ERIE, Pa. — To get to the gun raffle, one drives past the cemetery, through the trailer park and into the abandoned amusement park.
It’s hard to find parking—is every pickup in Pennsylvania here?—but though the air is thick with fog, it’s not too cold or wet for the quick walk to the Rainbow Gardens.
This whole idea, when my good friend Zon invited me to tag along, seemed just crazy enough to be the highlight of my spring. For the rocking low price of $10, one gains entry to this giant community event held in a building large enough to host a 4H competition. You also get all the sausages, ox roast, chips and beer you can consume and the chance to win one of 20 shiny new guns, from a Remington 700 SPS Stainless 270 cal. to a Mossberg 835 ulti-mag 3 1/2” camo.
Those chances not good enough for you? There were ladies weaving among the long tables with tickets for floor guns, three for $5. Fill one of the holiday-themed pitchers with frothy beer from one of the dozens of kegs and you didn’t have to leave your seat for hours at a time.
The main prize winners had names out of comic books: Mike Fails, Tom McFate, Danny Kay.
Most of the men had beards, and not in that ironic, hipster way. Half of them were wearing plaid, most were sporting ball caps with the bill perfectly rounded and worn right way forward. The women at first glance fell into two categories: those who were trying really hard and those who were not. I only saw one mullet—but the guy who committed it also had frosted tips.
“You ever shoot trap?” asked Gene, the guy sitting across from us at the long, wobbly table. He was wearing a blue t-shirt under red plaid that was soft and slightly fuzzed from years of use. He had short grey hair and large square glasses and rough wrinkled skin that was used to the outdoors. He didn’t need another gun for home defence, he told us, but was on the lookout for something he could hunt with.
Zon said no, she didn’t shoot trap, and he asked what she needed a gun for. We were tourists at this gun raffle—that much was pretty obvious (and therefore probably a blessing that we didn’t win anything). She admitted to him that she couldn’t ever hurt an animal.
“You don’t need to shoot ’em,” he laughed, miming shooting into the air with his three-fingered right hand. “You just need to scare ’em.”