Thomas and his Merchandising Friends
Hello blog readers. I’m pinch-hitting for my wife today because, a) she’s probably busy with Junior League stuff, b) if not (a), then she’s probably running, and c) unfortunately, she was unable to attend Day Out with Thomas with Scotty and I. I’m an attorney, so this probably won’t be as funny as the blog usually is, but the story itself is pretty amusing so hopefully I won’t screw it up.
Sunday started like most days. We woke up, ate cinnamon rolls, and then got dressed. But this Sunday was going to be different. I had come to learn that none other than Thomas the Train would be appearing in Boulder City with his good friend Sir Topham Hatt. To most people, this would be a non-event. Truthfully, I was even dreading the 45+ minute drive to Boulder City to see the stars of a pretty mind-numbing cartoon. However, when you are a two-year-old boy who loves anything pertaining to cars, trucks, trains, planes, helicopters, etc., seeing Thomas the Train and his cohorts is about as exciting as life gets. So, I plucked down the $20 per ticket for us (yep, they charged the boy full price for a ticket, which should have been my first clue as to what was going to come next), packed the kid up, and we made our way to Boulder City.
We arrived and parked about a mile away because Scotty wanted to take the shuttle down to see the trains. I realized almost immediately that this was a bad idea for when we were going to leave, but it was the kid’s day so I figured taking the shuttle would be fine. After meandering down to the train yard, I quickly realized that the good people at Southern Nevada Railways, who were very hospitable and pleasant, had been overrun by what appeared to be several tents full of Thomas the Train merchandise. OK, I understand. Thomas probably has some bills to pay on the Island of Sodor where he lives, but we’re really here for the ride and to see Thomas and Sir Topham Hatt.
We arrived well ahead of our scheduled departure time, so we initially walked around area with the older railway cars. All sarcasm aside, if you’re ever in Boulder City with a small boy and want to kill an hour or two, this is a pretty cool place to go. There were a lot of old rail cars, and Scotty thought all of this was pretty cool. OK, we’re off to a good start. Then, we got to the tents…
Let me preface this by repeating that my expectations were pretty low. I wasn’t expecting Disneyland. However, when we entered the first tent, someone gave us a “map” that we needed to get stamped in every tent to get a “surprise” at the end. Cool. I feel better about dropping $40+ now that I know that the boy is going to get a surprise.
After we got the map and our first stamp, we walked around. To my surprise, all that was in the first tent were five mini-train sets of Thomas and his friends. This seemed a little low-end at first, but I was sure things would get better. Scotty played with the train set for about three minutes until he got bored, and then we moved to tent #2.
The second tent consisted of a lot of hastily assembled folding chairs around a television showing a Thomas cartoon. The television was not even very large. Very few people were watching, so we just got our stamp and moved on. The next area was an activity/playground that consisted of some plastic golf clubs, a couple of bean-bag toss boards, and a bounce house that was sealed off because it was broken. Scotty had no real interest in any of that, which was also true of the other children since nobody was playing. Hmmmm. Oh well. We got our third stamp, so off to see Topham Hatt we went.
When we arrived at the photo area for Topham Hatt, he wasn’t there. Apparently, he was on break. This was OK, since it was time to get on the train anyway, but it was a little odd since we had walked by his photo area twice and not seen him. Oh well. Maybe he had a lot to do…
We boarded the train. Scotty’s friends Jackson and Alex were also on the train, so they caught up on what had happened since they all went to the park earlier in the week.
Scotty: I saw the bounce house and the bounce house was broken so we didn’t go on it and then we went to the train and now we’re on the train.
Jackson and Alex: (silently contemplating how to get a word in).
We were excited, because Thomas was going to give Scotty a sticker and then we were going to stop to pick up a special surprise. OK, so the event had been a little disappointing, but I was sure the train ride will make up for it.
