Every fall, our family makes a pilgrimage to a beer-and-hot-dog stand in the middle of the state. This is something I could do on my own, but I enjoy having my wife and daughters along for the trip. They’re actually very good sports about the whole thing. Of course, it doesn’t hurt that the beer-and-hot-dog stand is in the middle of a huge horse expo.
Back in the early days, the expo didn’t sell beer. Just hot dogs. To be honest, I don’t think introducing beer into a setting where people are selling expensive horse equipment is a coincidence.
In fact, I believe it may be sheer marketing genius.
The beverage acts as a magical elixir that can transform the markup on overpriced stall mats into a necessary charitable contribution to the vendor community. Why, if we don’t support them, who will? My daughters have special powers that allow them to become wildly supportive on plain diet soda.
In the Days Before Beer, things were different. Any item over 20 bucks required hours of father-daughter negotiation and debate. I’ll have to think about it, I’d tell them soberly.
I always lost in the end. I knew I’d lose, but the verbal tussle served as a source of desperately needed entertainment.
For me, the entire expo experience was a constant search for entertaining distractions. Yes, I dutifully followed the females around, moving from booth to booth, but my mind was always someplace else. While they shopped for deals, I sought diversion.
I particularly valued any vendor carrying horse newspapers or magazines. I realized that horse magazines were actually two-dimensional versions of an expo. All the elements were there: vendors in the form of advertisers, clinicians in the form of articles, and horses in the form of photos.
It was fun to pick up a magazine and imagine the expo that could be created from it — then reverse the process and put the current expo into magazine form.
And then there was the free stuff: hard candy, buttons, stickers, pens, pencils, plastic cups, dumb little toys, visors, and tiny flags, much of it sporting some kind of logo or promotional printing.
It was cheap stuff, destined for the bottom of the closet and ultimately to the giveaway table at our next garage sale. But I couldn’t get enough of it. In the Days Before Beer, the free things were actually the only items at the expo worth the asking price.
The Idiot Box
Any kind of video display was also a good time-killer. I recall one vendor in particular who displayed a video of a mare giving birth. I can’t remember what he was selling. As fascinating as it was to watch the baby horse wiggle out there, it was much more fascinating watching the people who were watching the video. The simultaneous wincing, the body language — like helping out with field goal attempt — and the chorus of gasps and sighs of relief were highly entertaining.
It was also fun witnessing the transformation in mood as the throng moved into the stallion area. As people went from stall to stall, this impatient, crabby, flatulent, stressed-out, post-caffeine buzz mob morphed into a gathering of original Haight-Ashbury hippies loving all life forms and totally in tune with the universe.
The lady who just moments ago glared at me for hogging up the magazine rack was cooing at a three-quarter-ton stallion. “Awww, look at his ears… he’s just so cute!” Just the physical presence of these animals acted as a kind of mood enhancer and provided an almost spiritual-like reprieve. It made me enjoy my own species again.
Of course, we always have the option of just staying home. We could save a lot of time and money just by ordering things online, and reading articles and books.
But it wouldn’t be the same, right? Nothing can really replace the real-live, face-to-face experience of actual 3-D people.
With or without the beer.
Freelance writer Bob Goddard lives in Grand Rapids, Michigan, with his wife, Jenny, and assorted pets. His latest book is Horse Crazy! A Tongue-in-Cheek Guide for Parents of Horse-Addicted Girls. To order, and to read his humorous blog, "Bob the Equestrian," visit www.horsecrazy.net.