Every year tens of thousands of folks pack the streets of Mount Airy for the Autumn Leaves Festival.
It’s an important event, as it creates revenue for local businesses. Local hotels fill with people from out of town. Restaurants serve meals, and businesses such as gas stations profit on the event. Local charities make money off of parking and food sales.
It also gives locals something to do — something different. However, there’s also a dark side to the festival.
While there are some males who do enjoy such events, I believe Autumn Leaves probably appeals a little more to females. Perhaps a gun show on Main Street might have what it takes to get me excited, but crafts just don’t do it for a lot of guys.
On Saturday I was dragged to the crowded streets. I put $100 in my wallet before hitting the festival.
I then became like so many other poor souls who walk the streets of Autumn Leaves without a purpose, there against my will. It was much the same as last year.
I walked for what seemed like miles, jostling in between folks while constantly trying to keep tabs on all members of my party. It was, at times, reminiscent of my days in the Army. The 3-year-old sitting on my shoulders took the place of my rucksack, and we walked, and walked and walked.
I remember walking miles with 50 to 100 pounds on my back. We would hope for a short halt — a time when we could take a knee. If we were lucky, every few miles we might take a longer break — an opportunity to take our rucks off and take turns sitting around and pulling security.
You lived for that break. Another mile and maybe I’ll get a break, I would think. Sometimes they came frequently, but most of the time there were never enough breaks.
The emotions felt by the poor unwilling father and husband on Autumn Leaves weekend are much the same. The miles of walking, looking at overpriced trinkets and useless crafts, can be grueling for an individual like myself. One can’t let his guard down either, or else he risks being run over by a woman rushing to get the last vanilla-scented candle.
For guys like me, the struggle is real at Autumn Leaves. Of course, we must keep a smile on our faces. If not, we could face that dubious statement, “If you don’t want to be here, then just leave leave.”
That line is a recipe for disaster, as there is no good answer. She already knows you’re miserable and you’d much rather be cheering on your favorite college ball team. Nothing can be said to falsely assure her you have never been happier, and you dare not take the bait and actually leave.
As I trudged through crowds this past weekend listening to “This is cute” or “Wouldn’t that look nice?” I looked for that break.
The $100 began quickly flying from my pocket. Ten dollars for a train ride. Seven dollars for a BBQ sandwich. Eight dollars for a bar of goat milk deodorant. The list goes on.
But just as I thought the booths would never end, I saw it. I spotted the oasis for every poor soul like me. The silver lining in an otherwise dreary day filled with looking at trinkets of no use to me was coming up.
The beer garden — and everything it offered to the down-trodden hearts aimlessly walking the streets of Mount Airy — was gone. It had been replaced with a “command post” for local EMS and police officials. What could they possibly be commanding? Trips to the BBQ stand? Coffee runs?
I wanted to be commanding a Miller Lite and watching football.
I guess that’s it for the beer garden, the one truly enjoyable aspect of the whole festival. It was the only thing, other than the BBQ sandwiches, that commanded my attention. And who wants to eat a BBQ sandwich without a proper drink to wash it down?
I guess it’s gone forever. It was my reason to keep walking — to survive — and now it’s gone.
One local bar owner at the Loaded Goat told me, “I’ve got a seat for you. It can be your beer garden. Just come here.”
It’s not the same though. One must understand when I was at the beer garden, I was at the festival with my family. If I’m at the bar, then I’m at the bar while my family is at the festival. That is probably a ticket to the couch, doghouse or whatever one’s chosen alternate sleeping destination is for at least a week.
The beer garden once brought great joy to many an unwilling soul (or sole) ordered to attend the festival. I do hope it returns in subsequent years.
Andy is a staff writer and may be reached at 415-4698.