“Fun” is a tricky word to impose within a question. Everyone’s definition and answer to “fun” varies per personal experience. Many external factors come into play, like environment and weather, including the person’s social needs (or a lack of) combined with physical and mental health care needs.

With regards to “Troll on State” and the exploration of “fun,” my experience with the event and having attended it four times is a mixed bag of gentrified nuts. Let’s assess, score, and summarize the experiences related to “fun”.

  1. The first time we went Katie was pregnant. Parking was terrible, but that’s not new downtown. It was cold and wet, and we ended up in Bamboo for late lunch early dinner. Didn’t stay for the lighting of the big tree, or for staring at aimlessly wandering white people from the east side with their kids. Leaving early is always fun. (The meal at Bamboo was fun. However, Bamboo is now gone. I don’t mind some of the other places. Some are too hipster-douchey and Americanized while being over-priced for my liking, but whatever. Let the privileged millennials fix everything we can’t.  So, first year we went was fun because we were just married, she was pregnant, and it was rainy, cold, and we were hungry enough to avoid it all and leave early.
    Final score: Fun!
  2. Second year, we went, and we had Otis. We walked around freezing and took refuge in an over-crowded City Hall. Called in a pizza order to Vito at Capri, picked it up and went home. The rest of downtown can go to hell for all I care and Capri will still be standing because they don’t fuck around with pony barn civic pride marketing heist nonsense down there. Going home to eat Capri pizza was amazing— yes, fun.
    Final score: That was fun!
  3. Third year we attended with one of my best friends and his family in town from Denver. He grew up here, I’m the godfather of his oldest son. He comes home once a year and sees the city from a fresh perspective now. He defines the quality of the roads here as, “It’s like a war went down on the roads.” He and his moved away close to 15 years ago. They love Denver, miss Rockford food, but loathe the region and lack of jobs, quality of life. Lower real estate costs means nothing to them because of the taxes and poor job wages. They pay so little on taxes in Denver, and see how a city can do right by their people without raping on taxes. Illinois is one big corrupt bank, and Rockford’s issues are aside from that fact. He and I managed to escape our families in the morning to hit Madison for a record store. Businesses there have no need to rely on civic pride marketing event heists that occur once a year. Troll on State is EVERYDAY in Madison. I’d move there in heartbeat but others in my life have an affection for traffic jams, overpopulation and industrialized pollution. We have the best of everything being in Rockford because we’re so close to good, Madison, and evil, Chicago. Perfect balance! We got back from our once a year adventure to a record store and my godson said, “Godfather? What do you want to do for your birthday?” Ultimate respect, never says my name. Genius move. My wife answered and said, “ I think we should all go downtown! Troll on State is going on.” Omg, yay! My parents decided to join us. It was freezing out that night. Absolutely freezing. My son was bundled up and could care less because he’s the best baby ever. My best friend and his family are used to events like that where they’re living. They were impressed that anything was going on downtown to begin with because he and his wife’s recollection of downtown Rockford is the Waterfront event, and nothing else. Their first impressions define the question of “fun” better. Eric says, “This reminds me of Waterfront… But no bands or food. And it’s freezing out.” As he laughed at his own words. My godson, a genius, innocently says, “I don’t get what’s going on, Godfather? Are we waiting for something?” And he giggled. Ahahahaha. We all laughed everytime their thoughts on what they perceived were spoken aloud. Fireworks happened and it kept the kids sense of wonder intact. Mine too. Doesn’t take much to distract me from a gentrified crowd of humans. The tree was lit, but we couldn’t get to it from afar because the State Street Bridge over the river was packed with organisms and poorly orchestrated to keep foot traffic moving. “Lots and lots of white people everywhere. Walking aimlessly with money to blow. It’s like Denver everyday!” We laughed, yes, but then he seriously asked, “Like, where do these people come from? The east side? Belvedere? Is this the only day they come downtown all year?”  I offered up City Market in the summer, and explained how people do go downtown to get drunk and eat. Mainly to get drunk and brag about how awesome the city is and look at all of the hard work we’re doing to rebuild what we already had from 1836 to 1972 and lost between 72 and present day. We walked by the business I refuse to name aloud that I founded. We spit on the storefront windows and laugh like assholes in front of our kids and passer-bys. A wife or two yells at us— whatever, and then they laugh because that business deserves more spit coming their way.  We talk about how Rockford had hotels and businesses for many decades, and then we didn’t. Now, they’re bringing it all back like we never had it to begin with. “Hmm. Well. That’s cute,” and we laughed onwards! Rockford had everything already as a community, and it was mismanaged, poorly conditioned to change with modern times and post-industrial trends. Anyway. They had fun pointing out the things that drive me crazy in Rockford without me having to say it. It’s always nice to hear a stranger’s perception of where we live and work to know if the kool-aid is pure or poisonous. Ended up ordering a few pizza from Capri to get home with, and that was fun!
    Final score: Leaving Troll on State for Capri pizza for the win again is always fun!
  4. Fourth year, last year, my wife worked the event (jewelry booth) inside one of the buildings on the corner of State and Madison. We were able to avoid all of the people standing still outside wondering if they should walk towards the State Street Bridge or not. It also happened to be on my birthday again. Yay, fun! I was also physically sick with poor sinuses, head, cough, diarrhea, and burnt out from Thanksgiving social stuff. It made my birthday nearly forgetful, but that doesn’t stop me from fun. I take a sick, sick, honest pleasure in being needed for social events when it’s pretty well known that the best human version of me requires absolute solitude, a book, a record, a sketch book and pure peace of mind to produce something new. When I am at my absolute worst, physically and mentally. I see it as my chance to spread the joy. Why not? Everyone does it to me, and I clearly make it known to STFA (stay the fuck away!) from me. That goes for being healthy or sick— but no one really listens to me. So, it you can’t beat them, join them. (“God bless you!” Nah, keep it. You’re going to need it more than me.) I had to park a half-mile away behind Mary’s Place and walk to my wife’s downtown location after dropping off our son at my parents to relieve me of sitter duties. Being sick actually made Trolling on State ok. Apathy and exhaustion has its positives. Weird how that works. My wife sold her creations. She did well. I met Joe and Alison for the first time. Great artists, and half my age which really puts a career in the arts into perspective once you see the next wave coming up and doing such excellent work. They have the hustle. They had a booth, too. Kate bought me a gift from their booth. Alison gifted me one, too, unexpectedly. Formally meeting them and not on the internet was a nice birthday gift. I kept from shaking people’s hands all night, as if it mattered. There was pizza in the event break room. I waited until everyone was finished eating their portion to finger it, but you know how pizza and being sick goes. Someone is always lurking and waiting to take leftover pizza home. Oops— God bless you. Troll on State was work for her, and me to some degree. We didn’t have to be aimlessly walking outside freezing our asses off staring at white people and their families. A few days later in the news we heard Troll on State was packed and that 70,000 people wandered around. If I had to be an asshole about it all, I’d say that an estimated 68,000 of those 70,000 people were caucasians with their families from the east side of Rockford, Roscoe, Rockton, Cherry Valley, Poplar Grove, Belvedere, and that includes most of the mall churches in the entire N. IL region. A friend who volunteered told me how the event organizers counted the attendance. It’s a predictably sketchy, first grade headcount method. A truthfully dark sense of humour is temporarily reaffirmed. It’s Rockford, ya know. 1+1=11. True! Once we were done packing up her stuff we ended our annual Troll on State with Capri, sat at the bar, ordered pizza, Vito treated us to a drink for my birthday.
    Final score:  Capri and going home is always fun!

