So in the end, one has to ask oneself "Was it worth it? Will I do it again?"
I go through this every year about Pennsic. It’s a LOT of work for a vacation. Could it be made less work? Sure. I don’t need to bring the level of infrastructure that I do – after all, I didn’t use to. But I’m older and creakier than I was back then, and not only would a week of sleeping on the ground be uncomfortable and no fun, it would probably cripple me. So while there are bits of the kit that can be refined to be less work, on the whole, it’s staying. Besides, a lot of what I’ve been enjoying the last however-many years is trying to present a more authentic camp. A nylon tent and clothes in my dad’s old sea bag isn’t my game any longer.
I guess what really needs to happen is a good ole profit/loss analysis. What do I get out of this?
*Immersion in a hobby that I still love, for multiple days. It’s not like it used to be – the continual vehicular traffic, the McDonald’s sign, the stadium lights in the parking lot – those things suck, and are here to stay. But it’s still a week where I don’t have to go home at the end of the day.
*An opportunity to see my friends. Sure, I see folks like Vynehorn at home all the time. But for all the jokes about driving five hundred miles to see someone who lives two towns over, it’s somehow different at Pennsic. Don’t ask me how – I can’t tell you. It just is. It’s also the one time a year that we see people we know from Ohio, or Florida, or Canada.
*Shopping. I know it sounds trivial, but let’s face it – Pennsic is the only place to buy some of the odd bits, or the authentic pieces. Sure, I could email thatpotteryguy and say "I want a 14th century English cistern," and we could complete the transaction through the mail, but then I wouldn’t have an opportunity to learn about it, and ask what he would recommend from his stock for my daughter’s first cup. I go to Pennsic with a very specific shopping list every year. Yeah, I can get some of that at Birka now that some of the trash merchants are phasing out and some good ones are coming in, but there isn’t the same variety – or quality. Believe me, I could drop *thousands* at Pennsic if I had it to spare. (Mostly on books. But I can stop any time I want to…)
*Classes. Oh my God, the classes. Every year I regret SO many things.
*The drop dead cool class that was offered the day before we got there;
*The inability to be in multiple places at one time because all three of those classes are so cool and they’re all at 2:00!!!!
*My ongoing inability to get to the limited classes early enough to get a seat. I made a couple last year, but apparently you really need to be there at least an hour in advance. Which brings us to the dilemma of;
*Do I walk out of this class that’s really interesting to get a spot in the one that I want that’s coming up next, or do I stay and know that I’m going to miss the next one.
I love the classes – I’ve learned so many cool and useful new things. I think these days I would put the classes at the top of my list of reasons to go to Pennsic.
*Really good ice cream. Okay, I wouldn’t drive to Slippery Rock, PA for it. But it’s really cool that it’s there.
What are the downsides?
*It’s work. A lot of work. A HUGE amount of work. I usually show up at Pennsic on the ragged edge of exhaustion, and usually on the verge of coming down with something because of it. I don’t sleep well while I’m there, and the heat kills me. Then there’s a week on the back end of cleaning things and putting them away. Altogether, I’d say that Pennsic involves a good two months of hard labor for me.
*There’s the sewing – that usually ramps up in April or May. Some years back I redid our kit completely in the name of "doing it right." Most of those clothes were experiments, and I never did get us up to having enough of everything for Pennsic without having to do laundry/rewear items. Now, I have discovered that a linen shirt/chemise hung out in the sun on the tent lines for a day gets *remarkably* freshened. Amazing stuff, linen. But still – I’ve got to keep working. I need more chemises out of linen. Right now I have two, and several linen/cotton that aren’t quite right. Bob needs to have his shirts remade in linen to a pattern more appropriate for 14th century. We could each use another cote or two, although that’s less critical. I need stockings. He needs hose – if we’re ever there for a wet year, he’s going to be in trouble if I don’t get a bunch more hose sewn. His braes really need to be redone, and we both need shoes. Oh – and Charlotte is going to be outgrowing her clothes faster than I can make them. Every year I work on whatever is most critical, I honestly do need to be more organized about it. Did I mention that I don’t particularly like to sew? I don’t.
*There are infrastructure projects. A new cooler cover has been on the "to do" list for several years now, and I just haven’t gotten to it. At this juncture I think I’ve decided to switch to a slightly smaller cooler for Pennsic, and I’ll leave it in storage out there. This year’s project was retrofitting the wagon, and that got done *days* before we left. I’ve got to decide if I want to keep working on it, or if I want to try to build something authentic. Right now with a whole year to go it’s easy to say "build the new one," but you know what they say about the road to hell… There is also the clothes press I’ve been talking about for a couple of years.
*Packing. Don’t discount this, although it’s better now than it ever has been. Once I got the Pennsic gear stowed on shelves in the basement, everything became easier. Combine that with the capacity to access the tubs with the canvas and enough floor space to make a "Pennsic pile," and it was much better. But it’s still an awful lot of work. And while I tend to load as much of the car ahead of time as possible (and then just drive around with it,) the last minute stuff is always a killer. Also, the vehicle swap has to be worked out, which usually involves losing an evening to a trip to Brookfield (although this year my parents brought the Jeep to me – I bribed them with the granddaughter.) Loading is often a week-long process to keep it from eating an entire evening.
*Housekeeping at Pennsic. Just because I live in a tent doesn’t mean that I want to live in a barn, and neatness is really important when you’re living in a small space. Sixteen by sixteen is the height of luxury for living in a tent, but the first day it rains and you’re trapped inside you realize how small it is. And it’s smaller if you’re messy. Somehow tent maintenance always seems to become my problem. I don’t want to be picking up other people’s laundry – I want to be taking classes!
Analysis of this year – I got to see some friends, I did a little shopping with difficulty, and I ate a lot of ice cream. I didn’t get to any classes at all, and I didn’t really get to see Pennsic. I did however get to do all of the sewing, packing, loading, set up, housekeeping, child care, break down, and loading. I did my half of the driving.
On Saturday, I was convinced that this year was my last Pennsic. I’ve been finding the work back-breaking before we were bringing an infant, and dealing with it put me right over the edge. But the thing about Pennsic is that you don’t remember the pain, and before you’ve even cleared Currie Road you’re already talking about "next year."
I guess the answer for Pennsic XXXIX is "I don’t know, but I want to." I’ll need to see a more equitable distribution of the child care responsibilities. I think that one of the biggest issues that we have is that our tolerance levels are so different. I am determined that I Will Not Be "That Family." The ones that people cringe when they show up. The ones who are landmarks – "we’re in the camp with the screaming/fussy/bratty baby – stop at the end of the block and follow the wailing." Yes, sometimes you can’t do anything. But sometimes a little effort will go a long way – and even if it doesn’t, people remember that you tried. Bob’s threshold for noticing fuss is a lot higher than mine. When the baby cries at 5:00am, I’ll catapult out of bed to see what I can do to prevent her from waking the whole camp. He might not notice until she’s in fully cry, and then he’ll wait five to ten minutes to see if she’ll stop by herself. At that point, in my opinion, the damage has been done. Apologies don’t help. People don’t remember that you’re perpetually "sorry," they remember that they were woken up every morning at 5:00am.
That part of things might be easier next year when she can communicate a bit more. Of course, there will be the whole mobility thing to offset that gain.
I expect that the final decision will be made based on a conversation and a Pennsic post-mortem that haven’t happened yet. So until next time…