the tractors, jump on the inflatables, paddle the kayaks, vacuum the pool and so on.
As part of all this hoopla, we set up a wagon ride from the main lodge to the waterfront--a distance of about a half-mile. It was walkable, and many attendees did just that, but it was also hilly.
So, many walked one way and rode back on the wagon.
Everything was going swimmingly. The sessions were well-received and the wagon was regularly making its round trip, picking up and dropping off happy customers.
That is until the last morning of the show. We had scheduled a pontoon ride (i.e., breakfast cruise) for those who wished to pay a nominal fee for a morning cruise. It was doomed from the start.
Everybody met at the main lodge at 7 a.m. and boarded the wagon. I waved goodbye to all the folks on board, which included my mom and one of our staffers.
Five minutes later, my walkie-talkie crackled. “Uh, Rodney?”
“We have a problem. Can you walk the road down to the waterfront?”
I found the wagon on the side of the road with a flat tire.
Dang. So, I put on a cheery face, grabbed the hand of the first person I saw and announced that we had planned this little excitement (wink, wink) and led a parade of attendees to the waterfront.
To save time, I cut through the woods which led to a steep, rock-filled bank. Faced with turning back or trudging forward, I helped everybody down the steep embankment, praying nobody would get hurt and that my insurance policy covered “blind stupidity.”
I finally packed everybody onto the two pontoons, did my best impression of Captain Stuebing and waved mightily as they pulled out for their cruise.
Relieved, I returned to the main lodge to prepare for the rest of the day.
Several hours later, it dawned on me that I hadn’t seen anybody from the breakfast cruise around the grounds. I made a few inquiries and found out they would be returning soon.
As it turns out, the breakfast cruise was full of tons of other, non-scheduled fun. For starters, the “breakfast” I had ordered had been changed on the fly by a harried chef who hadn’t properly planned for the excursion. Instead, he thought it was a good idea to provide a pre-packaged pastry and cup of coffee.
Then the marina operator forgot to top off one of the boat’s tanks, so it ran out of gas on the other side of the reservoir and had to be towed back by the other pontoon.
I predicted that it would be remembered as an unmitigated disaster. But it wasn’t.
Ironically, the flat tire, bad breakfast, running out of gas and the comedy of watching patrons almost fall in the water as they tried to tie the two boats together all led to a memory and shared experience of epic proportions.
I was prepared to offer refunds to anybody who wanted one, but nobody did. Maybe they felt sorry for us.
I was reminded of this story as I read “Hitching Up To A Good Idea,” by David Ochs. He proposes providing wagon rides to patrons as a way to show off parts of your park system that are not regularly accessed.
He doesn’t specifically say this, but I’m assuming he recommends regularly maintaining your wagons--especially the wheels--so you can keep the program rolling.
Rodney J. Auth