Celeste was right. She knows what I'll enjoy.
In this case I was with the Wilton Manors Rec Volunteers helping out at this year's Halloween Spooktacular.
This was an event that was primarily for the kids. In some cases, the kids were well into their 50s and 60s but that didn't matter.
I got to watch the City Wilton Manors Leisure Services Director, Patrick Cann in a Pirate Outfit act as an Emcee for the Halloween costume contest. I will say that he looked like he was thoroughly enjoying himself, without an "Arrrr!" in sight! There were costume classes for different age groups from the Adults down to the Kids and everyone did seem to be having a good time.
Celeste introduced me to the rest of the Rec Volunteer board and we sat about displaying the prizes for the later Cake Walk... a contest that takes a fair amount of description on it's own. The prizes for the Cake Walk were on the order of 86 boxes of cakes, cookies, pies, fudge and other assorted sweet gifts. This being the main event, the wares were on display for the entire evening until the Cake Walk begun.
Since I arrived at 7pm, and the Cake Walk was not scheduled to begin until 8:30pm, I had some time to explore the grounds at Wilton Manors Elementary School. I had forgotten just how big the place was since usually I'm driving past it on the way to or from somewhere. It fills a city block and the athletic grounds were a large enough size that I had a feeling that is a rare one in Urbanized South Florida - I felt exposed. Usually there are so many trees, plantings and homes when you're in any given town here that everything feels close and intimate. The grounds were our own little version of Montana Big Sky country where you were away from the trees, away from the buildings and you could see the thunderstorms off in the distance west of I-95 that night.
The grounds themselves were covered with two Bounce Houses, an inflatable slide, some small bleachers and the basketball court but they didn't give the impression of being crowded. Add to it the four large orange parking cones to square off the Cake Walk grounds and you have the scene.
For a little bit more than two hours, I enjoyed the hospitality of Celeste Ellich and the ladies of the Rec Volunteers, as well as running into my friends on the Wilton Manors City Commission and some of the electoral hopefuls. Knowing all of them I had no problem finding something to do or someone to talk to.
Rounding out the group was the Taste of the Island sponsored snack stand where grilled Burgers and Hot Dogs as well as some bags of chips and soda could be had. No dogs were grilled to make the hot dogs.
As time went on, people would buy a ticket for a chance at the Cake Walk and stop over to eye the prizes. I caught myself eying the perfect little white cakes with a single rose or the yellow iced round layer cakes. So did a lot of people, and the kids weren't shy about wanting one. There was one particular lady that wanted the German Chocolate Cake and asked us to pray for her to win the cake. Divine intervention was not to be found because someone else eventually got the cake in the first round of the Cake Walk.
The rules of the Cake Walk were simple, but logistically complex. The grounds were covered with hundreds of hopefuls. Everyone was lined up on that big square and they had their tickets. Each ticket you bought was worth one try at a prize. The music would play and everyone would shuffle around the square and when the music stopped so did you. A number and a direction was called and then the officials would count the number of people from the cone you stood in the proper direction. Left 10 meant the person on this leg of the square that was left of the cone that was 10 people away would get a Winner's ticket and get to choose a prize. If you had bought another ticket you could get back in line. Each time the music stopped, four more people got to choose a prize.
Simple right? Not completely. Americans being an independent lot tended to bend the rules somewhat, one particular woman didn't show for her prize immediately. she walked up to the prizes, gave it a look and wandered back into the line. We didn't know what she was up to so I went to ask - she wanted her kid to look. While she dawdled waiting for the kid, 200 or more people were left scratching their heads. I managed to get her back to the prizes and she dawdled some more. Thanks to some diplomacy from the Treasurer of the Rec Volunteers, she got motivated so we could go back to giving more prizes.
Thankfully that one person didn't win again, but others did win more than once. The Divine Intervention prize went to a woman dressed as a Nun who won a prize for the costume plus an early cake. She got selected a third time and came back for some cookies.
I spotted one very large and tall man with a stack of tickets who must have had the whole block in line - and as such, he ended up winning at least six of the prize treats because at the end of the evening he was walking out with a stack of boxes held up and wedged under his chin. He didn't drop any but I had to wonder if he made it to the car.
That was at the end of the night, and the field was deserted in another 15 minutes. I didn't spot too many toddlers who were overwhelmed, although there are one or two in every crowd. According to the Omaha World-Herald newspaper, the kids under 3 have a problem discriminating between real and make believe so the sight of so many scary monsters and spooky people could have overwhelmed them. Get past 3 years old and all is well and the wonders of a child's imagination takes hold.
Go Big Red!
All in all, it was a fun and diverse crowd, lots of people in costume, lots of fun and food. Great night out!