How I traveled America as a sideshow of sorts or “You got Native Americans making this Stuff?”
Day 1; leaving, eventually, finally leaving and hitting the open road hoping not to hit a deer or crash or fall asleep at the wheel or get food poisoning
The car stands in the driveway, still and silent, tailgate open, all four doors open, things piled around it. There is the bag with the display tent, black, long, bulky, heavy, the bag with the tents sides in it, amorphous in shape, soft like a pillow, four long thin weights weighing between 40 and 60 pounds each to keep the booth from blowing away in the event of a tornado, there are two suitcases, a backpack, two messenger bags, 3 folding white tables, the big black box with the display drapes; gray fabric with large white stripe designs on it like a fireworks display, the display stands, the display boards, the feet for the display boards, (amazingly most of our display comes from a little store called Ikea and people are always asking us where we got our displays, basically cabinet doors with feet on them forming small tables on top of our tables,) there are three more smaller black boxes with beads and point of sale equipment, there are two large white boxes full of parts and supplies for making jewelry on the road, sort of a mobile studio because no matter how much Lisa makes before we go she will need to make more. On top of this will go pillows, the camera bag, the monopod for the camera, the countertop tripod, a bag with snacks, dog crates, dog leashes, dog food, my wife’s jewelry, maps, books, two Dell laptops, the iPad, two iPhones, numerous CDs, some Dvds and when we are finally ready to go will be two adults, two children, and two small obnoxious terriers. I am trying to pack all this in the Volvo in between oxidizing batches of jewelry parts for Lisa.
As usual we are leaving late. I spend weeks before these trips with maps and calculations, pouring over hotel lists and figuring how far we can drive the first day, the second, trying to decide when to make reservations, when to wing it and when I am just going to drive until I can’t and nap at a rest stop between the trucks with their generators and refrigeration units humming all night. All so that we can arrive in plenty of time to set up the booth the day before the first day of the show.. We always leave late, me glancing at my watch, Lisa frantically trying to get just a couple more things done, me reassuring her that it is all right and that we can still get there on time making calculations in my head about the number of miles and where we can drive at eighty miles an hour and trying to predict how many miles of single lane highway we’ll have to drive on as they repair the freeway. It rolls from ten in the morning when I had planned to leave; Eleven o’clock the car still not packed, the tumbler squeaking away on the kitchen counter polishing jewelry parts. Twelve o’clock the car mostly packed a hasty cleaning-out-the-refrigerator lunch. One o’clock and I am sitting in the living room trying to figure out how far I can drive tonight. Again I am reassuring Lisa that it is fine and we are going to get there while thinking that I am probably going to have to drive fast deep into the ocean of the night. A night populated with trucks, faster cars, curves, missing rest stops, thanks to budget cuts, and deer gaily leaping across a three lane freeway full of fast moving cars that all too often stop moving fast thanks to an adult version of Bambi trainspotting with the cars (thanks to a deer that had recently been hit by another car but still lay in the road our car smelled like a barbecue for about two weeks and I had to snap part of our bumper back on, but that’s another story.)
It’s three o’clock and we are finally leaving. The kids are loaded up, the dogs are settled in, we have rolled down the windows and opened the sunroof because it is a beautiful sunny day, The Black Keys thump out of the stereo causing my mirrors to vibrate subtly, and we are accelerating onto interstate 5. The iron, the coffee maker, the stove, and the microwave all are unplugged, all things valuable are stored in hiding spots or in my mother in law’s care, we are feeling good and driving at the critical five miles over the speed limit that helps keep the cops at bay.
“The signs, did we get the signs?” I don’t know why Lisa noticed at that moment that in all the things blocking my rear view mirror the flat black artists portfolio that carries our signs is missing but true, the signs are still in her studio. Get off the freeway and head home.
Ok, we only lost half an hour, it’s now 3:30 and we are starting again. Kids settled in, the dogs loaded up,, the Black Keys rattling my mirrors, the windows down the prescribed amount so that Rosie, our Jack Russell Terrier (the terriorist) won’t decide to make her grand break out the window of a moving car and we are entering the freeway again.
“The jewelry, did we remember the jewelry,” this time my wife is joking, a reference to the first show we ever did when we forgot the jewelry and I had to run home while she set up the little table and drape and displays that were our pitiful first “booth” in the crowded basement of the Jupiter hotel a 4 foot by 4 foot space with our 2 foot by 4 foot table and us and two chairs and I hope we don’t have to go to the bathroom because to get out we have to wiggle between the other tables.
