Monday, July 23, 2007

The Pains of Pennsic Preparation

At long last: Pennsic is almost here. I've heard that when people check in at troll, they're sometimes asked, "Have you been to Pennsic before?" When they say yes, the reply is often, "Welcome home."

For most people, that is a metaphor.

But I grew up less than ten miles from Coopers' Lake Campground. My family still lives in the area, as do any number of friends and acquaintences. Every year for as far back as I can remember, in August, the campground would be taken over by those strange people who wore costumes and armour and beat each other up with sticks. We could see the rows and rows of pavilions and the battlefield from the highway and the road. Locals didn't usually go - it's not an "open" event, like a Ren Faire. Everyone is a participant. Getting in means paying a full site and campground fee, and wearing the funny clothes.

Every year a few locals would venture over, ask around, maybe find a way to get in if they knew someone on the staff, and the word of mouth would spread. In my teens I often met people in t-tunics, cotehardies and crowns in the grocery store, the ice-cream place, local restaurants. They were very nice (even the Vikings), always answered questions politely, and were good-natured about the stares. Every year, the event got bigger. "Good for them," some said, "everyone needs a hobby." "Wierdos," said others, "What are they, hippies?" Or, "I hear it's just one big party." Or, "Great for the local economy." "I hear Coopers' makes a bundle of money from that." "Pity about the traffic, though." Actually, the locals still say those things, especially the last one (it's normally a quiet, out-of-the-way area where most locals are people who want some acreage and privacy), but for the most part, people are used to it by this point and have resigned themselves to accepting the benefits of playing host to such a large gathering of eclectic people with money to spend. Also, a lot more locals go now, especially since there are now SCA groups in the immediate area (which there weren't when I was kid, at least not big, active ones).

I moved away over 15 years ago and went to college. I got married. I moved out of the country. Yet every so often, all over North America, I would meet someone who spent their two week summer vacation at a little campground in western PA, down the road from the family homestead, where my father and brother sometimes went hunting. While I've been away, the event grew. Two thousand people. Three. Five. Ten. Twelve. Bigger than some of the neighbouring small towns, and only in existence for two weeks ever year.

A few years ago, my niece began to go. Last year, I finally went with her for a few days. It was enough to convince me that I should seek out my local SCA groups in the Toronto area, because so many of my hobbies and interests intersect. And so this year, much to my siblings' amusement, I am once again pitching a tent in, for all intents and purposes, our parents' backyard. I'm taking a full two week vacation from everything, the first one I've had in over 7 years. Daniel can't come, which is a bummer, but I'll work on him for next year. But I am going. I am going to spend at least one full day carding and spinning wool from that washed fleece, among other mindless persuits.

And... *drumroll*.... The Tent has arrived. A 10' x 15.5' by 8' medieval double-bell wedge made by Tentsmiths, who were great to deal with (just make sure and give them lots of time and be patient! They make a great product.) Dad agreed to cut my tent poles, and I couldn't ask him to deal with it without me there. And I figured I really should set up the thing at least once before taking it over to the site to live in it for two weeks. So down I went last weekend. And there is now a tent. And it is good:

It's not properly staked down here, this was just a test run for setting up and checking the poles. I left it up overnight and went out as the sun came up the next morning. It was very dry and roomy inside. I think we're going to get along fine, me and my portable home. It also needs a name. Suggestions are welcome.

Pennsic starts officially this weekend. My garb is not yet sewn. The Next Written Thing is not yet Written, about which I have no small amount of guilt that I'll have to work through before my Wednesday afternoon meeting with Lady S (less than 12 hours from now). It's the last time we'll meet until September, what with vacations and all - I'll just be impressed if I get out of there without bursting into tears (built-up stress, PMS, exhaustion... blah). I had to drive down to PA this weekend, back home on Monday, maybe finish writing in two days what I haven't been able to write in 8 months (verdict: nope!), finish preparations, pack, spend time with my husband, turn around and drive back down on Friday. I hate that drive. Most. Boring. Five Hours. Ever. And the stretch of I-90 from Erie to Buffalo? My personal hell. I love my family, and I (usually) enjoy going for a visit, but let's just say that when they invent transporters? First in line, baby. And I will never have to make a pit stop in Angola, NY again.

We drove up the road next to the campground over the weekend and Mom snapped a few shots for me: they're getting ready. It's quiet over there the Sunday before. The fences are up, the massive parking lots are staked off, and the roman numerals XXXVI (for Pennsic War 36) are mowed into long grass on the hillside overlooking the battlefield.

The Porta-Potties, er, Castles, are being moved into place, and large food court tents are being set up. The campgound is closed until Friday afternoon while they prepare for the onslaught. They have to close down for a couple weeks on either side of the event to get the campground ready.

This time next week the place will be teeming with people and pavilions, filling nearly to capacity as the momentum builds leading up to the second week, when all the big battles take place. And I will be there. But really, my brain has already been there for months now, which is very much why the Next Written Thing is not yet written. I have needed a vacation for a long, long time.

It's time to go home.

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