Nope. We rode about seven minutes to the west, stopped, and then went seven minutes back to the east on the same track (Thomas is a plucky train who can also run in reverse…) to the train station. The “special surprise” was a Styrofoam diamond that looked like something Scotty, Jackson, and Alex might make at pre-school next year. And, then the ride was over. But, we got the sticker and only needed the gift shop stamp to get our surprise. Plus, there was still Topham Hatt to see.
We got off the train and got into line to see Topham Hatt. He was up there taking pictures, so we all got in line. I thought, “This looks pretty cool. Maybe I’ve been too hard on this event.” About 10 seconds after I thought that, Mr. Hatt took another break. We were told he’d be back in 30-40 minutes. I looked at the sign next to the area, and it said that he was there for pictures every hour, which meant that he would take 20-30 minutes of pictures, then take a 30-40 minute break from the taxing work he was doing standing next to children. Huh?! Really?! How do I get that job?! Jackson and Alex and their grandparents decided not to wait, so they left to get their stamps.
Now, Scotty and I were pretty perturbed (me more than him), but we still had to go to the gift shop anyway and get our stamp and surprise. I knew before we walked in that I was going to buy him a shirt (I’m kind of weak in that respect), but I was shocked to see that the entire tent was nothing but ridiculously overpriced Thomas toys and merchandise. Clearly, the goal was for them to get the kids to play with the trains in the first tent, watch the video in the second tent, and then come and buy all of the stuff in the third tent at about 100% markup from what you’d pay at any retailer. At this point, I was stunned. This was about as shameless of a money-grab as I have ever seen (and I’m an attorney). We got the shirt, got the stamp, and then went to get his “surprise.”
Well, low and behold, the “surprise” was a bag full of coupons and crap designed to get kids to buy more Thomas stuff. Plus, when they gave us the surprise, they took back Scotty’s map showing all the stamps he got. The boy was a little sad, but fortunately, I was able to placate him with fruit snacks. Their rationale was that they didn’t want kids coming back to get the “surprise” more than once. Really?! As if the bag it came in didn’t give it away already, was there that much concern that kids would scurry back 2-3 times for those extra 10% off Thomas toothbrush coupons? The 3 mega blocks that went really well with the $70 Thomas mega block box available for purchase in the gift shop?! If kids went back 10 times, I guess they could have built a small box with those multiples of 3 square blue blocks, but this was ridiculous.
After that, we still had to see the elusive Topham Hatt. So, we went back to the line, waited for him to come out from his break (where he presumably perfected cold fusion or cured some loathsome disease), and then finally got to get Scotty a picture. After 30 seconds of posing and waving, we were done. All that was left was to get back to the car and go home.
Oh yeah, you might remember that that boy wanted to take the shuttle. So, we went back to where we got dropped off and waited for the shuttle to come back. And waited. And waited. Finally, 15 minutes after we came over, a shuttle pulled up and the eager kids and parents, not knowing that they were about to enter a glorified commercial for overprice Thomas merchandise, got out. Unfortunately, so did the driver, who then matter-of-factly informed us that she was taking her lunch break and we’d have to wait for the next shuttle. Wow. And with that, she sauntered off to Taco Bell (quick aside, if you haven’t, give the Nacho Cheese Dorrito Tacos a try; very unique taste…), and we were left to wait for the next shuttle, which came 10 minutes later.
In the meantime, aside from eating another bag of fruit snacks and some almonds, the boy managed to step in gum, which was fascinating to him at first, and then a real headache for me as I had to run the shoe in dirt to get the gum off before we went home. Finally, we got on the shuttle, back in the car, and we drove home for lunch and naptime.
The cherry on top? When Kim came home and asked Scotty if he saw Thomas and Sir Topham Hatt, he said, “No. But Dada is going to take me for corn muffin!” It’s possible that I had mentioned that I’d take him out to dinner, and out of everything else that happened all morning, that was the only thing that stuck.
The take-home point of this story is that if you see that a Day Out with Thomas is coming to your town, a) don’t let your kid find out about it, b) do not, under any circumstances, go, unless you want to spend a lot of money on nothing, and c) make plans to be out of town that weekend, just in case your kid finds out from his/her friends that Thomas is coming.