“That will be twenty-two dollars”, the young man said. “How much did you say?” I replied. “Twenty-two dollars”, he replied without hesitation. I opened my wallet and gave him the correct bills for the two snow cones. I don’t ever want to hear about a hamburger being expensive again, I thought to myself.
I have been a fan of the circus since I was a small child. I remember marveling at the big tents with the three rings full of activity. The sawdust on the floor and the taste of the popcorn just added to the excitement.
Ringling Brothers, Barnum and Bailey Circus eventually grew to be the largest, most well-known circus in the country. Over time the performances moved from the big top tents to indoor arenas. The band gave way to pre-recorded music and the shows became worthy of Las Vegas and Broadway.
Nevertheless, I still enjoyed taking my children and then my grandchildren to the circus whenever it was nearby. It was the second time for Mary Lou and me to take Henry and Laura and frankly I think I was more excited than they were as the big day approached last Saturday.
The preshow allowed the children to sit around the single big ring in the cavernous Civic Center in Tallahassee and watch up close the clowns and elephants.
The crowd seemed a bit sparse in the big room, though to be honest it was probably as many as could have fit in the tents of years gone by. I wondered how they made money with this number of people attending on a Friday night. I was soon to find out.
I am no stranger to the process of getting a consumer to spend more money once they are in the store, so to speak. Even our restaurants encourage you to buy fries or a drink after you purchase a burger. However, I don’t think I have ever been to any place where the effort to make you part with your money has been developed to such a fine art.
The friendly ladies greeted the children before we were even in the building, waving the large colorful programs. We gladly parted with eight dollars apiece for the two books before moving inside to gaze at the brightly colored toys designed to make grandparents part with their cash.
The popcorn and cotton candy were purchased before we even made it to our seats. The enormous size of the containers helped disguise that another twenty dollar bill had disappeared. Then came the eleven dollar snow cones.
By then I realized how this show made money. The price of admission was partly for the circus and partly for the opportunity to peddle irresistible items to small children at outrageously inflated prices.
We ended the show by agreeing to purchase each of the grandchildren a toy, which had been blatantly paraded in front of them the entire program. After standing in the toy line with other victims, I parted with another thirty two dollars, thankful that we had eaten dinner before the show ended and the money ran out.
The circus was great and I watched my grandchildren’s faces beam with delight as the performances progressed much like they have for generations. The kids weren’t disappointed and neither was I as the acts progressed over the hour and a half show.
However, I seemed to feel for the first time in my life the elephants, and trick dogs, and trapeze artists were not the greatest show on earth. That title was reserved for the marketing people who shamelessly used small children to make a profit.
Dan Ponder can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org