RiverFest fun welcomed after too much lost during COVID

Published 12:05 am Friday, May 6, 2022

Now that a few days have passed, let’s address the elephant at the park: RiverFest.

Being a resident of Port Neches and a member of the local Facebook neighborhood watch group, I had seen the complaints before I went. But that’s what I’ve come to expect from Facebook: lost dogs, questions about loud sounds and complaints.

I’m a working parent and certainly understand disappointment when you feel as if you wasted money.

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But having done stories with the organizers before the event, I was aware of the new carnival vendor and other changes that were necessary in a post-pandemic world where a gallon of milk and a gallon of gas are battling for highest price.

I was at the festival Sunday to take photos for work.

While I was there, I visited with sisters Kathy Walker and Carmen Walker, who sat in folding chairs under a tree while their young ones enjoyed rides beside us. With sunglasses on, kicked back in the shade and enjoying the day, they talked of being from Port Neches and having kids at the age where they’re almost old enough to go alone, but not quite.

As I was leaving they thanked me for taking their picture.

I also met Holden Lane and Abby Reeves with Avenue Axe, which had a mobile version of the axe-throwing business on Port Neches Avenue. I joked with them about my fear of sharp objects, as I’m accident prone and can’t trust myself with a butter knife.

Abby laughed and said, “Would you like to hold an axe just to say you have?”

I did, no one was injured, and I left just as a group of people showed up to try their luck. Holden and Abby were so kind, and I look forward to visiting their establishment soon.

I met several families, couples and business representatives just enjoying the day. And I ate one of the most amazing burritos I’ve ever had.

Yes, there were fewer rides. But for $14, I spent a day in the sun meeting local people, supporting local businesses and contributing to a local event organized by volunteers to give the community something to look forward to.

Two years ago we were closed up in our homes and would have spent double the money for far less just to enjoy people, sunlight, entertainment and a sense of normalcy.

That thought almost brought tears Saturday as I sat in the Carl Parker Center on the Lamar State College Port Arthur campus for the Gulf Coast Gala. For four hours, people mingled, ate and then listened to the amazing Rodney Crowell play. It was the closest thing I’d seen to a concert since 2019.

And I remember the fear in the following year, the isolation, ultimately contracting COVID before vaccines were available and experiencing symptoms from which I still suffer.

Then came the surges. There were times I never thought we’d be together at a gala or festival, hugging and shaking hands, just enjoying fellowship and food again.

It’s far too easy to hide behind our phones and jump online to complain when we feel the slightest inconvenience.

But bring yourself back to May 2020, when there should have been a RiverFest and instead you were quarantined. Fear and isolation alone was maddening before adding in uncertainty. Had someone told you then that you could attend a five-day event with your friends and neighbors and just enjoy the simple pleasures we all took for granted, would you have felt cheated?

Personally, I’d have paid double the price for hope — because in the end, that’s what I got from RiverFest this year.

Monique Batson is the Port Arthur Newsmedia editor. She can be reached at monique.batson@panews.com.