Best Way to See the World: Attend the 1982 World's Fair

You may be surprised to learn it's much cheaper than it was 27 years ago, and in several ways it's also more pleasant. The Sunsphere's still there, every bit as huge and tall and odd as it ever was—and now the elevator ride is actually free! Plus, there's a bar up there now, another improvement since the Reagan administration. There's still candy for sale in the Candy Factory, still water in the Waters of the World.

In the last quarter century, an art museum has been added to the fair's attractions, and an interesting veteran's monument, and an interactive fountain (why didn't they think of that in 1982?). Not to mention a convention center which sometimes hosts foreign nationals who didn't bother to come in 1982. And, if you haven't seen it, a big statue of Sergei Rachmaninoff. His homeland, Russia, didn't even participate in the international exposition 27 years ago.

In some ways, maybe, the 1982 World's Fair is more international in 2009. Remember when the Mexican Pavilion was where we used to go to see what Mexicans looked like? You may be more likely to see actual Mexicans in World's Fair Park today.

Granted, there are fewer places to eat, but one place, called the Butcher Shop, tries to make up for the lack by challenging our Tennessee palates with a liberal variety of foods from far-off lands: Cajun shrimp, Texas Toast, "Aged Midwest Beef," and Idaho potatoes. The Filet Mignon (that's pronounced the French way, of course) comes with Gorgonzola cheese. The Gorgonzolans were unrepresented in the so-called "international exposition."

Concerts aren't as frequent as they were on the fair site during those six months when New Wave was new. (And, therefore, banned from the Fair.) On average, the concerts at the 1982 World's Fair today are better than they were then. The Allman Brothers, for example, passed on the fair in 1982.

Sometime less is more, though, and several of the advantages of the 1982 World's Fair in 2009 have to do with what's absent. Today, there are few Deely Boppers in sight. No "ET Phone Home" T-shirts. No "Go Ahead—Make My Day" bathroom mirrors for sale. Remember the Energy Express, and its manic disco theme? It's gone now. (Hear that sound? They're called birds!) There were sometimes complaints about the noisy parade that plowed through the crowds every day at 4. Message received: It's been canceled.

The Tennessee River carp, which were among the most impressive and popular attractions at the fair 27 years ago, are still there, representing their exotic race as proudly as they did 27 years ago. No one ever told them it was over.