All in all, a final total score: Capri is always fun— and fun to eat any day* of the year! (*Closed on Mondays.)

Summary: Troll on State has a mall-church creepy, disingenuous marketing feel to it. I’m easily repulsed by specific marketing and volunteerism public charity methods that veil capitalist intents, but I do think it’s nice. (Insert crying laugh emojis!) I hate to resort to quoting strangers that I’ve caught staring at art or looking at a book’s cover without reading the book itself, but Troll on State is nice. “Look, that’s nice.” Nice.

Dave DeCastris Selfie In A Dentist’s Chair (May 2018)

Troll on State is a nice gentrified event, yes, but Capri pizza is the real deal fun.  It’s an event for people who don’t know that downtown Rockford is open everyday, or are afraid to go downtown still. 

Its annual holiday season occurrence reminds me that the region’s annual summer event, On the Waterfront Music and Food Fest, was wonderful up until it was unable to change with the times and shut itself down in 2012 after the recession, and after a 29 year run. They can blame it on the recession, and that’s easy to do around here with everything, but it comes down to amateurs being amateurs and not listening to the people, overcharging families, nor knowing what is culturally relevant anymore to attract national touring acts for all ages. It failed to remain affordable for families, while failing to attract out of town visitors. Stroll on State is Waterfront gentrified minus a plethora of music and food, and minus summer weather. That’s the catch. Do you like wandering aimlessly outside in the cold air at night? I do, but I prefer to alone with my dog, and not around a bunch of socially starved caucasians all trapped on one street in downtown Rockford. Dear Lord, why? Insert crying laughing emojis again.

“Fun” is a tricky emotion and word to impose on others, varies per person’s needs and experiences. Example: I rarely experience/feel “fun” in large social situations. Most often I feel nothing in those moments, but I do observe, listen, steal words and ideas for my creative work and future commitments that time alone is rarely available for. Again— people wandering around aimlessly and socializing just to talk, talk, talk and talk while barely listening to what’s being said in return is an incredibly vapid experience. I mentally drop out. All of the noise becomes one tone, and in that tone resides the collective chit chat and ambience of the environment itself to be at peace with the fact that so many strangers (who may or may have not bathed or used soap that day) are breathing on everyone. Insert additional emojis!

If you dare to host that many people in one spot, you better tell me Bruce Springsteen and the E-Street Band or the ghosts of Prince, Bowie, Petty and the Heartbreakers are performing. That’s fun—it’s more than fun, that’s church. People together for a common cause, the power and spirit of music. And I’ll gladly pay for that.

Troll on State markets and presents itself as another civic pride event, come downtown and spend local. That’s fine, and it’s free to the public. There is that— but so is staying at home where it’s warm, quiet, in a contained environment to limit exposure to seasonal flus and sicknesses. Insert a few more emojis.

To each their own— do it, wear layers, bring your family, hand them each a stash of dollar bills and a cigarette lighter, watch them run around ragged lighting the downtown night on fire. Whatever you do, don’t buy anything at Rockford Art Deli— unless of course you and many in this community have been intellectually poisoned and are now ethically immune to supporting snakes that have robbed working class heroes. I’ll leave it at that, and that’s the truth.

Have fun! Insert one last emoji—a Homer Simpson “Doh! emoji”—and don’t forget to go home with a Capri pizza for the win.