From time to time I will write the stories of Life as a Crafter. It has been a very interesting, difficult, and very rewarding life. I will try to convey the experiences and the background for how they have come about. It seems that most things in life are a combination of your experiences that cause or create new events, maybe a lot like dominoes falling.
I am writing these stories not only to give customers insight into what life is like for a small business owner, but also for my children and their children to know I existed and why I was the way I was.
Generally most people begin at the beginning; well a crafter is not most people. I will begin with what my children like to say is the story “ I’M FROM VALLEY STATION KENTUCKY”.
Exhibiting at the New York International Gift show was a big deal for us, the majority of our budget for the year went to this show, and well worth it. The show always generated a lot of orders for us, gave us a presence in the mind of buyers, and though strenuous, it was always a good time as well.
This story actually begins months before, at the end of summer in the mid 1990's. I was working away in the shop and a salesman from a trucking company walked through the door. He really wanted our business, but he didn’t realize we didn’t have much business that was sent freight. We mostly shipped through UPS, USPS, and Fed Ex. He was very persistent but to no avail, we just don’t ship by freight carriers and when we did, the customer had their own arrangements.
He was crestfallen as he slowly made his way to the door saying good-bye. He grabbed the door handle and was about to leave, “You don’t do trade shows do you?” .
We did several trade shows a year. “Yes”, I said, “several”.
His eyes lit up, he grew taller and informed me that their company was the best in the industry at getting trade show deliveries done. I told him I had been using the same company for several years and they had always been reliable.
“Oh we’re better and our prices are better. And to prove how important you are, we’ll do the pick up for free.”
“OK I’ll give it a try.” Had to admire his persistence and the company track record.
The new year came around and Kathleen and I were preparing for the big show in NY. Our booth was loaded and sure enough the trucking company showed up on time and off our stuff went to the Javitt Center with out a hitch.
We had been going to the NYIGS for several years now and we had our system down about as good as you could. We were living near Louisville at the time and were able to fly into LaGuardia early Saturday morning with the show to start Sunday morning at 9am. Over the years we had gotten our set up time for our booth down to just a few hours, so arriving on Saturday was an option we liked to use to take as little time away from our young children as possible.
The weather in New York that time of year was always cold, this was something else, but we were at, as Ed Sullivan would say, “the Big Shooe”.
Entering the Jacob Javitts Center always gave me a real sense of excitement. You just new that next big order with “that” company everyone wanted was only hours away. It always reminded me of fishing, the energy of reeling in the big one.
We made our way to our aisle. In Kentucky we are extremely fortunate to have the Kentucky Crafted Marketing Program (http://artscouncil.ky.gov/aboutkac.htm)
They helped us and many, many crafters make it to New York and get the exposure that’s the difference between success and failure as a business.
Our aisle had a block of several crafters from Kentucky; over the years and various shows we had all become friends. As we came up to our space we were surprised to see it empty.
Our first thought was that “Well, they just hadn’t been able to get everything to the booths yet.” We said hi to everyone in our group and asked if we could help anyone while we waited for our stuff. One of our fellow crafters, Brack, informed me that he hadn’t seen any freight being delivered today, it was all out the day before. “They set my stuff in the wrong booth one year” he informed me, “you better check around and see if it is around”.
A fruitless search, our stuff was nowhere to be found. It was now well after noon. I made my way to the shipping office and asked if they could help me find my stuff.
“Ya ,we’ll get right on it after lunch”
It was of course already after lunch, but I thanked them and they said that they would track it down and get it to my booth soon.
An hour later I made my way back down to the freight office.
“ Oh ya, we couldn’t find your stuff.”
(Wonder when were they going to get around to telling me? And it gets worse)
“It’s not in the building and all the trucks left yesterday.”
“WHAT?” Irritation had just turned into panic. (Calm down I told myself, you gotta call the truck company NOW! ) So I was able to reach some guy in the closest terminal, which was in New Jersey.
“I can’t help, it’s Saturday” he told me and said to call back in the morning.
That just wasn’t going to be an option so with “Who’s your boss? I want to speak to him.”
