How many weeks start with an earthquake and end with a hurricane?
Up early Tuesday morning August 23 for the drive down I-95, which I’ve been doing for so many years that I can now do it in my sleep (almost.) Woke in time to shop Philadelphia Rare Books & Manuscripts in their lovely new home in the Armory in downtown Philly,
then stopped for lunch at Johnny Brenda’s - a great oldtime Philly bar on Franklin St. that has turned in to a big time music venue by night. By day they have killer oyster stew.
I’d just taken my first sip of beer, waiting for said stew, when the building began to tremble, then shake. After a few seconds (which felt like minutes) light fixtures were swaying. My buddy looked at his beer and said, “Wow. Powerful stuff.” Still uncertain as to how much more shaking we’d get, we beat a dignified retreat to the outside doorway, and saw Franklin St. full of people – all of them looking up. Why do people look up after an earthquake?
Well, the oyster stew tasted better than any oyster stew we'd ever had. We were alive to enjoy it.
Then on to Kennet Square and the shop of old veteran Tom Macaluso. I remember exhibiting across the aisle from him at a bookfair in Cambridge Mass. in the late 1970s. He looks the same now as he did then. I’m the one who’s gotten older.
By 9:00 the next morning I was loading my wares into the cavernous Baltimore Convention Center for the zillionth annual Baltimore Antique (and book) Show.I’ve got my issues with this show's promoters, the Palm Beach Show Group. Their one size fits all approach is a bad fit for book dealers (can’t speak for the antique people) and their over the top self promotion is silly, as well as being full of baloney. (Here’s a shot looking up my aisle at 3:30 Saturday afternoon, after two days of their annoying emails boasting big crowds and record sales – looks like a freakin’ bowling alley to me!)
But I have to admit, watching them pull together a giant show like this (550 antique dealers, 70 book dealers) is awe inspiring.
There are tens of thousands of details – from flowers to food to walls for booths that must turn into high end storefronts, to moving objects weighing hundreds or even thousands of pounds,
to accommodating every dealer complaint about lighting or placement, and accomplishing it all at top speed with absolute safety and complete security. Pretty amazing.Even moreso when it was revealed to us Thursday morning that the ceiling above the middle portion of the Book Fair area was prone to leak badly during heavy rains (apparently the Convention Center Management had failed to previously notify the Palm Beach Show people about this unfortunate situation), and, what with Irene bearing down, we were likely to see some heavy rain.
They let the booksellers vote whether to stay or move, and the booksellers voted to move.
So, beginning at eight o’clock that night, after the show shut down, the dozens of dealers in the middle of the show area packed their stands up, moved them to safety, and reassembled the booths in new locations.
It was a backbreaking, miserable job at the end of a long day. But here’s the kicker.
Most of the dealers who were not affected by the move stayed around anyway to assist their less fortunate colleagues. Sure, there were a few “me first” dealers who disappeared, but almost everyone remained on the floor and helped pack, schlep, unpack and set up the booths of the thirty-two dealers who were in harm’s way. No fighting, no biting, not even any whining. By the end of that evening, the hall was cleaned out, and the food court was moved in.
Just when I get cynical and grouchy about my brethren, just when I think I’ll snap if I hear another jackass bookseller braying about some great thing he bought, something like this happens and I realize, yet again, what a fundamentally decent bunch of people booksellers are, and how fortunate I am to have had my life’s lot cast among them. Wonderful stuff!
And once again, the Palm Beach people came through with flying colors, offering whatever assistance they could, whenever they could.
Wish I could say the same about the rest of the show, but the hurricane reports scared the customers away, and packing out was a nightmare for almost everyone. Little had changed from last year's fiasco, and several dealers were stuck there for three or four hours.
Sadly, Palm Beach just doesn’t “get” the difference between book dealers in 10x10 booths and antique dealers in spaces the size of my living room.
One size does not fit all.