Lords and ladies, I’ve arrived by carriage to telltales of a fabled land over yon. ‘Tis past the border of states, a mere acre away from the Russell Military Museum on 41. I have much to tell thee about the Bristol Renaissance Faire.
The James of 20 years ago would have been too cool to spend the day at the Ren Faire. The James of today, however, has no such hangups. Having children was the single most significant factor in divesting myself of many of the too-cool-for-school attitudes I’m embarrassed to say I once had.
When I first told the kids that we were going to the Faire this weekend,they were elated. Of course they were–in many respects, Bristol is every bit the theme park that nearby Great America is. The primary differences are in costume (Bristol: Pirates and corseted wenches; Great America: Yosemite Sam and Catwoman) and rides (Bristol: Run by hand; Great America: Mechanically operated by state-of-the-art hydraulics).
The price for entry is totally reasonable, especially considering there are coupons to print up directly from the Faire’s website. That’s where the Faire gives you a false sense of financial confidence. Sure, the admission is reasonable enough. Problem is, once you’re through the front gate, you’re nickel-dimed for every action you take.
The eight year-old’s three seconds-long attempt to conquer “Jacob’s Ladder?” $3. Plopping the children on a sad, continent-displaced, elephant? $5 per youth. Face painting? $25. It all adds up quick. Thank the Queen that my parents joined us for today’s journey–they helped defray some of the King’s ransom that a day of family fun at the Faire requires.
Despite the ATM-draining nature of the Faire, I’ve gotta say … it’s a lot of fun. For the repressed and in-need-of-catharsis Faire-goers, there are weapons booths throughout the grounds where one can take target practice with arrows, axes,throwing stars, crossbows, and knives. I especially enjoyed walking past the throwing star booth and having the reformed goth chick standing in front of it bark at me, “come on over and let your kids play with dangerous weapons!” That, of course, led to my son saying, “Daddy, I want to throw a throwing star!” Then, seconds later, “Can I at least shoot a crossbow?” For the record, he ended up doing both. I swear I’m a good parent in most every other instance …
There are shops (shoppes?) and activities everywhere you look. Need a new sword? Chain mail? Walking staff? This place is like the Target, Macy’s and Wal-Mart for all your Hobbit gear and apparel needs. I purposely avoided the shops, opting instead to dump my cash into many of the Faire’s games, rides, and activities. I’d never have forgiven myself had I come home with handmade candles, pendant necklaces, or a henna tattoo.
One thing that caught my attention was signage promoting the “Wench Show.” I was never in the area at the right time to catch it, so I never got to find out what it was all about. I thought it might be some sort of Renaissance burlesque, but seeing as Bristol is a family-friendly Faire, my imagination is likely more interesting than what happened on stage.
Back to the James of 20 years ago: He would’ve spent the day mocking the Faire visitors who came dressed for serious cosplay–with their swords sheathed and Highlander boots trouncing through the mud and grass. He’d have smirked, pointed, and said sarcastic things about the out-of-shape girls wearing little more than chain mail. He’d have a hard time not feeling uncomfortable near the fully-dressed, cross-generational, family of Faire-goers.
The James of today is much more respectful. I’ve reached my period of Enlightenment, spinning out of the Renaissance Faire. Let your freak flags fly, my lords and ladies.
However, that doesn’t leave you totally off the hook, ladies in chain mail. You really might want to consider buying one of those velvet, ankle-length dresses for future visits.
One final observation–one of the strangest booths at the Faire is “Vegetable Justice,” where you get to throw plum tomatoes at a douchebag who insults you from a stockade. I loaded up on tomatoes and completely failed in my attempts to peg him. In case he ever reads this, I’m sticking with the sideburns, and while it’s only a $25 haircut, I’m okay with it.