The Rapidian

The Beautiful Ones

Underwriting support from:


I've lived in Grand Rapids long enough to know there are two charismatic figures you do not criticize publicly.  But I'm just naive enough to express concerns about a decision made by one of them.  Damn the torpedos.
Here goes: I think it's unfortunate that Mr. Rob Bliss should plan to sell "Skip The Line" tickets for $30 at his Lyon St. Water Slide Event.  I hope to clearly explain "why" it's unfortunate, and I look forward to any discussion that results.  I'm very open to being convinced differently.
For my money, the paramount quality of Mr. Bliss' previous events has been this: they were the great equalizer.  Everyone who attended or participated was the same.  No VIP perks to separate the six- and seven-digit households from the common people.  If you took the bus from my neighborhood, and all you had in your pocket was your Bridge card, you were entitled to the same experience as anyone else.
I've attended every event Mr. Bliss has produced, with my family (excepting the Electronic Music event.)  I'm sure we'll attend this one.  I expect we'll have an excellent experience, as always.
And honestly, I feel fortunate to live in a city where these events happen.  Credit also goes to our city leaders, who've seen the value and vision in these big ideas.  We're lucky to be represented by folks who embrace and encourage innovation.
I expect I know the argument in favor of the "Skip The Line" pass.  Mr. Bliss said the event will cost about $50,000.  He said it has about 20 sponsors.  So the argument (in favor of $30 passes) might go like this: the sale of these $30 passes makes the event possible.
"So what - would you rather it *didn't happen at all?*"
These are my options?  
I admit I don't have a right to impose my sentimental feelings about Mr. Bliss' events having this "great equalizer" quality.  And I recognize the need "to do what one must" to achieve a goal.  
But I expect the "Skip The Line" passes will have a filtering effect: those who have the money for the pass, and those who have not.  I will acknowledge my bias on this: we're a lower-middle income family.  My kids attend GRPS and we qualify for reduced lunch.  I walk, bike and ride the bus where I need to go.  I live a couple blocks south of Wealthy Theatre.  It's a neighborhood that, by popular consensus throughout comments, is one step below Viet Nam.  None of these parts of my reality is necessarily by choice, and none for lack of hard work.
So I'd admit, I'm not objective.  I'd also admit, I'll be jealous of those more fortunate than I, as we stand in line with the thousands of others who cannot afford to go back down the slide immediately after arriving back at the top of the hill.  Relatively speaking, this is a minor - almost trivial - complaint.  It's a normal fact of life.  I ride the No. 5 bus past houses where people rake their leaves into the street, and it all gets cleaned up by workers.  I've been to concerts in the upper sections of Van Andel Arena, close enough to see the tinted windows of private suites, wherein people enjoy a better view, eat better food and drink imported beer.  It's how it goes.  
So I'll have this admittedly disproportional sense of "bittersweet" as I take my kids to the Lyon St. Water Slide.  As we repeatedly stand in line for who knows how long, and inevitably watch the more fortunate ones walk by us, with their understandable excitement about the next ride.  I feel like a community event is the wrong place to remind everyone of the innate differences between groups of people.  
And yes this is all naive, and yes, I'm a populist.  And yes I am biased based on the fact that I live and work in a low-income neighborhood.  And no, the "Skip The Line Ticket" isn't a separate drinking fountain.  This is a tiny issue.  It's a trivial thing.  
But I believe Mr. Bliss is also a populist - it's part of the reason his events do well.  And, for this reason, I believe he'll ultimately withdraw the "Skip The Line" ticket offer.  I believe he will respond to sentiment by choosing to simply open that other slide, making it available to the general public.  So all of us can have a faster line.  That he will restore the paramount quality of all Rob Bliss Events: they are the great equalizer.

The Rapidian, a program of the 501(c)3 nonprofit Community Media Center, relies on the community’s support to help cover the cost of training reporters and publishing content.

We need your help.

If each of our readers and content creators who values this community platform help support its creation and maintenance, The Rapidian can continue to educate and facilitate a conversation around issues for years to come.

Please support The Rapidian and make a contribution today.

Comments, like all content, are held to The Rapidian standards of civility and open identity as outlined in our Terms of Use and Values Statement. We reserve the right to remove any content that does not hold to these standards.


Thanks for your thoughts Erin. I absolutely agree with you. While I have often been critical of Bliss, I also applaud his efforts and I think this water slide is one of his better events, and I too am excited to attend. I also will not be paying for the "skip the line" tickets and hope that it is something Bliss decides to scrap during the weekend.

