may 2005

Spring Fair was cool, even though the rain prevented us from going out on Saturday. Everyone sold something, I made decent amount of money, and I learned a lot about how I can improve my sales in the future. I'll go into more detail tomorrow, but I'm dead tired and I can't write any more right now.

Spring Fair turned out pretty well. I was up until very late Thursday night (although not as late as Seadragon, who sent me an email at 4:30 a.m.), finishing up my final mats and printing some duplicates of photos that I thought might sell, so I was pretty tired on Friday morning. Julie and I got to Hopkins around 8 or so to ensure that we could park in the regular employee lot and avoid having to park at Eastern (where the other vendors were forced to leave their vehicles that day). We spent the first hour or so having breakfast at X and O while waiting for the bank to open. Around 9 we went and got our change ($250 worth, which is what Julie calculated we'd need if we sold every print—she's always overly cautious/optimistic), and then headed back to my office to retrieve all the materials I'd stored there the day before.

Of course I couldn't just walk in and get my stuff, I had to spend about 30 minutes dealing with work issues even though I was taking the whole day off to sell my photos, but we got out before too long and headed to our spot to get set up. We were supposed to be at the north end of the lower quad facing towards the stairs that lead to the upper quad, but when we arrived we found that we had been reassigned to a new spot. Which actually turned out to be okay—the new location was also on the north end of the lower quad, and it was on a corner where five different streams of traffic met. Plus, we were really separated from other booths, which meant that we were in a prime location to lure in browsers.

The tent we bought on sale for $80 was awesome—it only took a few minutes for Julie and I to set it up, and thanks to Julie's ingenious idea of using four sets of ankle weights to hold down the feet (stakes are forbidden at Spring Fair), it was able to hold its ground even when the wind gusted to 30 mph. Seadragon (you don't know how difficult it is to call her by her blog name and not her real name) showed up just as we were getting the tables set, and Chiaroscuro not too long after that. The fair was supposed to officially open by noon, and aside from some last-minute labeling/pricing by Seadragon and Chiaroscuro, we were pretty much ready for customers by then.

The crowds were pretty thin early on, but as Hopkins students and employees (who get an extra hour for lunch on Spring Fair Friday) finished up with their lunches at the food vendors, they started to show up in increasingly large numbers in the arts and crafts section. Even still, we didn't make our first sale until 2:30 that afternoon, but despite the chilly, sunless weather, we did a decent amount of business that day. My photos did especially well, with one buyer taking 7, another taking 5, another with 3, and two people making a single purchase each. By the end of the day, everyone had made a sale except for Visual Field, who was only asked to contribute some items at the last minute and didn't have very much material on display. Here are the photos of mine that people bought, in roughly the order in which they were purchased:

Man, I didn't realize til I saw them here how many I'd sold two copies of, and five of those duplicate sales were almost triplicate. So I guess I'm getting an idea of what folks like.

Saturday ended up being a wash because of the rain—we didn't even bother to set up—but that was probably okay. We were all exhausted from several late nights in a row getting ready for the show, and since Sunday was supposed to be a really nice day, none of us had a problem sleeping in on Saturday and having the afternoon to prepare some supplementary materials to replace what we had sold on Friday.

Sunday did turn out to be a beautiful day, if a little windy at times, and just as on Friday, the crowds didn't really start to pick up in our area until after the first wave of visitors finished up at the food booths. I think we were a little hurt by not having Saturday, because Towson Town Festival was also on Sunday which meant people had to choose which festival they wanted to attend instead of splitting them over two days, but even still, we started making sales fairly quickly after noon and kept selling until about half an hour before the fair was scheduled to end. Dodd even showed up and hung out with us until we packed up and went home, and we were also visited by several local Baltimore bloggers, including a few I'd never met or only seen in passing during my brief appearance at the March Happy Hour.

Everyone made a sale on Sunday, including Visual Field, and I think by the end of it everyone realized that even if they only barely broke even, it was still a valuable learning experience that would help them prepare better for the next festival. In fact, that's one of the reasons I think I did so well—after Pigtown last October, I learned a lot about presentation, pricing, quantity of material to have on hand, displays, etc., and I put those lessons to good use at Spring Fair.

Things I learned this time:

  1. What I like is completely different from what a lot of people like. Some of my favorite photos didn't sell, and some of the ones I printed more as filler or because Julie wanted me to ended up being very popular. So next time I'm going to print a wider variety.

