Lost in the Mail - AN ARTSY JOURNEY #24
It was time to fret about fashion. Going to New York City for the Art Expo trade show was a big venture for me in 1990. I had the art. I had the promotional handout. Now I had to have the outfit.
Maybe my friend, Pam, whose skills excelled in the professional corporate world, could help me out.
“I have just what you need,” she said when I asked about borrowing a professional outfit. “Donna Karon's essential basic black suit.”
It was the era of the woman’s power suit – two-piece, tailor cut, lapels included. I nodded in agreement.
“Simply dress up the suit with an artsy scarf,” Pam said. “That scarf will set you apart and get you noticed.”
I needed to be noticed. Twenty-five thousand attendees were expected between Art Expo and Galleria at the Jacob Javits Center. I added the “artsy scarf” to my long list of details to complete before boarding a plane to the Big Apple in two days.
One thing that eased my pre-show jitters was that Pam had offered to be my trade show booth partner. With her business talents at my side, I felt confident.
Then the phone rang.
It was event security.
New York City offered two art shows – Art Expo and Galleria – held at the Jacob Javits Center each year in late March.
Art Expo attracted elaborate buyers but came with expensive booth fees. Entering this three-day show would cost more than buying a new car to replace the Chevette. I dreamt of displaying at this higher echelon, but my better judgement and bank account told me to apply for the lesser fees of Galleria. I hoped customers would seek out new talent at both shows.
By tackling a show in NYC, I was hoping to pick up clients who could resell my artwork in their gallery or shop. I was appealing to interior designers, gallery owners and corporate art brokers as a step closer to establishing income outside of Bismarck so I could relocate to Michigan and continue living off the arts.
I was also hoping a major publishing company would inquire about printing posters of my artwork. If that happened, I would be at the top of the art world as thousands of images would be produced, receiving royalties for each one. The early nineties was a time of inexpensive metal picture framing, making poster printing even more prosperous.
After submitting art slides, I was juried into the Galleria show. There were rigid guidelines to follow regarding booth set up, lighting, and specific ship dates for art as New York City had strict union regulations. It was an ala cart menu for flooring, tables, skirting, chairs, and other items which were available, all for a fee. Wastebaskets were twenty-five dollars and a single, empty booth fee started at a thousand dollars.
Then, less than forty-eight hours before we were to catch the flight, I was on the phone with event security.
“Only six of the seven boxes you filed have arrived,” a stern voice said.
My heart dropped. “Which box is missing?” I asked.
“Number five,” he said.
I scanned my application – the collapsible easels.
“There’s no chance for arrival,” he barked. “The staging area is closed in preparation for the next event. My job is to inform you.” Click. No good- bye. No good luck. Nothing.
Display easels are not an easy item to locate on short notice. I had to special order them from a catalog – no internet shopping or searching back then.
Pam got on the phone and called the local art supply shop and numerous furniture stores looking for what we needed. Next, she tried school and college art departments, even the Elan Gallery. The only easels she could locate were for decorative purposes and too cumbersome to carry on an airplane.
Then a brainstorm hit me. “We need to call a company who does trade shows,” I said, then just as quickly, the brilliant idea fizzled. I didn’t know many businesses in Bismarck.
But Pam did. A few more phone calls and we had borrowed easels. The next challenge was packaging them for travel. They towered a foot above my head so it was like trying to pack long-handled kitchen brooms. We sliced cardboard strips, and after a lot of glue gun creativity we had the easels packed.
Back then, air flights regulations were fairly flexible, and we were able to check the long narrow box as baggage. But the box didn’t sail as smoothly through the cab ride of New York.
Outside LaGuardia baggage claim, Pam and I stood in the taxi line, waiting our turn.
As the yellow four-door sedan pulled up, security directed us to the next available driver. He got out of the cab, took one look at the broom-shaped box, and snarled. To our advantage, the driver had no choice as to who his next fare would be; otherwise we were certain he would have sped off leaving us abandoned at the curb.
He popped the small trunk and hefted our two overnight bags inside, instantly filling the space to capacity. He grimaced at the broom-shaped box.
“#*###*,” he said in a language I was glad I couldn’t translate.
My lips twitched into a slight smile.
Then with a grunt, he crammed one end of the long, narrow box into the backseat, angled it lengthwise, and let the other end jut out the cranked-down passenger seat window. Pam and I squished into the remaining half of the backseat. The driver sped from LaGuardia airport, weaving in and out of traffic, rocking us from side to side. The protruding end of the box that hung out the passenger window came inches from side-swiping other cars.
“*!***^^!” The driver barked. Even without being able to translate, I was certain he was not happy.
But the colorful cab ride wasn’t what made the trip memorable.
It was pouring rain as we pulled up to the hotel. We paid the cab driver with a wad of cash including a hefty tip. He stayed glued to his seat behind the steering wheel and leveled us with a glare which was better than his agressive language.
Pam and I darted out of the cab through the deluge and ducked under an awning. A man clad in a formal uniform stepped from a covered awning and whisked the broom-shaped box like a dance partner out of the cab. His white gloved hands cradled the box as he tipped his hat and said, “Welcome to the Crown Plaza. Enjoy your stay.”
His voice was as smooth as melted caramel.
It soothed my pounding heart.
“We need to get that box to the Jacob Javits Center,” I said, holding my breath, waiting for his candy-coated sweetness to crack.
“In a New York minute,” he said as his lips eased into a smile. “We have a delivery van.”This was better than the premium dark chocolate left on your pillow by room service I had heard about at this fancy hotel.
After checking in, we took the shuttle to Javits. The vast convention center was turning into a sea of elaborate display booths. Electric drills buzzed as a small army of men erected ten-foot high, pristine white walls. Many booths were a combination of three and four spaces. Corner booths had greater prestige, and their prominence came with an even greater premium price.
Pam and I moseyed the long aisle finding our single, 4 x 10-foot booth wedged in the middle.
The six of the seven shipped boxes were heaped like an island, circling the center of the cold cement space.
A thump from next door caught my attention. A team of men were unrolling a plush carped. I nudged Pam.
“Our rug is in the missing easel box,” I muttered. My heart sank. Although it was an inexpensive imitation Oriental rug, renting carpet was a luxury I hadn’t budgeted.
“Let’s set up the booth and then make a carpet decision,” Pam said, diving into the first box.
I nodded along, too distraught to ponder options.
“Building the display bin should be first,” she added.
We unpacked the rods and wheels, wrestling with the heavy metal pieces.
“That’s odd,” Pam said. “We’re missing the bolts.”
Frantically I rifled through the packing material one more time.
Then it hit me.
We had packed a mini toolkit filled with Allen wrenches, nuts, bolts, and screws. I thought keeping all the tools in one spot would help with organization. The toolkit was in box number five – the missing box.
There was no carpet. There was no rack. Would we make any sales?
To think I once fretted about finding an “artsy scarf” to enhance my black business suit. That was the least of the challenges.