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Why is it so hard...

to put on a decent festival? Is it the economy? Is it greed by the organizers, by civic leaders? Is it the need to "show a profit?"

Today I took my family to Hog Days for the fourth time. We like to go for the BBQ, the carnival rides, the artsy vendors, the car show, and the booths by the civic organizations. We also like to hang out by the Project Racing Home tent and scratch the ears of Gus's old kennel-mates.

This year however, the entrance fee -- which was free the first time we went -- was $5/adult, up from $3 the last two years. The number of artistic vendors was down about 30% from the last year, and about 70% since the first year. The carnival rides were few in number, the first year there were tons. The civic org booths were pathetic, the car show, while it had a nice '65 Shelby Mustang, a '45 Ford Custom and a few other nice classic cars, also "featured" a 1997 Ford Crown Victoria with a cracked plastic panel near the hood and cheesy 19" wheels, and had about half the number of cars as last year's show. There was no motorcycle show this year, though there had been the last three. At least the BBQ was top notch; the sandwiches were much larger than last year too. I think I even know the guys who won 5th place.

Then there was the issue of parking.

When you go to an event as large as Hog Days, you expect a hassle when parking. The last three times we went to Hog Days, we enjoyed just parking on the street and walking a few blocks. It was a little crazy, but not overly so, but we never stayed much past noon because of the heat and the need to get the kids home to take naps. I imagine in the evenings it would get bad as the crowds built up towards evening. Still, for the "largest festival in Orange County" with attendance of up to 35,000 people, not that big of a deal.

This year, however, as we went to pull onto our customary parking street, a police officer waved us on, then explained that they weren't allowing street parking on that road (apparently there were a couple of accidents the previous year on that street). He said that we could park in one of the public decks (at $3.00 a car), at the old Walmart (and pay to take their shuttle), or on any other side street. So we picked a side street that fed into the rear entrance. It was actually a shorter walk than we typically have had. However, when we left the festival, we started seeing tell-tale pink slips on every car on the street. Hillsborough's finest had written a $10 ticket with the reason "obstructing the lane of traffic," to everyone who had parked alongside the street. Now, I admit that our car was sticking out onto the pavement about 12 inches, but two cars could have still passed on that narrow street, and traffic was still getting through. Of course there were no signs about warning about the arbitrary parking rules, though I doubt a town as large as Hillsborough doesn't have a few dozen barriers at their disposal to advertise them. A passing motorcycle cop explained that they had "made an announcement over the PA" for people to move their cars -- of course we never heard it -- and that they were ticketing "everyone parked on the street" when I asked if it was because I was still on the pavement about a foot. As we drove away, he had started writing more tickets on a different street. At least it was only a $10 ticket. They could have really filled their coffers if they had arbitrarily set the fine higher.

Well, that $10 parking "fee", and $5 admission makes a $4.00 BBQ sandwich an up to $19.00 BBQ sandwich, and the BBQ just isn't THAT good.

I can understand why they would not want thousands of cars parked along residential streets; crime invitations, potential property damage since almost no one in NC has proper streets, gutters, and sidewalks, neighbor complaints, traffic congestion, blocking driveways. But it's one lousy day a year. They already have all the police officers out and about to handle the potential problems. Now, Hillsborough has a potential revenue bonus in hundreds of $10 tickets, but they've lost four years of built up goodwill and lots of word of mouth advertising. I'll have to apologize to several people for having recommended that they should have gone this year, especially if they happened to make the same parking "mistake" we did. I'll also try to discourage anyone I hear talking about it from going next year.

Since attendance seemed down significantly this year over last, and it's been declining since our first year, I don't imagine that Hog Days has much time left unless serious changes are made. I certainly won't be going back again until those changes happen.

Are there other local festivals that haven't imploded on themselves? We're running out of options.


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