We drive relentlessly across Eastern Oregon a land of unending brown and unbroken vistas where my vision starts to blur and I can no longer tell where the horizan ends and the land begins, but finally there is a small change and we begin to climb finally into Idaho, as it gets dark, I am sure it is beautiful during the day but all we see is the edge of the freeway seems to spin away into a dark morass of lightless falling if you accidentally drifted off and shot over the edge. It is with this thought that I spy a rest stop sign just beyond one of the large blue barrels that says “water, non potable” on it. We pull in finding it deserted and spend a few hours sleeping waiting for the bad music to start and a man with a hockey mask and a chainsaw to appear on the hood of our car. When we wake we find ourselves still alone at the rest stop and discover that it is lousy with signs warning of rattlesnakes.
“Kids, Stay on the paths!” Lisa and I seem to shout in unison.
Day 2; arriving in Glenwood springs home of the Glenwood hot springs and a giant one hundred year old hotel that once hosted Teddy Roosevelt. .
Our second day we spend crossing Idaho, which seems to be more unbroken rolling fields, there are supposedly cities here but all we can see from the freeway is the semi suburban businesses that grow along the side of freeways like some sort of cancer, the signs heralding Cat, or Freightliner, or Denny’s. We drive straight through pausing only to get lost briefly in the outskirts of Boise to find a Starbucks and getting our large iced coffee speed back to the freeway “I swear it was this direction!?” as fast as we can, and again driving at the magic five above the limit with stops at a few more run down rest stops we dip down into Utah, driving South and into Salt Lake City. The drive throughs spring up like a rash, Hummers begin to crowd the highway and every direction you look you see the white spire of a local temple of the Church of Latter Day Saints, or Mormons. The search for Del Taco begins, only to find out that In and out burgers have expanded to Salt Lake City.
A moment for haiku thought of while driving fast down the freeway and seeing that sign on the side of the road “food ahead” with the little square signs inside of its green that announce what they are calling food;
In and out burger
french fries dipped twice in fry sauce
tums, glad to see you
We stop and relieve the dogs leaving them in the car, in the shade, windows cracked, and find a table outside even though the air conditioning feels so good inside. A little less than half an hour later the distraught remains of our dinner lay across our table empty wrappers held down by the edge of our tray. Now with a Double Double, fries, fry sauce, and a coke inside me I just hope the protein doesn’t send me into a coma. We all load back into the car welcomed by dogs that seem to not have seen us in days. I look longingly at the Best Western plus with its free wi-fi, free breakfast, and advertisement of an indoor pool and turn onto the road following the signs back to interstate 80.
Back on the road, we have a long way to go and now it is obvious that we are not going to be able to set up today but instead will have to wake up early tomorrow morning. Through the empty wasteland of Eastern Utah and Western Colorado, we sadly pass signs that promise National Parks, like Arches, and Mesa Verde, knowing that there will be no time on this trip for these places. The sun drops on Colorado and again we are passing through an area that we can tell is beautiful but only looks deadly at night as my eyes waver and I begin to see things that aren’t there. As we close in on 11 o’clock and about sixteen hours on the road we finally see the first signs of Glenwood Springs; a large sign informing us that the next exit will get us to West Glenwood Springs Super Target. When we finally reach the exit for Glenwood springs, a town with two primary streets, we are briefly lost trying to figure out where to go for our hotel. Our hotel is finally found and I discover that the lobby is locked and closed, but the night clerk, writing me a note on whom to call to get checked in sees me and lets me in. The hotel is clean, a little rundown, but mostly steril. Once I have removed enough equipment from the car I collapse into bed and dream of roads and trucks and speeding cars and curves.
Glenwood Flippin’ Springs, or how an art show turned out to be a country fair.
