We're at the Scottish Gathering and Games at the Alameda County Fairgrounds in Pleasanton. Ben and Roni study a map of the place to figure out where we want to go in this huge event. Photo by Glenn.
Hear that bagpipe music? A marching band makes its tour of the fairgrounds playing traditional Scottish tunes. Photo by Roni.
Ben seeks refuge from the heat and the bagpipes under an archway. Ben has decided he doesn't much care for bagpipes. Photo by Roni.
He may not like bagpipes, but he loves leaves. Signs that fall is just around the corner cover the courtyard of the fair's garden building. Photo by Glenn.
The Scottish Gathering was largely about Scottish culture and selling stuff. We had fun trying on silly hats at one of the merchant booths. Here's Ben as the Crocodile Hunter, or something. Photo by Glenn.
The falconry exhibit drew a large crowd, even with the heat. How hot was it? This hawk is enjoying a cool mist as it waits its turn on stage. The rubber duckie ub pool at left was not part of the show. Photo by Roni.
A golden eagle was the highlight of the falconry show. Its handler says it costs a few grand a year to keep a bird like this one fed. Photo by Roni.
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Doin' the late-summer sizzle
September 13, 2004
It isn't feeling like fall yet. Oh sure, football season has started up, and that means Monday night meals for the next several weeks will be consumed to the voices of John Madden and Al Michaels, the grunts of 22 guys in body pads, and the cheers of 50,000 screaming NFL fans. But the weather has been anything but fall-like. The past couple of weeks have been the hottest of the year so far, and for the first time in several months we had to run the air conditioner most of the day. It's one of the disadvantages to living in a house with few windows, and in an area where there isn't much of a breeze during the day.
All the heat coupled with a complete lack of motivation on our part has led to a summer spent mostly indoors. Our few forays into the outside world have been for necessities such as groceries and trips to work or school. However, we did indulge ourselves over Labor Day weekend with a visit to the Scottish Gathering and Games at the Alameda County Fairgrounds in Pleasanton.
Glenn was lucky enough to get free admission tickets through work, which gave us an extra $40 to spend on the allegedly authentic European cuisine that was in plentiful supply at the festival. Our first stop was at a booth selling haggis and sausage rolls, among other dishes. If you've never tried haggis, it's sort of a cross between chili and Cream-of-Wheat. It's bland and mushy, sort of like meat and sort of not. It was worth tasting, but we don't envy the Scots.
The festival wasn't at all what we expected. We thought there would be music and carnival games and food galore. There was all that, but there were also several thousand people and no shade or places to sit on a blistering hot day. Ben wanted to check out the kids' area, where the lines were humongous and the prizes forgettable. He cooled off under the spray of the mist tent. Inside the exhibit halls were dozens of booths selling mostly swords and shields, bagpipes, and authentic Scottish attire. We tried to convince Ben that he would look good in a kilt, but he was more interested in a wooden sword and shield set that he said would protect him from his cat, Eevee. Seems Eevee has been bit aggressive lately, as we can attest from the scars on our arms and legs inflicted by savage fangs.
The highlight of the afternoon was the falconry exhibit, where several birds of prey were on display for an overheated audience. No bald eagles, but Roni did get a closeup peek at a golden eagle, which is the next best thing. There were roving bagpipers, which did not appeal to Ben, whose musical taste ranges somewhere between Looney Tunes and Gameboy jingles. We checked out the Scottish games area on the horse track, but it was difficult to see the action from the ground level, and we didn't want to pay extra to park ourselves in better seats in the grandstands. But we didn't feel we were missing much -- how long can you watch grown men in kilts launch telephone poles through the air? Because of the heat, we were all pretty wilted after three hours and made our escape before the Labor Day crowds hit the freeways for home. Probably not a show we'd go back to soon, but an interesting experience for us first-timers. And despite our "free" admission, we still managed to drop close to 60 bucks without really trying.
As we write this, it is two days after the third anniversary of the terrorist attacks on New York, on our nation's capital, and in the skies over Pennsylvania. Every day it seems that America forgets a little more. We are too consumed with baseball penant chases, the Scott Peterson trial, the charges and counter-charges of a heated presidential election. We are embroiled in the details of our own lives -- getting kids to school and soccer practice, juggling work with lunch dates and shopping at the mall. Iraq is an ugly place in a distant corner of the globe that we'd like simply to go away but won't.
Lest you think that this is going to degenerate into another essay on patriotism and the need to support our troops and our president in a time of war, you can relax. We all know where we stand politically, and we hold no illusions that anything we could say on the subject hasn't already been said ad nauseum or would make a lick of difference in persuading you to change your point of view. It is merely an observation that our preoccupation with daily life has dulled our attention spans for even the most earth-shattering event of our times. We want to wave our flags and burn our candles and hold our moments of silence and then not be bothered until the next disaster.
Around here, "9/11" has been replaced by "Patriot Day," a feel-good sort of euphemism that eases our collective guilt and sounds more like a cause for parades, barbecues and fireworks than for mourning. Because this was the first time the anniversary date fell on a Saturday, a few cities, including our own, held concerts to mark the occasion. To be sure, there were also moments of prayer and salutes to sodiers and fallen heroes. But the tone is different now. People are tired of remembering; they want mostly to forget. If forgetting can be made fun for the whole family, then maybe we'll forget a little faster, a little easier. After all, fun's what life is really about. Or did we forget that too?
"So," you might reasonably ask, "how did you Gehlkes acknowledge Patriot Day, or 9/11, or whatever you choose to call it nowadays?" For starters, we turned on the TV Saturday and flipped through the channels in search of a "moment." Not more pictures of makeshift shrines or replays of planes smashing into buildings. Not more rhetoric about the War on Terrorism. No politicians, or firefighters, or teary-eyed families of victims buried under mountains of rubble. No file footage of Osama bin Laden with his grenade launcher strapped to his shoulder in the mountains of Afghanistan... We wanted affirmation that our country is moving forward. That we have taken something from this tragedy and channeled it into becoming a stronger, better place for our kids -- for our son, Ben -- to grow up in. With all the political division now, it seems people have forgotten that's what it comes down to. See, it's not about what we do on one day out of 365, it's about how we handle the other 364. We can choose to ignore 9/11 like it never happened, or we can use its lessons to inspire us every day to do better for the future.
And that's how we treated Saturday. It was a day of personal reflection more than for public commemoration. We didn't attend any Patriot Day events. We worked. We talked about it as a family. But we didn't forget. The reminders are everywhere we turn. We don't know if we found the sign we sought from the TV coverage. Maybe it's not like a lightning bolt that will strike us one day and make us see how far we've come from that dreadful morning in September. Perhaps we will never arrive at that better place. But we can't stop trying. We won't stop trying. And our children won't stop, or their children. The stakes have never been higher and they affect us all, like it or not. We can meet the challenge or choose to forget. But there is no going back. Ever.
Just our thoughts on what this year seemed a very quiet observance of the day when 19 men with hijacked planes transported 300 million people from one America to another.
Glenn, Roni and Ben