C.W. Gusewelle

All roads lead to the Orange Barrel Festival

Orange barrels will always be with us.
Orange barrels will always be with us. kmyers@kcstar.com

C.W. Gusewelle is away this week. His regular column will return. In the meantime, here is one of his favorites, first published in the fall of 1994.

Both daughters were home this year for the Orange Barrel Festival, and I was pleased they could make it.

“I think you caught the color at its peak,” I told them.

Some people travel hundreds of miles for the Fall Leaf Festival in Vermont, or the Covered Bridge Festival in Indiana, or the Azalea Festival in Wilmington, N.C.

People in our town are lucky. We don’t have to go anywhere because the spectacle is right here at home.

“Now you see what you’ve been missing,” I said.

They agreed it was pretty amazing.

“The whole city is a riot of orange,” one of them said. “I didn’t know there were this many orange barrels in the whole world.”

“That’s what makes it special. Lots of towns have a few of them, but that’s hardly worth seeing. You need to get them massed by the thousands to get the real effect.”

“Is there a tour?”

“Many,” I said. “They’re self-guided. All you have to do is start south on Main Street. When you come to the first detour sign, that’s where one tour begins. Or you can try to get on the interstate at 103rd Street. That’s another tour.

“Actually,” I told them, “it doesn’t much matter which direction you go. You’re sure to find one. You’ll see cars backed up for several blocks, all going about 3 miles an hour. Four lanes of traffic will squeeze down to one. The color orange will predominate. And you’ll know you’ve joined a tour.”

“It must take a lot of planning.”

“Yes, that’s the impressive part. If you just had orange barrels on one street, people would get used to them and take another route, and all you’d have is a minor nuisance. The trick is to anticipate. If you have barrels on all the streets at once, then you have a festival.”

“How long does the festival go on?” they wanted to know.

“It’s pretty much a continuous affair,” I said. “Unless the money runs out.”

“You mean there’ll be orange barrels on all the streets forever?”

“For the rest of our natural lives.”

“It must cost a lot.”

“Not so much, when you think of the tourism dollars it attracts. People come through on their way to New Orleans or California and wind up spending a week or two here because they get caught in a tour and can’t find their way out of town.

“They sleep in hotels. They eat in restaurants. It pumps millions into the local economy. Also, there’s the gambling.”

“The what?”

“You know, the floating casinos down on the river. Eventually gambling will finance everything — schools, the Orange Barrel Festival, domed stadiums, politicians’ junkets, universal health care, lethal injections.”

“That’s wonderful,” they said. “But we probably won’t be here to see it.”

“What do you mean?”

“We’ll probably be living somewhere else by then.”

“Nonsense,” I told them. “All the highways are blocked. There’s no way out. That’s the whole point of the Orange Barrel Festival.”