- The Washington Times - Wednesday, June 7, 2000

One assumes that with interactive amusement parks and museums, Herndon Festival 2000's rickety metal rides and costly cotton candy might elude a modern child's interest.
Not likely. Much to the delight of some and chagrin of others the 20th annual festival brought out the customers in droves to this suburban Virginia town, some 30 miles outside of Washington. Now dotted with dot.coms all over its landscape, Herndon's suburban sprawl was keenly felt in crowds that packed this festival over the weekend.
"It's definitely gotten bigger," says Diane Weber of Sterling, Va., who used to live in Herndon. "It's just people from everywhere. It's not as local anymore."
Actually, according to Art Anselene, director of Herndon Parks and Recreation, the four-day crowd between 85,000 and 90,000 was the same as last year.
"We heard from some arts and crafts vendors that it was down, so I guess it's all personal perception," he says.
Yet the overnight conversion of downtown's historic district into a crowded festival created an excitement that Kings Dominions and Busch Gardens can't copy. Tickets were 50 cents apiece, with rides and games usually costing two to three tickets, making the rides more reasonable than the one-time, all-day astronomical Disneyland-type price. (Long lines, however, were painfully similar.)
The well-scrubbed, college-age workers at your average amusement park seem less interesting than the middle-aged Jolly Shows midway operator. And, of course, it is impossible to predict what lies along the row of stands in the arts and crafts bazaar, beckoning the most eclectic tastes with items such as Doug Wright's aluminum drink-can airplanes.
The burly Mr. Wright sat in a chair, his right arm swinging lazily in a rope hanging from the top of his protective umbrella, while his wife, Dianne, talked with the customers. They have been selling the planes for 10 years, up and down the eastern seaboard.
They live in Washington, N.C. ("The first Washington," he says.) This year's Herndon Festival, their fourth, has not been so good for them.
"We're really thinking about retiring," Mr. Wright says, having already retired once from the pharmaceutical business. "We've been selling them for $20 a plane, but then we decided to take 'em down to $15." What's left they'll take down to the Outer Banks and sell to craft stores.
"A couple of other can makers … started copying me a few years ago," he says, "so there's saturation. They make them with less cans, and they have glue in theirs."
Mr. Wright, 53, uses 11 cans ("We throw the other can away," he insists with a jolly grin).
"They don't cut you anywhere on the airplane," he says, pointing a plump finger at one of the plane's smooth edges. "It's all bending of the metal, no welding.
"And we guarantee 200,000 miles on the propeller. We've had a lot of laughs in a lot of states with this."
He started the enterprise when he discovered his 12-year-old son sitting around the house, watching TV, just pitching soda cans on the floor.
"I wanted him to get out and cut the grass," Mr. Wright says. "All these drink cans, nobody cleaned them up. I dared him, I said: 'Right here, look at all these cans. You can make some of these cans and make a living if you wanted to.' And [then] he dared me, and I [made a plane] and somebody wanted to buy it … and there it is.
"We've gone through three full-size vans and put 150,000 miles on all three. We've covered some area."
p]While entertainment such as the Fabulous Hub Caps performed on the center stage, the real entertainment worked in the stalls.
Craig Smalls of Gaithersburg made the most of operating the incredibly tame Fire Engine ride, waving the mostly children onto the ride with an exuberant "go, go, go," and yelling "woo woo" as the red car went slowly around. He pressed a shrill fire whistle repeatedly or pushed the stop button ahead of time.
"It has an automatic timer, but I don't use it. I just wait until the mood is right or they've had enough," he says. "I don't like going to the [last] second. That makes it too mechanical."
This is his first year, and Mr. Smalls obviously loves his work.
"Yeah, I do," he says with a smile. "I think it's my calling."
Meanwhile, standing along the row of carnival games was Jeff Reynolds ("It's almost accurate," pointing to his name tag. "In this line of work, people tend not to use their names.") He operated the Water Gun Fun Stand.
"Yeahhhh, we're gonna have some fun," Mr. Reynolds says slowly, almost wearily, "All ya' gotta do is squirt a little water, guaranteed winner every race." Looking down at his pants, he adds dryly, "You know what it's like at my age to look like you need a change of diapers?"
Rail thin with a bushy mustache, he jabbered easily with the customers, a cigarette dangling from his mouth.
"We're playing for that large prize," he says, pointing to a row of stuffed toys on a shelf. Some wiseacre pointed to some bigger dolls up top. "No, that's jumbo or super-deluxe, whatever. That's my ex-wife."
Each contestant pointed a gray water gun at an orange spot. The water would hydraulically send a stuffed red dog scurrying up a pole; whoever's dog reached the top won.
"Ready … aim," he says in a flat tone, pushing a button that set off a loud bell, "Ooo-ga. We're off to the races. Who's it gonna be?"
Elvis Presley's "Hound Dog" plays just to keep it interesting.
"Number 9, you did it, whaddya want?" Mr. Reynolds says to a little girl standing on a red milk crate, Georgia resident Tatum Hodge, 7. She was in town visiting her father, Doug, a Sterling resident.
"You want the horse?" asks Mr. Reynolds. "The bug? Ya wanna see something funnier?" He whips out from back of the shelf an indescribable, bee-looking stuffed thing. "I swear to God this looks like Bela Lugosi," he says, muttering to no one in particular. "That's how old I am; I remember him."
"Enjoy the carnival or whatever this is. This is the last day. The only thing we're going to have here tomorrow is dirt."

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