I can’t remember if it was my idea, or his idea, but the idea to start working at the Texas Renaissance Festival definitely originated with my friend Owen. He’s also the friend I traveled to Comic-Con with on my first trip ever to San Diego. Owen and I had friends that worked there, and being still in high school, I was very interested in an event that involved camping on-site over the weekends.
1997 was the first season I worked. I was 16 years old. Owen and I had gotten a job at some counter selling “elephant ears” which were like puff pastry with honey. I remember working there for just a few weekends, barking all day long, “ELEPHAAAANT EARS, SWEETENED WITH HONEY!!”
In the mornings, the mist would roll over the grass. The fairgrounds seemed like such a magical place. I would walk to fill my stein with coffee before my shift, wandering around in a corset so tight I could barely breathe. Everything was smiles and bells and wicked hangovers in the early morning.
It was in the afternoon, and I had run somewhere on my lunch break and was heading back to work when I noticed a man sitting on a tree stump. He was dressed like a gypsy, and he was near the entrance to the Sherwood Forest area of the faire. Our eyes met, and if I had never believed in love at first sight before that moment, I did then. His gaze sucked me in, drawing me closer until I was right in front of him. There was a circle of vardos, with gypsy fortunetellers and barkers around.
I don’t even remember if we spoke then, it was so long ago. But I will never forget the first time I saw him, or how it felt when he broke my heart. I had to know who he was, so I decided in that moment to convince the main gypsy guy to hire me. I ran back to our campsite, and my friend helped me piece together a more gypsy-ish costume than the kind of peasant-girl skirt and corset I had been wearing.
I was late to my job, but instead of going there I went back to the gypsies. The main gypsy guy’s name was Lennie, and I launched into a monologue about being a gypsy as soon as I saw him. He hired me on the spot to be a barker/actor in the camp. I would get to find out who the gypsy man was!
I’m not sure how I quit my first job, or why I didn’t think about Owen and how I was leaving him behind by going to work for the gypsies. But I left, and I loved it. The gypsy man went by Loki at faire, though I later knew him by his real name.
Ren Fest is it’s own world, and the rennies that live there are varied and interesting. I used to collect Kiss Cards, which gave the option of kissing the person that handed them to you. People often had “faire rules” which meant that they were allowed to kiss (or more) people that were outside of their relationship.
That’s where things got a little sticky for me over the next few years. Loki and I had a wonderful time at the renaissance festival, but as soon as it ended, so would our relationship. This went on for three years, mostly on. He was a moody Cancer, and I handed him my heart completely and unthinkingly.
But, there was so much more going on than my poor willful heart’s journey. There’s something about waking up in the misty mornings after a night of dancing by a bonfire that is good for the soul. Everything was an excuse to party, or play music, dance, or drum. The people are so good, and kind, and welcoming.
One year, my last year, the gypsy camp had broken up and I was just working for Lennie outside his vardo. The next stall over was a puppet booth run by a very pregnant lady. I started to make it a habit to help her open up in the morning, as she had hundreds of beautiful hand-made puppets for sale and they all had to be hung and displayed. At the end of the season, she gave me a beautiful griffon puppet. It sat on my shoulder, with a cord that ran down inside my sleeve to control his head movements. It was beautiful.
It’s been years since I wandered around, turkey leg in hang, drinking mead and reveling in the novelty of, well, everything. Of course, there’s a lot of sexual harassment, too. It’s difficult to be a fairy or otherwise scantily clad character or cosplayer, because guys would straight up grab you. Not cool, Texas.
Now I live in California, and they have renaissance festivals here, too, but I’ve never been to anything that compares to TRF. The actors are brilliant, there are centaurs, and bagpipe players, and fairies playing in the mud. There are swords and gypsies and fire-eaters and belly dancers and anything mystical that you can think of. It is it’s own world, and people work hard year-round to bring it to life.
I love living vicariously through Loki, and others’, pictures on Facebook. The Sea Devil tavern brings back such good memories. I, for one, am grateful that when I worked there nobody had a cell phone camera at the ready to capture our antics. But now I don’t have a single picture of myself from that time, and that makes me a little sad.
Maybe someday I will be able to take my daughter back to Texas and take her to the world-famous Texas Renaissance Festival. I’d like to wander around greeting old friends and introducing her to that world. I still remember all the backroads through the fields and trees to get there, and all the time we spent laying in fields looking at the stars. It was a magical thing, to work in such an immersive environment and be so cared for and supported by my second family there. I was always sad when it ended and I had to spend the rest of the year pretending like the gypsy wasn’t the real me.