I wake up early the next morning feeling a little like the washcloth that I used on my face last night, all wrung out and sitting wasted on the bathroom counter. I drive the two and a half blocks up to the park since I have about 300 pounds of equipment to set up a booth to sell about five pounds of jewelry. The show seems to be well organized but I don’t really get the layout as lanes seem to end. My neighbor isn’t here yet on one side but on the other I see that we have someone who seems to sell some sort of dip mix. It takes me about two hours to set up and I run the car back to the hotel to get Lisa and her jewelry. Lisa has packed the jewelry back in the case and is quickly getting dressed as I arrive, the kids are still half asleep and in pajamas. As is usual for us at shows we are running a litle late and have to hustle up the hill to our new little “shop” in the middle of this sea of food samples. Our neighbor shows up at the last minute with a helper. Setting up their tent they crash into our tent several times fortunately our tent cannot be hurt that way unlike most ceramic or glass art booths so I let it slide. Now I know who surrounds us. Across the way is a woman and man team who sell pillowcases at twenty dollars a piece with her designs silk screened onto them. She is very fond of ponies and princesses and animal prints and Texas A&M so her booth shouts at us in a twenty by ten cacophony of bright prints all about the same side on pillowcases for twenty a pop. Next to us on our left is a booth that sells mixes for dips, and to our right the woman who kept banging our tent during setup sells homemade body lotions and lip balms. The people behind us apparently sell a pillow made with some kind of chaff of some sort of grain and we hear all day for the next three days about how good it is for your cervical health. A claim we’re not sure is legal to make.
It becomes quickly apparent that the 115th annual Strawberry Days Art festival is a country fair of sorts with a few artists thrown in to make it a little more highbrow. People begin to come through. touching Lisa’s jewelry asking about it looking at the prices. “too rich for my blood” or “wow that’s really expensive” a few comment about how nice the work is but more often when we explain the process which requires my wife to dye a wood bead and then weave beads tightly around the wooden bead one bead at a time then to make all the silver parts by hand most just shake their heads “Crazy” says one, “Wow that’s tedious” says another. but no one buys. We continue to stand behind the table taking turns to break and go wander the park or to walk the four blocks down to our hotel to check on the kids and the dogs.
“You got Native American Women making these things?” asks a woman after I explain the process to her having just told her that my wife makes the jewelry. “No, my wife is responsible for all the jewelry and the parts” I reply. I’m not sure where she thinks that we keep these Native American Women, does she think I hide them under the table so they can make the jewelry as I sell it. The first day has been a full one, watching people come by the booth, not buy anything, and comment on how expensive the jewelry is. Lisa and I go back to the hotel and I drive down the street to the safeway and get some bland food for our dinner and some alcoholic beverages to help us preserve the little bit of sanity we have left.
My birthday, or another day of strange comments, a plastic clamshell of cake, and a roasted chicken across a linoleum hotel table.
Another day of telling people “my wife hand weaves every bead herself and makes the silver parts herself as well” to have people squint at the work and ask me “is this made of plastic?’
“No each little bead on the larger bead there is an individual bead that my wife weaves in place one at a time.”
“Are they glued on?”
“No she weaves each bead by hand using a special beading thread that used to be used by shoemakers to make their shoes”
Happy birthday to me, I turn 45 today and here I am standing in a ten by ten white tent in Glenwood Springs Colorado, talking to a unique breed of amazingly rude people.
The show ends today and we haven’t really made enough. There is the cost of the jewelry parts and the time it took to make, the gas, the hotel, and not to mention the cost of our sanity. Lisa and I end up at a Kroger brand Grocery picking up a roasted chicken, a loaf of french bread, and some slices of cake for my birthday dinner, and go back to the hotel and take the kids down to the pool, which is dappled by the leaves falling from the sheltering tree and Lisa and I sit in the hot tub trying to remember what it was like to stand all day and not be this tired.
The show ends with a whimper and daddy gets her whatever she wants.
The final day rolls through almost exactly like the first two. One young woman, after Lisa has explained the process to her, turns over a pair of earrings and lseeing the price looks directly at Lisa and says “I’d have to win the lottery to afford this!”
Finally, in the last afternoon of the show, a young woman comes up who had been there the first day and without ever commenting on the price begins to look at several pieces. Moments later an older man shows up and we quickly gather that this is “daddy”. The process takes a while but she finally decides on three pieces that add up to just under five hundred dollars and this daddy’s girl and her father save the day for us.
The show ends, Lisa packs up her jewelry, and heads back to the hotel while I begin the process of breaking down the booth and packing everything back to the car. This is the point where I put everything into the car half hazardly because I am going to have to repack it in the morning.
Goodbye Glenwood flippin’ Springs and onto the next show!
The next morning we pack up our stuff and vacate the hotel room fully an hour after our intended last moment to hit the road time, me spending an hour packing and repacking the car. It all fit the first time. Why not now. At last the car is packed, the kids are in the car, the dogs are in the car, the windows are down the prescribed amount, we have figured out where the Starbucks is (five miles in the wrong direction) and we are on the road again.) Now it’s 2000 more miles of driving to the next show in Philadelphia, my wife’s home town. Let’s go!