For those not from the Florence area, the Rhododendron Festival is the one really big festival that Florence hosts. It has occurred nearly every year since 1908. The only times it was cancelled were during World Wars I and II and during Covid. This year was the 115th and brought in thousands of visitors. We usually double our population, which is just under 10,000 for the town and a couple more thousand including the surrounding area. A few decades ago, bikers started coming and taking over Bay Street, the heart of Old Town, and they’ve been a part of Rhody Days ever since.
A Carnival is set up on Thursday with art, car, and rhododendron shows Friday through Sunday. There’s a Rhody Run, Rhody Mosey, and a children’s parade on Saturday and a much larger parade on Sunday. Florence’s Grand Floral Parade is the second largest in the state after the much larger Rose Parade in Portland. In the Grand Floral Parade, most floats are decorated with the wild and hybrid rhodies that are at their peak in May.
The following is a report to the Backstreet Gallery membership after I was on duty as a clerk last Saturday during Rhody Days. It is expanded in a few places for the benefit of folks not from the area:
First of all, I survived Rhody Saturday and so did the Gallery, in spite of the fact that the noisiest place in Old Town was right out front on our little stretch of Bay Street. It seemed like nearly everyone had a motorcycle, and they tried to outdo each other in how noisy they could rev up their engines again and again. At times, you could not hear yourself think, let alone speak. But I kept the door open because a steady stream of people kept coming in. I didn’t sit during my entire shift.
I did say more than once, “I wish I had a sign that says, ‘Get a muffler!'” And people would laugh and make their own comment. That way, I acknowledged the noise and how I had no control over it. But one gal retorted, “At least you can hear us coming. It’s a safety feature.” I muffled my snort of disbelief and had a good laugh after she left. (I found out later that in California, where lane splitting by motorcycles is allowed, the new quiet bikes make their riders even more at risk because they can’t be heard. So, she was correct. I know motorcycles are noisy, my late husband had three. However, my concern was the extreme loudness of the noise here where bikers were not the only folks around.)
In spite of all the noise from the bikers, sales were good. One man, who looked positively Gothic ethereal and spoke in almost a whisper, was very impressed with our art and artists, especially Mark Anderson’s black-and-white photography and Pattie Brooks Anderson’s pen-and-watercolor paintings. Those two just happen to be the current Featured Artists and their art was also in the display windows. He bought $480 worth of art, including Mark’s framed “Thor’s Well,” in one window and Pattie’s large print that was in the other window. And he bought a bunch of other stuff. In spite of being a bit spooky, he turned out to be my favorite customer of the day.
Along with the bikes, we also had some noisy cars, as well as some beautiful ones, here for the car show. Backstreet Gallery now has a BSG category and under it, is a new item called “parking gratuity.” A car with one of those engines that emerges through the hood––like a car that endured a partial explosion––pulled into one of our two parking spots. This muscle car––with the supercharger––was, according to its two occupants, overheating and they didn’t want to go any farther and didn’t know where else to park it. (Sure! Wonder how long it took to come up with that excuse?)
When negotiating, the pause is essential. The cowboy and “good ole boy” car occupants literally begged to park in one of our spaces. I paused and each pulled out a huge wad of bills and started peeling off 20s. So, I said, “I suppose so.” They each gave me a twenty and were on their way before I could say, “And be sure to check out the Gallery before you leave . . .”
We, the Gallery and I, survived the first part of Rhody weekend! And it was enjoyable and profitable, in spite of all the noise. However, I absolutely gloried in the silence when I got home.