  2. People liked my pricing scheme, which started at $22 for a single print, dropped to $19 per print if you bought two, and dropped one more time to $16 per print if you bought three or more. But when they bought multiple prints, they wanted them all to be on the same color mat, and they strongly preferred black or white mats, not colored mats. There are still a few prints of mine that look best with a dark green or dark blue, but I think I'm going to really focus on black or white mats from now on (which works out well, because you can get very high quality black or white mats for very little if you order them in bulk).

  3. I need to have business cards and a way for people to contact me or even place orders with me after the festivals are over. I ended up giving them my email address at Spring Fair, but I'd really like to have a standalone site dedicated to this type of thing if I'm going to continue to sell my photos at these types of events.

  4. Five people is probably too many to share a booth, especially when four of them are photographers (we also had some space set aside for a friend of mine who does bookbinding). This time it didn't matter too much because Seadragon, Chiaroscuro, and Visual Field combined didn't have as much material as I did, but if they all prepared the same amount I did for a future festival, there wouldn't be enough room for everyone to display their work properly.

  5. People want more variety in photo sizes. I only had 8x10s in 11x14 mats or 4x6s in 5x7 mats. Next time I want to have some 5x7s in whatever size mat they fit in, and I'd also like to do some oversized mats (like a 5x7 in an 11x14 or something like that). This would allow the person who might not be willing to spend $22 on an 8x10 to still get a pretty nice image for a few bucks less.

I'm pretty sure I'm going to do Honfest in June, and maybe a couple more later in the summer. At the end of this year's festival season, I should have a pretty good idea about whether I can consistently make a profit at these fairs (I made a very good profit at Spring Fair, but it might have been a different story if it had been a typical one-day festival—I imagine that on a day with mediocre weather it might be hard to recoup your booth cost, much less your time, materials, etc.) and I'll make a decision about whether I want to get a little more serious about this whole enterprise. Until then, I just hope I can keep picking up tips and getting new ideas each time I do one, and it certainly wouldn't kill me if I could make as much money as I made at this year's Spring Fair.

This is the best thing I've read in a long, long time. My life would be complete if I could mete out such sweet, merciless justice just once before I die.

Boston Rob and Amber better not win the Amazing Race this season. I hate them both so much, and besides, Boston jackasses have already had enough winning in the past year. Whether they do or not, however, I can assure you that I will not be watching their stupid televised wedding.

Alright, kids. I'm out for a week. First up is a conference in New Orleans where a bunch of schools are going to get together and talk about how screwed we are for having purchased such an awful database product, then it's on to Iowa for my sister Tori's college graduation. Congratualations, dad—all your children are properly edumacated now and you can proceed with your retirement. Which for you means picking up an entirely new career, but hey, to each his own.

Anyway. Got a little off-track there. New Orleans should be fun—I've never been, and we're going up two days early so we can see the sights—and Iowa will be fun just because it will be one of those rare occasions when the whole family will be together. Plus, there's a decent chance of some riverboat gambling, which I had to skip when I drove Tori back to school last summer.

So I'll be back in a bit. Don't forget me while I'm gone.

Man. That was a long-ass trip. New Orleans was pretty fun, and it was good to get everyone together in Iowa for Tori's graduation, but I'm totally spent right now. More details later.

Okay: New Orleans. My conference didn't start until Tuesday, but Julie and I decided to go up a couple of days early to see the sights, since I had never been before and she had only been once briefly when she was younger. We flew in on Saturday night, and didn't do much besides check into our hotel in the french quarter and grab a quick dinner at Remoulade on Bourbon Street. This was the more casual sister restaurant to the upscale Arnaud's, and it was actually pretty good, especially the turtle soup and the crawfish etoufee.

The next morning we didn't really have a plan even though Julie had spent hours poring over travel guides and brochures, so we just walked around the french quarter, eventually making our way to the riverwalk and then to Jackson Square and the St. Louis cathedral. One of the attractions I really wanted to visit was one of New Orleans' famous above-ground cemeteries (the most famous of which, St. Louis No. 1, was only a few blocks from our hotel), but in all the guides we'd read, we were warned that we should only go in a large group, preferably one led by a professional tour guide. I had a hard time believing that one of the city's most famous attractions could be that dangerous in the middle of the day in prime tourist season, especially because the one we wanted to see the most was located across the street from a police station, so I asked a cop on Jackson Square what the big deal was. He told me that because they were in the middle of housing projects, visitors were constantly being robbed, beaten up, etc., and that if it were him, he wouldn't go it alone. I still thought this might be some sort of elaborate con to convince tourists to pay for $20 guided tours, but I didn't really want to take any chances, so we decided to go the next morning with a group.

