Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Taking the Kids to the Texas Book Festival: The Good and The Bad

Last year, you may recall, I tried taking one of the kids to a political rally and ended up with some interesting observations.  This year, in possibly an attempt to do better, I took two kids to the Texas Book Festival.  Local PBS station KLRU had been announcing to anyone who was listening that popular Dr. Seuss character (when he isn't being played by Mike Myers) the Cat in the Hat* would be making an appearance, and so my mind was almost made up for me.

And so we found ourselves heading toward downtown, with the younger of the two children asking where the Cat was.  (The younger one needs a few lessons in patience.)  The festival's website very helpfully pointed out four parking garages that would be free for the weekend.  Since only one of them was on the west side of the Capitol, near the Children's Activity Tent in which the Cat would appear, deciding where to park was a fairly easy thing to do.  Unfortunately, a lot of other people apparently thought the same way that we did, and so we ended up on the seventh level, after lucking into a parking spot that had just been emptied.  And that was when we discovered that the elevator wasn't working that day.  Or, rather, it was working; it just hadn't been turned on, so that we all got to walk down six flights of stairs.

Having survived that, we crossed Lavaca and walked into the first tent we found, which turned out to have a good selection of adult's and children's books.  While I wasn't really looking for myself (this trip was for the kids), I looked around for a short while while the kids each picked up a book and started reading right there.  We tried to purchase a couple of books for the kids (one for each), but I discovered very quickly that only cash and checks were accepted.  (I probably should have realized that going in, but oh well.)  I was helpfully told that there were a couple of ATMs around that I could track down, but it was getting close to the time for the Cat to appear.  The promise of the Cat served as a good distraction to the children (though I did explain to them that we did not have the money to pay for the books right then).

From there, we walked up Colorado and through several tents.  The kids were distracted by the snow cones near the HEB booth, and thanks to the generosity of one of the workers who heard me say that we still did not have the money to buy one (three bucks...I had two**) and gave us one for what I had.

While the kids were working on a rather large strawberry snow cone (in a large cup), I was given a flyer urging me to vote for Proposition 1.  Really, the election is everywhere right now (including in several upcoming posts on this blog***)...can't we get a break?

Finally, it was almost time for the Cat in the Hat to appear.  We had already moved into the Children's Activity Tent in hopes of getting somewhat close to the activities, but, once again, everyone else apparently had exactly the same idea, resulting in a tent which, if it had been a bar on Sixth at 1 am, would have been closed in a heartbeat by a fire marshal for severe overcrowding.

Then the hour came, and the Cat was not there.  No, we found out, first all the approximately 12,000 children in the tent (give or take a few) would design their own "Cat" hat.  This resulted in pure pandemonium as they all scrambled for space on the five tables in the tent and grasped for red crayons, which, thankfully, were plentiful.  What wasn't plentiful were workers who held the cut-out paper plates that were to serve as brims for the hats being colored.  Somehow--and I really don't know how everyone managed it--most of the kids in the tent had a hat.  Some were even colored properly.

And so, armed with hats that might or might not look like the hat of the Cat in the Hat, the throng of children tried to fill in a 20'x20' space, where they were to sit when the Cat showed up.  And show up he did; there was much rejoicing by the children, and a fair amount by the parents, many of whom were crammed together near the edges of the tent and were ready to enjoy fresh air again.  But before they could, one of the workers, who, I presume, was from KLRU, sat down with the Cat and read a wonderful book to the children:  Atlas Shrugged.

No, he actually read The Cat in the Hat.  All the children did their best to sit still for the story and enjoy it, though some had their issues with doing that.  (One of them was mine.)  And then it was over, and parents were invited to take pictures of their children with the Cat.  Since I had not bothered to bring a camera (a good choice, I believe in retrospect), we moved back out of the tent, so that the kids could finish their snow cone. 

And, once the snow cone was almost gone, both of the children were ready to head home, satisfied with their experience at the festival.  Or at least they were, until we all were reminded that we had to climb those same six flights of stairs to get back to the car.  But we did all make it up (the younger child tried to count all the steps as we climbed, and while the child lost count, I determined that we climbed 96 steps), and we made our way back out of the garage and back home, having had (all in all) a good day.

But I did learn a few things, which I hope others will learn as well:

  • Garages that are indicated as free parking for large festivals would do well to make sure the elevator is actually running on the days of the event.
  • If you are actually planning to buy a book at the Book Festival, bring cash.
  • If you are planning a children's activity at a festival, and there is a famous TV character scheduled to appear, plan ahead and give yourself about three times the space next time.
Since the Texas Book Festival is over now, these will have to be lessons for next year.  I think we'll plan to go back.

* Warning: the link to The Cat in the Hat Knows a Lot About That!, like all PBS Kids show links, has lots of audio.

** Hey, I wasn't expecting to buy a lot.  Sue me.

*** I hope.