|Camouflage exercise at the Hunger Games Fan Tour.|
Peeta would have been sooooo proud.
The very day we found out in the late spring that such a thing existed, and that it existed less than 30 minutes from where my in-laws lived, both girls instantly requested the tour as their birthday present.
So on this Saturday in early August, the two girls, three of their friends, my wife, and another mom (who also loves the series) met a group of some 20 other kids and parents in the middle of DuPont State Forest to partake in this surreal fan tour in the middle of nowhere.
Two of the five girls proclaimed Saturday “one of the best days of my life” and “the coolest tour ever.” This in spite of roughly three miles’ worth of hiking being required for the experience.
The cost -- $50 per person -- covered seven hours of "adventure," including a Hunger Games-themed lunch, lessons on archery and slingshots, and a camouflage lesson using molding clay where the girls got to keep their final product as a souvenir.
Of the 15 or so kids on the tour, only two were boys. Only one of them had read the book; the other had only seen the movie. Of the baker’s dozen of girls, all had read the book, and most had read it more than once, including three girls who had read it at least three times. In other words, it was pretty much a perfect statistical representation of the reading challenge we have with American boys in the 21st Century.
While The Hunger Games appeals to a broad group, the resonance is clearly strongest amongst pre-teen and teen girls. Boys and adults might like it... but the girls can devour an entire day in the woods to witness where particular scenes were filmed and constantly look like they’re walking on sunshine.
This tour was, to me, the heart of what’s amazing about our country. Two women organizers and planners can ride a cultural wave and, for six or seven months, generate a nice side income stream just by spending their weekends entertaining people obsessed with a specific film. Sure, it could have been poorly done, so these ladies weren't just shooting fish in a barrel. Taking advantage of the opportunity is only half the battle.
The tour can’t live forever, certainly not at sold-out levels. And it’s not enough of a cash cow that they could abandon whatever they do professionally to put food on the table. But they do it anyway. They make decent money, and they get to make a ton of parents and eager kids (ok, girls) giddy along the way.
Was the tour perfect? Of course not. Far from it, especially if you’re a 40-year-old dad. Yet, not once during the experience did I feel taken advantage of as a consumer. I never felt like our tour guides' were with us in the flesh, but with our money in spirit.
Thanks mostly to luck, we also got to eat dinner and watch The Hunger Games that very same night, released that same day on DVD. Mere hours after touring sites where scenes were filmed, we got to see it in the movie! The experience was simultaneously more meaningful and more... fake!
Five pre-teen girls, completely removed from iPads and Instagram and TV for almost all of their daylight Saturday hours, had “one of the best days ever.” The nighttime movie was practically a denouement, an after-dinner mint on the hotel pillow.
Few parents can witness their kids in moments like these and not, by osmosis, also have one of the best days ever.