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The 1982 World’s Fair

Recently I have been seeing a lot of news about the splendor and spectacle that is the 2010 World’s Fair in Shanghai, China. This event is expected to attract between 70 and 100 million visitors, as countries, businesses, and entrepreneurs from around the world seek to gain access to the rapidly growing Chinese markets.

Well economics aside, all this World’s Fair talk takes me back to a sweltering day in the summer of 1982 when my parents loaded up the Ford Fairmont wagon and headed off to Knoxville, Tennessee for The World’s Fair.  Here are some of my fond memories of that excursion.

  • Being the youngest of 3, I was lucky enough to ride in the back of the station wagon by myself with the luggage and the endlessly squeaking Styrofoam cooler.
  • We actually made the trip to Knoxville from the mountains of Western North Carolina, where we were staying with family.  While this was a shorter drive than going there from Springfield, Ohio, it was also a considerably more adventurous ride.  My dad, who grew up driving in the mountains, was more than comfortable pulling a few g’s racing around curvy, narrow, gravel, mountain roads at high speeds.  Meanwhile, the rest of the “Draggin Wagon” passengers were passing around a bed pan so that we could vomit without having to stop the car and jeopardize our chances of “making good time.”  This made the way back, devoid of windows that opened,  smell wonderful.  Nothing like being packed in with luggage, staring off into the abyss of a mountain valley, wondering if this would be the last time you ever got to hold a plastic pan of vomit.
  • We played slug-bug, which is much more fun if you are the older, taller, stronger, more well seated siblings who can actually see outside of the car.
  • The Fair was very hot.  My older brother and sister left to go ride rides, have fun, probably meet famous people like Kenny Rogers and do awesome stuff (at least that is what this 9 year old imagined).  Mom, dad, and I walked toward a building that contained an exhibit for Mexico.  We stood in a very long line.  We went into the building, which was very dark inside.  We read about Mexico on poorly designed displays.  We went back outside.  It was hot.  We found another county.  We stood in a very long line… you get the idea.
  • I was such a pain in the ass that my mom and dad made me sit on the lawn outside of the amphitheater where they were watching some sort of country jamboree play.  I was not really down with this form of entertainment, and apparently must have just bothered them for so long that I got a World’s Fair time out.  I don’t fully remember the details of that part, but I know that I was told to go sit in the spot on the lawn where they could see me and not to move until they got done watching the show.
  • There was a big gold disco ball on an iron tower.   It was called the Sun Sphere.  Apparently it was symbolic of our solar energy future.  How fitting.  You could even eat dinner inside of it.  However, we… did not choose to go up into it, because the line for the cool disco ball restaurant that I really wanted to see was too long.  Instead I think we went to see the Canada exhibit, where we stood in line.
  • I scored an awesome trucker hat, which our cat later peed on.  It got thrown away. (the hat, not the cat)

My parents picked up a 1982 World’s Fair coffee mug which is now my all time favorite mug to drink my morning coffee from.  It is pictured here in the post.  I applaud my parents for having the bravery to drag the family to the 1982 World’s Fair.  I am sure that between tickets, parking, food, and other expenses it was not a cheap day.  I am also sure that they were doing their best to provide us with cultural exposure and give us a fun family day to remember for the rest of our lives.  In spite of the fact that the day was not ideal for this 9 year old, looking back I am glad that they regularly did this kind of stuff.  Sorry it took me decades of time and actually becoming a parent to understand.

Now, as my kids complain about breakfast, or getting dressed, or not wanting to do something, I can take a sip of coffee from my 1982 World’s Fair mug and have a laugh at myself before completely losing it.  As a parent, it is about trying to make it work – trying to build memories.  If that day had been perfect, chances are I would not remember it at all.  It is the looking back on the perfect day gone awry that makes us chuckle.

To Knoxville, I thank you for your hospitality.  To Shanghai, I wish all of the 100 million visitors who attend your World’s Fair enjoy it as much, and not a bit more, than I enjoyed my World’s Fair experience.