Friday, August 30, 2013

Serious Fun at Duffield Daze

In efforts to encourage the right sort of tourism, the towns in the western tip of Virginia are investing increasing amounts of ingenuity in Town Festivals.

Our U.S. readers--who aren't even a solid majority this week, according to the computer, but I trust that means that a lot of you are enjoying vacations from the Internet--seem awfully concerned about politics. About 75% of the e-mail we get consists of political alerts, petitions, and an occasional outburst of "Throw'em all out" from someone who's just too disgruntled to come up with a positive plan of his own. All this passionate political intensity is valuable during actual campaigns, but I have to wonder whether some correspondents ever rest. Constant agitating may be harmful to your health. Some correspondents sound downright hypertensive.

So for these correspondents, may I remind you that politics has its lighter side. Community activity does not always involve marching or demonstrating or writing fervent letters. It also involves doing some sort of useful work, however profitable it may or may not be, that keeps you and any children you may have off welfare. And it also involves using your influence on the community, however large or small that may be, by supporting your neighbors when you agree that what they are doing is good and public-spirited. It does, seriously, involve shopping at local businesses when you're ready to buy something. And it does involve enjoying Town Festivals. Wave and smile at acquaintances, buy T-shirts, cheer at parades...these things are part of the civic duties of citizens as well as politicians.

Gate City has had a major annual Town Festival since at least the 1970s, although the official name, the timing, and the focus of celebration are in a process of transition. (My parents used to support the Tobacco Festival, halfheartedly; I wouldn't mind supporting a celebration of football games and tailgate parties, which is what we're trying to shift toward, but I can't imagine celebrating anything that involves beer.) Kingsport's Fun Fest started in the 1980s. Duffield Daze started one year later; Nickelsville's festival is a new thing.

This year, Nickelsville's festival fell on a weekend when I wasn't feeling festive, and Kingsport's Fun Fest caught so much rain that it was hard to imagine anybody feeling it's pleasant to report clear signals for Duffield Daze.

Duffield, Virginia, was originally a rural neighborhood a little too far away to be part of Clinchport. In the late twentieth century Duffield built up an "Industrial Park" with a few factories and office buildings. After the 1977 flood, Clinchport shrank down to a riverfront park lined with a few houses and bait shops, and the post office moved to Duffield, but most of the people who get mail through the Duffield post office don't live in the town itself. Although the "Industrial Park" is still growing and still offers day jobs to a few hundred people who do and don't live in Duffield, the town claims only 91 full-time residents. This population count increases by over 1000% during Duffield Daze, when students' groups, veterans' groups, social clubs, and relatives of members of these, along with people who work in Duffield and people who used to live or work there, converge on the town.

There is plenty of room for all these visitors. Duffield has always had a lot of green space. During Duffield Daze a few acres of green space are covered with amusement park rides, open-air vendors, and street dances, but this leaves plenty of space for people to stroll around. People need to stroll around, to shift between listening to well-amplified outdoor concerts and conversing with old acquaintances.

Duffield used to have quite a nice indoor flea market, where I used to work. An effort to liven up the market by piping in commercial radio may have made the market more entertaining for a few retirees who weren't concerned about paying their rent so much as just hanging out together, but it demonstrably reduced the number of actual shoppers, so those of us who needed to pay our rent from actual sales found it necessary to move on. A few years later, when the retirees really retired, the building closed. Oh, was fun, and it's fun to go back and reminisce during Duffield Daze. There is still some chance that some of those retirees will be able to come out for the occasion.

So this year I will definitely be at Duffield Daze; the question is, at which events, with which sponsors of this web site. I mention this partly because Duffield is such a small town...yes, my Significant Other has been a sponsor, and may be one of the sponsors with whom I'll be seen this weekend, but this web site is not just a personal blog and my attendance of events won't be just personal dates. I may go to some things with other men (yes, they're relatives); I may go to some things with women. Either way, business and politics will be involved, even though the primary purpose of Duffield Daze is good clean wholesome fun.

T-shirts? Meh...this year's official Duffield Daze T-shirt is not my color, but if somebody buys me one I'll wear it. That is, after all, sort of the point. Kenny Fannon wouldn't like for me to describe supporting "his" festival as charity--that would be the Salvation Army, for which he's raised funds too--but it is about boosting the community's local economy. There's not a lot of room for chicanery in really small Town Festivals. You know which legitimate businesses are involved; you buy souvenirs in aid of the ones you respect.

"Businesses in a town with 91 permanent residents? That would be the convenience store, the bank, and...?" No, that's the funny thing about Duffield. What's based in the Industrial Park has changed from year to year but some nationally marketed products are made in Duffield, alongside the more local industries like the lumberyard (and a selection of convenience stores and fast-food outlets, 'cos all those laborers go out for lunch). Carhartt coveralls aren't, any more. Computers aren't, yet, although that's been planned and discussed for years. Tempur-Pedic mattresses are made in Duffield.