Tuesday, November 29, 2016

Weather Permitting

By C.J. Hirschfield

Note: The recent spell of rainy weather made us remember this column, which was originally published in 2006. We’ve updated it slightly, but in fact it’s timeless ... just like questions about the weather.

We can control many things in life: what to eat, how much to exercise, which books to read. And yet as my staff and I peered out of Fairyland’s front gate this morning and saw rain, I couldn’t help thinking that the success of our business is, to a great extent, out of our control.
A fairy monitors the rain gauge at Children’s Fairyland.

Here’s what we do when the weather looks iffy.

First, we log on to Weather.com and punch in our Oakland zip code. It’s never enough to just read the report. No, we have to have a spirited discussion of the Doppler activity. We watch the movement of the green blob (which indicates rain) and try to guess where it will go next. Only after consulting the computer do we venture outdoors, our faces skyward. More debate follows. The hourly employees have already started to phone in, wondering when we’re going to “call it.” The tension builds.

And, oh yes, the guests have started calling, too. “I’d like to know if it’s going to rain today,” asks a potential visitor. Barbara Griffin, who handled front-desk responsibilities at Fairyland for 11 years until she retired in 2014, used to ask me why people thought she had a special connection that enabled her to know the answers.

“What happens if it does rain?” they want to know. I always loved Barbara’s response: “If it’s raining so hard that your mother would tell you to come on inside, then we’ll have to close,” she told them.

Fairyland characters remain stoic when the park is closed because of rain.

Often Barbara would become familiar with all of the Bay Area microclimates on a certain day. “It’s pouring here,” a Danville resident would inform us, happy to learn that—at least for the moment—it was sunny at Fairyland. Or it’s sunny in San Mateo and soggy in Oakland. When Barbara told a customer “we’re currently open,” some didn’t take kindly to the fact that it was raining when they arrived at our park.

Nga Mai currently holds the front-desk job. The weather questions? Pretty much unchanged, she reports.

A couple of my employees swear that Fairyland exists in its own magical weather zone – that it can be raining all over our area and still be sunny at the park. Is it our proximity to Lake Merritt? Or is there an abundance of fairy dust in our atmosphere?

If it starts raining after we’ve opened, we give out rain checks, even if a family has spent four hours here and encounters a drizzle on their way out the door.

But I’m not complaining. Over the Halloween weekend, on which we depend for income to get us through the long, cold winter, we had absolutely glorious weather, with over 3,600 smiling people passing through the fairy gates. (Editor’s note: True in 2006, not true in 2016! We had to compress our Jack O’Lantern Jamboree into a single fun-filled Saturday because it rained relentlessly on Sunday.)

Our next challenge? Fairy Winterland, the week before Christmas. Sure, we like it to be a little nippy, because the hot cocoa and cider taste better that way. But last year we were rained out for most of our event, and disappointed that so few people got to enjoy all of the great things we’d planned for them.

Between Christmas and New Year’s we’re open every day for Grandparents’ Week, when all grandparents are admitted free. Unless, of course, it rains.

But we’re eternally optimistic. And, honestly, we pity our friends who work in sheltered attractions like Chabot Space and Science Center or Habitot. How boring not to have to worry about the weather! 


C.J. Hirschfield has served for 14 years as executive director of Children’s Fairyland, where she is charged with the overall operation of the nation’s first storybook theme park.

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