I like the idea for Skip the Line tickets. Not sure if too many people would use them. Why bother? And you'd look douchey.  I think it is a funny marketing gimmick. And if you don't want to wait you can get your slide on.

Rob's events are a fun thing, but I cringe every time he announces one. Just a little forethought, brainstorming, collaboration, or delegation could reduce or eliminate the PR gaffes.

More than 10,000 people are signed up for this (on Facebook). Charge a nominal fee ($1? $2?) and expenses are covered.

Or advertise a ridiculously high fee (which has changed in value several times over the last few days). And add it to the parade rain, zombie music fest porta-pots, paper airplane dump...



Will you also be slighted by the fact that some people will get a t-shirt commemorating the event because they paid money to buy one, and you will not get a t-shirt because you presumably won't buy one?

Maybe I'm misguided in the whole rationale behind these events, but from my prospective/philosophy/education & career in community development, I've come to recognize "Rob Bliss Events" as wholly for the common good.  If this is an accurate assumption, then allowing for special VIP pricing negates that entire sentiment.

I've loved RB's events in the past because as the author of this article put it "you were entitled to the same experience as anyone else;" they were the great equalizer.  With this event, groups that can afford the $30 for the "Skip the Line" tickets are experiencing a different perspective of this event which potentially could be of better quality. 

There will be a discrepency in experiences for people in different financial situations.  The event itself and the buying of a novelty item commemorating the event are hardly congruent circumstances.

Maybe a "preview" day-before party/event for VIP's to be the first to try it out, would have provided needed revenue, but not set up an event where folks present at the same time will be divided into categories by ability to pay.

I have always enjoyed the "everyone come" spirit of Rob's events. At the same time it takes money.

Sorry Erin, even though you qualify this post by saying you are naive and biased, this line of thinking is sad. We always talk about the haves and have nots but never the doers and do nots - if you want to make this an economic conversation. If someone wants to sacrifice some cash to jump to the front of the line, so be it. Maybe they dont have time to wait in line all day. Maybe they are heading out of town and can't afford to stand around for an hour. Maybe they walked, instead of took the bus, like you do, to save that money.  Are they fortunate? Maybe, but I wouldn't go so far as to paint 'them' with such a broad stroke.  I agree that Rob's events have been 'populist' by nature, but he probably doesnt make a lot of profit off them. If his talent affords him the ability to earn some income, so be it. I just hope the City Commision doesn't pass some law prohibiting someone like Mr Bliss to offer this as an option because it creates 'inequality'. Capitalism at its finest.

Excellent piece, Erin. It is too bad that after all of the events that bring people together, there is one that has the potential to segregate citizens. As a person who avoids open seating events and doesn't mind paying for the advantage of walking up to a reserved seat, this waterslide price (and whole concept) is over the top in terms of cost. I predict it will have minimal impact. I don't think people will see value in it. There are full blown amusement/water parks that charge less for admission.

Best way to avoid the lines? Go Sunday morning. Grand Rapidians don't like Sunday morning events, other than church.

 I understand why some people may have been upset by the skip charge, but in all honesty I completely agree with Stephen Kokx. My husband and I are by no means one of the "beautiful ones" and yet my husband chose to hand over the $30. I honestly think he would have even if he didn't get to skip. He's just that kind of guy. We work hard, have a modest house just outside of East Town and have two kids. We've gone to most of Robs Events and have had a wonderful time. Not only does he receive sponsors, but this particular event he used a good chunk of his own money. If a $30 donation from a hand full of people helps him to get some of that money back, I say let's do it. He continues to bring people downtown. Businesses and restaurants get a boost of extra business because of it and families have fun.  

I read this a few days ago, but not entirely. The event has now come and gone, and all I remember of it was the hundreds of facebook updates and tweets I saw about a 4-6 hour wait.


A public waterslide isn't my thing, so I wasn't there, I only have to go by what I heard from others, but it seems to me like standing 4-6 hours in line to get to splash down a hill wasn't worth it to many people.


Obviously, I cannot attest to how much of the wait was due to the "skip the line" tickets, but it couldn't have helped. I agree with everything you said in your article, and now that it's passed, I think there was evidence for just how much the economic divide creates a cultural divide.


If the soul reason for the tickets was to recuperate expenses, why not make it $1 per person, or something like that? Maybe a flier explaining why a donation could be helpful. There are other options.

A community event should be equally accessible for the entire community, something Bliss has done an amazing job with so far, and hopefully will return to after this faux pas.