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You can't go home again: TRF isn't like it used to be
By Gloria Diaz
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Fort Wayne Reader
I miss the Three Rivers Festivals of my extreme youth. The contests sometimes demanded the participants show a wacky sort of ingenuity. Who remembers the great NewsPaper Airplane Championships? I do. Twenty-two years ago, my brother nearly won a 1982 Pontiac Grand Prix LJ. He ended up with his name in the paper and a steak dinner promised to him by the guy whose plane he knocked in, Thomas Adkison. According to the newspaper article we saved, the contest (sponsored by both dailies) attracted 10,000 people eager to win a car, or several other less expensive prizes to be had by making paper airplanes out of newspaper and flying them into targets. My brotherís plane had sailed into the open sunroof of the car, taking Adkisonís plane with it. During the fly-off, whoever landed a plane on the car would win it. Adkison, who eventually won the car, was quoted as saying, ďI love cars -- if I had a million dollars Iíd have a stable full of them.Ē
We need more contests like that.
We also need to bring back the contest that celebrated the river, namely the Raft Race. Unfortunately, liability insurance and peopleís inability to take responsibility for their own actions killed that tradition. The first Sunday of the festival meant a giant party on the river. The more serious types would row in unison, crossing the finish line mere minutes after theyíd launched their craft. The other 99 percent took their sweet time moving down the river in less-than-seaworthy boats that sometimes were little more than floatation devices. Water fights ensued, and some raft always had some high-powered pump that would spray water to the folks on the banks. I remember the race was sponsored by some radio station, and one of the rules was to have the call letters prominently displayed. Whoever was the most creative about the call letters won a prize. The raft Iíll never forget was the one that was a replica of the pole positions at the Indianapolis 500. They constructed all 33 cars in what was undoubtedly the longest raft in the race.
The race looked like so much fun, that a friend and I entered one year. Ours was the dullest, slowest raft in the race. At one point, I got out to push it along and scraped my knee on what I assumed was a huge chunk of concrete. At least, thatís what it felt like. About mid-race, her boyfriend decided to join us. Three people on a raft barely meant for two made for nautical disaster. But damn, it was fun. It wasnít so much fun for my mother, who was reluctant about me entering in the first place, and was dealing with a horrible toothache on that muggy Sunday. Plus, we came in last, which made her wonder in what part of the river we had drowned in, until we finally showed up, about six hours after we put our crappy craft in the water.
Then, there was the Show Us Your Tan contest. I never entered that one, even though I thought Iíd be a natural with the way my skin tans. My raft race friend hinted that perhaps they werenít just judging tans in that competition, and I never had the guts to do it. That contest is gone too. I canít remember if they decided it discriminated against those who were naturally dark-skinned (I canít remember any African-Americans who entered the contest) or if they thought the scantily-clad contestants werenít appropriate for a family-friendly festival.
Thankfully some enterprising men have created several strip clubs and enough wet T-shirt contest to fill the void. And they offer drink specials too! Which makes me wonder. If the festival is hard up for money, why not introduce temporary riverboat gambling? It would get people to the river. And if they just added a floating strip club...