Brian J. Sullivan
Last year I had the opportunity to attend a wellness seminar put on by Dr. Johanas Topenkas, the world renowned psychologist. Dr. Topenkas's claim to fame is the "Be Happy" theory. He believes that anyone under any circumstances can be happy simply by willing it. I decided to put Dr. Topenkas to the test.
Dr. Topenkas is a great supporter of the arts, having one of the finest collections of yard art I have ever seen. With this knowledge in mind I decided to invite him to experience the artist life on the road doing an art fair. He arrived at my house the day before my next scheduled art fair in the Deep South. It was mid-March. We spent the rest of that day and part of the night packing and repacking the van, using a checklist to make sure all tents, poles, and art stock were accounted for.
At 4:00 am the alarm went off, signaling the beginning of our journey which would test one's capacities over the next couple of days. A quick shower, shave, and breakfast, and we were out the door by 5:00 am. The first leg of our journey would take us 562 miles, approximately 13 hours of drive time, stopping only for gas and an occasional bathroom break. Meals were cold sandwiches brought with us or a power bar purchased during a gas stop. The first day's drive unfortunately took us through two major downtowns, one during rush hour.
We arrived at our first hotel around 7:00 pm and had to negotiate unmarked city streets in the dark. We checked in and unpacked only our carry-on luggage. Dinner was a walk to the nearest fast food restaurant near the hotel. Back at the hotel I studied the maps for the next day's journey. By 9:30 pm the lights went out.
Our wake-up call rang at 4:00 am and we again were out the door by 5:00 am. Another long day awaited us with basically the same schedule as the day before—drive, drive, drive.
Quality Inn was a misnomer—some owner's over inflated view of his hotel. If English was spoken here it must have been some dialect not commonly spoken except in some remote part of the world. Strip clubs were located on either side of the hotel. All the rooms faced along the highway, with the ever present drone of highway noise penetrating the walls. The multi-colored carpet was stained its own random pattern. Tiles were missing from our shower wall and the toilet ran incessantly. Several light bulbs were inadvertently missing or burned out which helped to hide the peeling paint. Smoke tainted drapes and bed covers burned one's nose. These were the conditions in which we tried to sleep. Before the final light went out, I turned to the doctor and said, "Be happy."
On the third day, the alarm went off at 5:00 am and we were on the road by 6:00 am. Towing a trailer behind our vehicle proved more of a challenge on this day as we had to negotiate highway construction in downtown Houston. Exit ramps were closed and regular signage helped little in directing us to the correct location of the fair. Traffic was the worst I've ever seen.
We finally arrived at the fair check-in table at around 5:00 pm after being on the road for over 10 hours. We spent the next three and a half hours unloading boxes, tents, and panels, trying the best we could in the near dark conditions, flash lights helping little. I made sure the doctor carried his weight and worked. I wanted him to fully experience the wonderful life of an artist.
By the time we were done setting up our tent and were back at the hotel, it was around 11:30 pm. We grabbed a few snacks from the vending machine.
Another 5:30 am curtain call, but this time for real. This would be the opening day of the fair. We arrived at the fair location by 7:00 am, wiped the dew off the tent, rolled up the side flaps, and hung the awning. Part of our task also involved rearranging some of the art before the gates opened at 9:00 when the throngs of waiting people would mob the artist tents.
The sun came out and soon the temperature climbed to over 90 degrees with high humidity, which, combined with the bodies of thousands of people, made for a steamy day. Constant flow of crowds prevented us from getting away for a lunch or dinner break. Several quick bathroom breaks were all that was possible. After a long and exhausting day we were able to close down the tent by 9:00 pm.
We left the fair grounds and headed to a late night restaurant chain to grab a bite to eat. We left around 10:30 pm and headed back to the hotel. I turned and smiled and said to Mr. Psychobabble, "Be happy." His tired eyes spoke volumes of his sentiments. No smile broke the surface.
Sunday's weather proved less than desirable with torrential downpours on and off throughout the day. Temperatures had dropped precipitously. We were both now wet and cold. Because of the inclement weather, crowds were practically non-existent. Minutes dragged into hours, and tear-down was still hours away. As the fair closing approached, a hard driving rain began to fall.
Rules for tear-down state that one must completely break down one's tent and all display material before a load-in pass would be issued from the section leader. We were both totally soaked and cold. The tent would have to be packed away wet, and at some later time, set up and dried off. It was getting late and the sun had gone down, necessitating using a flashlight to load the rest of the van. While the first day was extremely hot and muggy, maybe too much so, the second day with rain on and off killed any possibility of be-back sales.
Sale totals for the two-day fair did not even equal the booth, hotel, gas, food, application, mass mailing, or postcard costs.
We finished loading the van late Sunday night, long after most restaurants were closed. I turned to Mr. "Be Happy" and said, "How do you feel now?" Get ready because next weekend we start all over again.