“I’ll see what I can do, give me a few minutes”
30 minutes later, approaching 3pm and wondering if I was going to have to call back, his boss called with much the same response
“I can’t help, you will just have to call back in the morning”.
It took a bit more emphasis but much the same as before of “Who’s YOUR boss?” and 30 minutes later:
“I can’t help, we can’t do any thing until tomorrow.”
“WHO IS YOUR BOSS!?!”
“Sir,I am the regional manager, the CEO is my boss”
“Good. That is exactly who I want.”
“He is on vacation in the Pocono Mtns. I don’t think I can reach him, but I’ll try”
Thirty min later I got a call from the Ceo and had to explain the problem as to why it couldn’t wait till “tomorrow”.
“I am a very small business; your company came to me and guaranteed me they were the best and that not only would I save in expenses, but that I had nothing to worry about. I came all the way from Valley Station. Kentucky and that not having my booth here will bankrupt my company and ruin me.”
“I’ll call you back in 30 minutes”.
Sure enough he called back.” The freight is still on the truck I have no idea why they didn’t unload it, all you paper work is in order.”
The dock workers were probably going to get to it after lunch” I told him.
“I have a driver and helper coming in at 12 midnight, that is as soon as I can get someone, will that help?”
( Oh great I’ll be setting this up in the middle of the night I thought) “Sure that’s great”
“Oh, they won’t be allowed to go in the building but they can unload the truck out on 11th avenue”
( How the heck am I supposed to get that giant crate down the escalator and to my booth?) but instead I said: “No problem, that will be great.”
One last thing they will not be able to get there before 1am, here is my personal phone number,. call me any time if anything goes wrong.
(What could possible go wrong!)
Oh and tell the freight office what we have worked out, you shouldn’t have any problems.
I proceeded to find my buddy <sarcasm> in charge of the freight office. It was now at the end of the work day and the office was full of freight guys, carpenters, electricians, and all their helpers.
I found my buddy and told him the good news of finding my shipment and that they’ll have it here for me to unload late tonight.
“You can’t do that.”
“What? Why, I already got it set up.”
“That truck can’t be unloaded until Monday after 6am, we won’t have anyone here.”
“ I can do it myself.”
“You don’t understand, If I don’t sign that paper they will not unload that truck.”
“You don’t understand. (my anger starting to show in my voice) I came from Valley Station Kentucky, and you had your chance to unload that truck!”
We had begun to draw a crowd. (In retrospect I doubt that many people ever challenged this guy, he was a big barrel chested guy, and I still can picture him looking at me from behind his “throne”)
“You don’t understand, If I don’t sign this paper you can’t get into the building the doors will be locked.”
“You don’t understand I came all the way from Valley Station Kentucky to do this show and I’m going to!”
“I will not sign your paper , they won’t unload the truck, and that door will be locked!”
My sons tell me that when they’ve done something foolish that really upsets me, there’s a vain that pops out in my neck, my eyes start to bug out, chest gets puffed up, and it puts the fear of God in ‘em, and well…I also may have played up my accent a bit, but…
“BUDDY. I CAME FROM V A L L E Y, S T ATION, K E N T U C K Y, I DON’T CARE IF YOU SIGN THAT PAPER. (and now in that quiet voice) I will unload that truck by myself, come through that door locked or not and carry that crate down the escalators and set up my booth. If you want stop me, I suggest you be here at 1am!!!”
The crowd had a real sense of anticipation. I’m sure they were thinking that their boss was gonna kick this guy’s butt. I was surrounded by guys with tool belts, claw hammers, crow bars, and other tools of the trades. I was like Custer at the Little Big Horn. I was shocked that instead of reaching for a crow bar “Buddy” reached for my paper and signed it.
I am sure that with my eyes bugged out and the veins on my head and neck bulging he had second thoughts about fooling with a guy from Valley Station Kentucky. Not out of fear from me, but perhaps all my “kin” from the hills coming up and starting a new feud to rival the Hatfields and McCoys, and perhaps scenes from the movie everyone had seen, “Deliverence”, and how could he not be certain that it was my relatives as extras in the movie?
