Field Assignment #2 -- Phoenix

           Well, I have to admit that I took a chance with this assignment.  I went to Roadrunner Park on Cactus and 36th St. for my public place, and I had planned to go from there to the Paradise Valley Mall food court for my privately owned place.  But life being what it is, plans ended up changing with my family on the day we were to go.  We were given tickets for admission to the Renaissance Festival near Apache Junction.  I thought that would be a far more intriguing place to go for my privately owned place.

 

            First of all, Roadrunner Park is nice because it has water there, which is a rarity in Phoenix.  My son and daughter love to go there and feed the ducks, so on the way we stopped and got some bread, and while I observed they threw bread crumbs into the sea of hungry ducks and geese.  Where we camped out was in a clearing between the vast expanses of bird droppings near an area interspersed with dead grass and gravel off the sidewalk.  The sidewalks at the park are cracked pretty badly; the light fixtures need a coat of paint; the parking lots are in moderate disrepair.  I say these things not because the condition of the park bothered me – to the contrary, it was a very relaxing and non-presumptuous experience.  No-one tried to sell us anything, we were spared any billboards, and we didn’t pay for anything.  My point in mentioning the disrepair is that I feel that it’s strange what the word public has become synonymous with.

 

            “Public” as an adjective now carries the moniker of broken-down, bureaucratic, ignored, and gloomy.  Public parks are where the homeless sleep; public schools are criticized constantly; public health care doesn’t truly exist, and one of the reasons why it doesn’t is the fear of bureaucracy.  But the public accepts these standards without ever thinking that maybe we should take some pride in what represents the public, although sometimes I think the term "public" in itself is a bit of a faux-pas.  At the same time, the root issues that lead to things such as the homeless sleeping in the parks and the schools falling behind are never addressed. 

 

            The Renaissance Festival, if I can get away with using this as a privately owned public space, was a total trip.  I went with my family and my in-laws, and I frequently stepped away from the crowds to people watch and observe the grounds.  I studied the entertainers that worked at the festival the most.  They reminded me of the runaways that I used to see in the parking lots at tailgating parties for Grateful Dead concerts.  They all worked for tips, which I was fine with considering the fact that I am a bartender, but it made me wonder where the $20 admission and uber-inflated food and drink prices went.  Who was stuffing their pockets?  It didn't appear to be the employees. 

 

            If I am being honest, I am probably at least partially wrong in stereotyping the workers as runaways, because I am sure that this stigma is not only unfair but also not applicable to all the employees.  And to totally clarify my point, I have less of a problem with the tipped employees than I do with the $20 admission price.  But both the admission price and the continuous tipping put together was hard to digest – it would be very easy to spend a great deal of money there.   Spending a lot of money is a tell-tale sign of a private space.

 

What I really noticed was the way the market system was represented.  I couldn’t help but to notice a strange dichotomy between what I could consider “artificial needs” and a true market system (more in line with Adam Smith’s vision).  There were products of all sorts, some useful (clothing, pottery, entertainment, etc.) and some decidedly not useful (cheap plastic toys, other puzzling souvenirs).  I could imagine that this would be the way of the market back a few hundred years ago, with the onus being on the local market to produce goods that met the needs of the local people.  The aberrations, in regards to what I thought were the “artificial needs,” of the Renaissance Festival were simply a function of the visitors to this specific market – these are not the “locals” of a village, they are tourists who change every day and therefore have totally different preferences.  It was interesting to watch. 

 

Of further interest was watching how people tipped the workers.  Some of the shows were packed, but at the end when the entertainer was making it known that “generosity” is how s/he makes a living, most people would dart out of the area before they tipped the entertainer.  Maybe this was because of the $20 admission charge.  What I began thinking about was this bizarre mix of public and private that we have been talking about in class. 

 

Public spaces, such as subway entrances and city sidewalks, are where we typically see people who are entertaining for money (playing an instrument, painting, sidewalk tricks, etc.).  But here we were in a place that was sponsored by Pepsi, Fry’s Grocery, Budweiser, and Delta.  This was not a public space.  It was a private recreation of a public space from the past.  Weird.           

by Stephen Marotta