I’m being hit with culture shock in my own goddamn town. Why is that Wayne Campbell look-alike wearing two fanny packs? Should I call someone about that screaming woman dragging her toddler on a leash like a schnauzer? Ooh, look, a Buddhist monk! Wait, what’s he doing here? This doesn’t feel like Portland.
The Waterfront during Rose Festival is supposed to be a sea of uniformed sailors, single women and cute families having a good time, right? Wrong. It’s a white-trash bash, no ifs ands or buts. A prime playing field for fine-tuning your condescension skills, but I must admit, it’s so easy it’s not even fair.
My mission? Stay at the Rose Festival WaMu Waterfront Village all day long and discover the secrets of the Fun Center. I was there for 12 hours and only peed once. I held a baby Bengal tiger, laughed at a crying kid, ate apple-pie fries and talked to some of Portland’s finest carnies. So, yes, the Rose Festival definitely has an upside to it, but it’s hard to find.
11:01: I’m in! And taking a preliminary lap before making any rash decisions. I keep seeing these fake tigers atop tall turrets lining the center of the walkway, which is confusing as hell. The festival’s theme this year is “Romancing the Rose,” and I don’t see where medieval architecture and predatory cats come into play. The Sensodyne toothpaste booth is blasting Ratatat. Mad props. And the ground doesn’t smell like shit yet. Double-mad props.
11:06: A train of about 15 youngsters form two parallel lines and hold a leash with one teacher at the helm and one at the caboose end. An elderly man standing to their right begins to take a picture when the two teachers start yelling at him to stop. “Sir! Sir! No pictures of the children! No pictures!”...awkward.
11:11: I quickly realize the area north of the Morrison Bridge is a whole other world. It’s like walking through a Stargate into Funtastic territory. Funtastic is the Portland-based carnival company that supplies all the rides, cheap (both in quality and price) food, and carnies. There are all the usual “big kid” rides: the Zipper, Zero Gravity, Kamikaze. The name of one ride, “The Inverter,” just makes me think of electrical circuits, and inverted penises...not a good combination.
11:15: I pass a carnival game in which you try to toss a ring around a glass bottle. What prize does the winner receive? Well, you can choose an electric guitar, faux tiger-skin pelt, or faux decapitated tiger head to mount on the wall. It’s win-win on all fronts.
12:13 pm: A tap-dancing saxophone player named Shoehorn is playing to a crowd of 11 in the Family Fun tent. A potent “creepy guy” vibe emanates from him. “Play this for three years and it’ll beat all the life out of you,” Shoehorn says. Remember that, kids.
12:43: I head over to learn Healthy Gourmet Cooking from Chef Gary Horton. “Y’all like fried chicken, right?” Chef Gary wants you to say “yes” so you’ll be guilted into buying his cast-iron pans when he tells you how much healthier cast iron is than...fried cast iron? After Chef Horton tells us about “the honeymoon salad”—Just Lettuce Alone—I stand up and walk out.
1:00: I make my first of four trips to the exotic animal tent. There’s a bobcat and house cat sharing a cage (true story), a baby Bengal tiger and enough snakes to kick Samuel Jackson’s ass. The tiger cub may look torpid, but he’s ferociously adorable.
1:17: I check out Dinosaur Jurassic Journey, which is the Rose Fest’s big attraction this year, then remember I stopped caring about dinosaurs when Jurassic Park III sucked a fatty.
2:05: JUGGLEMANIA! If there’s one show you see at this year’s Rose Fest, make it Jugglemania. It’s hilarious, and creator Rhys Thomas is legitimately talented. He juggles while riding a unicycle on a tightrope in his one-man juggling comedy show. That can’t be easy.
3:10: I feel like looking at something cute. The dudes who strut around the Rose Fest are far from it, so I’ve been staring at the baby Bengal tiger for 15 minutes.
3:20: There’s nobody here. I try going on the Ferris wheel, but they don’t allow single riders, and there is no stranger within shouting distance I can rope into riding with me. The Rose Fest is not favorable to people short on poon.
4:36: I want to find a real carny who travels with the circus, but find it impossible. Every carny gives me the same answer, time and again, when asked if they get to travel with the show: “I don’t. But some people do.” No one can even point me in the right direction of a traveling carny. Has the mythical carny become extinct? Are these local carnies the only providers of carnie mystique? I feel ripped off.
4:50: Time for apple-pie fries! Slices of apple, deep fried, with whipped cream and caramel on top. Screw what Chef Gary told me about fried foods, I’d die for apple-pie fries ($5-$7).
5:42: I’m joined by a group of friends who, after hearing about the tiger cub, demand to see the jungle prince. So we go. And the baby tiger is now out of its cage and available for pictures! They make you fork over $10, but it’s well worth it. He’s so cute it’s criminal. (Women: Be cautious, the photographer said he chomped on some lady’s nipple earlier...ouch).
8:30: I make my way to the tiger pelt/electric-guitar carnival game and fail pitifully. My dreams of being a rock star who wears a tiger-pelt cape are crushed in one fell swoop.
8:40: While chilling in the Funtastic end of the Fest, I see a little girl wearing a shirt that says “Chick Magnet.” While I’m intrigued by the idea of a 3-year-old lesbian, I’m more tempted to slap her parents in the face for being assholes.
8:59: I see a kid whaling on his little brother with an inflatable hammer. It’s the funniest thing I’ve seen all day. It isn’t even close to being fair. The parents let him struggle. It is the most spectacular inflatable-hammer beat down I’ve ever seen.
9:02: Lines finally start forming for some of the rides. The Ferris wheel has the longest wait.
9:56: The fireworks finally start!
10:17: The fireworks finally end! Twenty-one minutes of fireworks, really? Compared to Fourth of July’s highfalutin explosives, these fireworks were bastard children. Screw it, I’m going home. And I’m taking the baby tiger with me.
TIGERS! (BY PERCENTAGE OF AWESOMENESS):
THINGS THAT CAME OUT IN FULL FORCE
Men with ponytails
People with neck and/or face tattoos
Tie-dyed shirts with gray wolves on them
BY THE NUMBERS:
2 cats on leashes
1 Buddhist monk
2 men with bellies drooping out of their shirts
Washington Mutual backpacks
FOODS ON A STICK:
Elotes (corn on the cob with cheese)
Ice cream bars
Frozen New York cheesecake dipped in chocolate
Various types of candied or chocolate-covered apples
HOW BIG IS WATERFRONT VILLAGE?
This many footsteps wide: 62
This many footsteps long: 763
VISIT: The Rose Festival WaMu Waterfront Village takes place at Waterfront Park along Southwest Naito Parkway. The Village is open 11 am-11 pm daily through Sunday, June 8. Admission free until 4 pm daily. $5 after 4 pm Monday-Friday, $5 all day Saturday-Sunday. Kids 6 and under free. Visit rosefestival.org for info.