Where else but in Southern California could you see a funny man who juggles battery-powered chain saws, a gorgeous woman who hunts big game with a handgun, a recreational vehicle with a Jacuzzi and the world's only known log-rolling dog, all under one roof and within a stone's throw of the Magic Kingdom?
Or is this the Magic Kingdom? One thing for sure, something mysterious was at work Saturday at the opening of the 23rd annual Sports, Vacation and RV Show, an H. Werner Buck Enterprises production--make that extravaganza.
How else to explain why tens of thousands of people lined up the day after New Year's, on a holiday weekend still chock-full of football games, to pay $5.95 each just for the chance to spend even more money? And that apparently is what lots of them did, shelling out greenbacks for everything from plastic glasses of beer, to fishing rods, to adventure vacations, to motor homes priced at well over $200,000.
Replicas of Bears and Eagles
Looking for art? There are lots of wood sculptures by Montana resident Dave Clark, who boasts that all of his work is "100% made" by chain saw, and that includes life-size replicas of grizzly bears and eagles, as well as a larger-than-life vulture in sunglasses. Clark said one couple at the show had bought four pieces for more than $3,000.
Imposing in a different way was the elegant gold and diamond jewelry for sale by artist and big game hunter Madleine Kay, 40, of Woodland Hills, who holds the world's record for the largest hartebeest killed with a handgun.
Kay designs her jewelry using some of the teeth, elephant ivory and claws from the animals that she kills, selling it for prices ranging up to $5,000. She said that when she first began big game hunting in 1983, men would make stupid comments about what was a beautiful woman like her doing in a place like this.
"Now, I just intimidate the men," she said with a self-assured smile as dozens of people stopped by the display to admire her jewelry.
Corrine Sidney, the show's publicity director, said the organizers expect close to 90,000 people to attend the nine-day show, which has more than 600 exhibitors packed into the Anaheim Convention Center.
And lest anyone forget that Southern California is the RV capital of the world, most of the 400,000 square feet of space has been taken over by scores of recreational vehicles with price tags ranging from about $3,000 to nearly $500,000.
Life Styles for Sale
At the top of the scale it isn't merely motor homes that are on sale, but as sales manager Ralph Horton of Anaheim's Beaver Coach Sales puts it: a life styl e.
"This is a totally different life style," Horton said several times. "It's the life style we're selling. This is the vehicle to get to it."
Horton waves his hand at the 40-foot Marquis, a rear-engine diesel or "pusher," what the company brochure calls "the crown jewel of motorcoaches," equipped with a Jacuzzi, natural oak cabinets and musical horns--all of this priced for quick sale at $291,000.
"I've already sold three, maybe four of them," Horton said of his two hours work at the show. "Business is outstanding. We sell everything we can build."
Inside the Marquis, Joe and Helen Vallerand, formerly of Laguna Beach and, for the past year, at-large in America, were running their fingers over the cabinetry and nodding appreciatively inside the bathroom.
The Vallerands say the RV life style is for them. They're thinking very seriously about trading up to the Marquis.
"We think it's a great life," said Joe Vallerand, who calls himself semiretired from the electrical business. "You have no responsibility; you're free to come and go as you please, and you don't have to get along with your neighbors if you don't want to."
Just down the aisle, business was also good at Holiday World, which, according to its sign, is the nation's No. 1 dealer for the popular Holiday RVs.
Mike Whittacker, Holiday sales manager at Traveland USA in Irvine, said the 34-foot Imperial, priced at $85,000, is probably his biggest seller. And his buyers? Whittacker said he has them down.
"You see one of these things on the road and you expect Cesar Romero to come stepping out," he said. "No, the guy is 5 feet 3, 240 pounds, and his wife is two inches shorter and 10 pounds heavier. They don't belong to country clubs. They just like big iron, and if it has an air horn, they are tickled to death."
More Modest Diversions
Whittacker said he really likes the Anaheim show; this is his fourth year here.
"It's a nice place to come and spill beer and let your kids jump on the carpet," he said.
But for people not planning to spend tens of thousands of dollars, there are plenty of other diversions to keep them happy, or at least, attentive, at the Sports, Vacation and RV Show.
Arthur, a golden Labrador billed as the world's only known log-rolling dog, performs with his owner, a log-rolling champ himself, Lee Le Captain. Also on hand are the Flash and Crash comedy trampoline act and Tom Dokken's Oak Ridge Retrievers.
In the same long rectangular pool where Arthur performs, Tim Morrison, 32, of La Verne, a professional river guide and kayaking teacher, shows the crowds how to execute the Eskimo roll, which amounts to an underwater somersault while stuffed into a kayak.
"It's the only thing that people want to see," Morrison said, "They say, 'Shut up with the information and roll over.' "
Incidentally, Morrison said, kayakers once tried to avoid going underwater, but lately "it has become just part of the game."
Morrison said his demonstration of the proper way to right oneself after taking a spill is important "because it's hard for human beings to think underwater. It's hard to think, period; and the human being is not an underwater animal."
A few hours before show time, Dick Franco, 35, of Venice, Fla., who describes himself as "one of the best jugglers in the world, technically," was getting ready by charging the batteries of his three red chain saws, 9.2 pounds each, with 12-inch blades.
Accompanied by his wife, Carlene, and his daughter, Noelle, now 15, Franco has been dazzling crowds all over the world since 1975. Although his act includes juggling everything from hoops to Ping-Pong balls, from clubs to silk scarfs, he made it really big with the 1982 discovery that crowds love to see those buzzing chain saws flying through the air.
What his audiences really want, Franco said, is to see him sliced down the middle. "That's why they like wrestling," he said.
Franco carries around some plastic fingers, but hasn't decided yet whether to sprinkle them on stage for effect.
"I'm always looking for something new," he said. "I've been playing with the idea of a lawnmower, and then I could juggle a hedge clipper with it. Figure that would be good for home and garden shows."
For now, Franco said, he thinks the chain saws have a bright future; they draw big crowds and big bucks--as much as $10,000 for a single performance.