That would be the last thing he would want to start, a generational feud. The room was silent, it wasn’t just my face that showed shock, it was on everyone’s face as if Joe Louis or Mohamed Ali had been ko’ed by a girl scout. I grabbed my paper and went to see the person I was most worried about dealing with, my wife.
It was probably about 5pm at this time most of our friends were set up and gone, enjoying the evening in NY. I got back to our booth and Kathleen was sitting there trying not to get teary eyed.
“Honey great news they found our stuff and their going to get it to us” (presentation is everything.) She was so relieved, “How long will it be, do we have time to go get some dinner?” (Oh boy) “Ya we have time to squeeze in something to eat.”
On the way to dinner I explained the whole affair to her, it didn’t go over to well but she took the news in true crafter form--we could salvage the show and survive to fight another day.
I noticed again how cold it was as we went to grab some dinner. We were staying at our friend Patty’s place. She was also from Valley Station and an old friend I had grown up with. I told Kathleen she could stay and get plenty of rest and be ready for the show in the morning, but in another example of true crafter form, she would help with the set up. It was getting close to midnight so we were going to make our way over to the Javitts Center. It was so cold I decided to get a cab so Kathleen wouldn’t be so uncomfortable even though it wasn’t too far and we usually walked.
We were almost to the Javitts Center when our cabbie said
“Look at that, Do you believe it?”
I don’t know if you have ever had a cab ride in NY, but if a NY cabbie is asking if you believe your eyes you know you are seeing something that doesn’t happen every day. Outside the Javitts center there was a least 50 women in almost no clothes working the evening trade. It was unbelievable. Had I mentioned it was cold, probably in single digits with the wind chill off the Hudson River? I had never seen a thong at the time, but there was plenty of them on display at that location. The scene reminded me of a WWI aerial dog fight. They would swoop in and make a run at any person that could possibly be a customer. Kind of hover around in formation and take turns having their shot, if one didn’t get him that next in line would go in for a strafing run. I was freezing but they seemed completely impervious to the cold.
Kathleen and I showed the guard ‘Our papers’, I guess all the signatures and stamps were in order. We parked ourselves at the entry and waited for our truck, and had entertainment as good as any Broadway show. It is amazing how much traffic there is in New York City in the middle of the night. I would go out each time a truck approached hoping it was ours. Off course each time I went out the girls would get into formation for another strafing run.
I was in and out so much that I finally just stayed out. Man it was cold. I had lots of company though, I thought about just paying the girls to cuddle with me but I figured with Kathleen watching just a few feet away, I would be better off freezing to death. I had heard it was just like going to sleep, which would certainly be better than whatever my wife may do to me!
At last the truck arrived. The guys were really kind and helped as much as they could. They apologized several times and said they were sorry to keep me outside in the cold. They were getting the truck closed up and asked “Hey Buddy were ya from anyway? They were curious who had the clout to get their boss to have them working this late on a weekend.
“I’m from Valley Station Kentucky.”
I guess they couldn’t piece it together so with a shake of their head and a nod they continued, “Look at that Do you believe ?” (nodding towards the girls,I guess I really was seeing something ya just don’t see everyday.)
“Funny” I said “I been asked that before, and thanks guys for all the help.”
We were able to get our booth set up with enough time to spare to get back to Patty’s for a shower, breakfast, and a change of clothes. Yet, it was a great first day at the show, perhaps our best one to date.
Late in the day I had a guy come into the booth. Up east when people see that your from Kentucky they picture a not so sophisticated individual, perhaps even surprised to see us wearing shoes (we all know the stereotypes that persist of us) and I could tell by his comments he was running down our heritage.
He asked what it was like being up here in the big city:
“I bet it’s nothing like where your from”
I guess I was tired, no sleep last night and little sleep leading up to the show, so I gave him the hick he expected and had a little fun of my own.
<in my best southern hick accent> “Aw no, people haf been real nice t'us.” told him.
“You gotta be kiddin”.
“No, No, jest last night ah had 3 gals ax me eff'n ah wanted a date, an' ah didn’t knows enny of’em! They was pow'ful friendly.”
(He stared at me like I had two heads. I sure he was thinking this guy won’t survive a week here.)
“Hey where are you from?”
Buddy, I’m from Valley Station Kentucky.