For lunch we had shrimp and oysters poboys on a little balcony overlooking a quiet, just-coming-to-consciousness Bourbon Street, and then spent the rest of the day exploring the less-traveled parts of the quarter, away from the neon and noise of the Bourbon street. The quarter had a quaint tropical charm that reminded me of Key West, one of my favorite places to visit.

We took a short nap back at the hotel, then walked to the Gumbo Shop, a place my mom had recommended (she has traveled to the area fairly frequently on business, so she had a lot of tips for us, especially in regards to restaurants). The food was excellent—I again had the crawfish etoufee, while Julie tried the jambalaya. After dinner, we wandered down to the free ferry and rode to the other side of the river and back, and then finished the night with cafe au lait and beignets at Cafe du Monde, a snack every bit as enjoyable as its global reputation would lead you to expect. It was a nice finish to a long and satisfying day of exploring a new city and forgetting, briefly, about the stresses of work and travel.

5.18.05 I meant to write about our second full day in New Orleans today, but I got distracted and now I don't have time. So, er, sorry. Maybe I'll do double content tomorrow.

Oh, and also, congratulations to my brother Dodd (aka The Luckiest Boy in the World) on finding a great new apartment next to Camden Yards with only two weeks left before he has to leave his current apartment. Not sure how good of an idea it is to live within walking distance of your workplace, lots of great bars, and the ballpark, but it should be a lot of fun.

On Monday morning in New Orleans, we decided to take a tour of St. Louis cemetery #1. We met our tour guide next to Jackson Square, then walked north through the french quarter, with occasional pauses for tidbits about burial practices and the locations of earlier cemeteries that have since been converted to real estate. The tour was pretty cool, but there were plenty of people in there who weren't with a group and were just wandering around in ones or twos, some with some very expensive-looking cameras. We were pretty set on coming back to the cemetery on our own after lunch, since it didn't seem to dangerous, but just as we were leaving, two cops caming rushing in with their hands on the guns and ran to the back of the cemetery. So much for that idea.

We had some of the famous muffaletta sandwiches from Central Grocery and at them on a bench next to the river. Since we had changed our minds about going back to the cemetery, we instead spent the afternoon in a class as the New Orleans School of Cooking, where they showed us how to make jambalaya, gumbo, and pralines (they also gave us the recipes so we could try it for ourselves back home). That was pretty fun, but after the muffaletta and the samples at the end of the cooking class, a nap was in order, so we headed back to the hotel.

When we woke up a few hours later, we weren't in the least hungry, so we decided instead to walk down to the casino and spend a little money on slot machines. Julie only wanted to do $10 each, but I lobbied for $20 each, and it's a good thing I did: on her last $5 bill, Julie played a machine that gave her over $100 on her second spin and another $60 a few spins after that. She continued playing until her winnings were down to $140, and then cashed out (I, of course, won nothing). So $40 replaced the money we had spent, and $100 was profit, which Julie decided to spend on an indulgedent spa morning on the second day of my conference.

Tuesday was the first day of my conference, and so while I headed down to the meeting room on the main floor of our hotel (the Iberville Suites, attached to and owned by the Ritz Carlton), Julie got on a bus and went out on a several-hour plantation tour. The meetings were actually really good considering how boring what I do is a lot of the time, and the feedback I got from the other attendees has put a fire in my belly to be a lot more aggressive when dealing with our IT department and the developers of our piece-o-crap database software.

Tuesday night, however, was easily the best night of our vacation. Tulane, who sponsored the conference, arranged for us to have dinner at Bacco, one of Ralph Brennan's side-restaurants (his main being, of course, Brennan's), all on their tab. Not only that, it was open bar (four bloody mary's—woo hoo!). Not only that, but they had a semi-private room set aside for us and had convinced Dr. Charles White, a noted jazz musician and a graduate of Tulane, to come and play a special show for us with his four-piece band (clarinet, trumpet, bass, and banjo—he plays the clarinet). He started out with a short lecture about the origins of New Orleans jazz and the inner workings of a jazz improvisation, and then played a number from that time-period in the style in which it would have been played. He then went on to alternate between short talks about the different periods of development in New Orleans jazz and songs that illustrated each of those unique styles; by the end of the night, he had walked us through a century of music. Very cool. Very, very cool. We're supposed to host the next conference, and quite frankly, I can't think of anything that we could do that would come even close to creating that kind of archetypal experience for the city of Baltimore. We should have let some other university go next, because no matter who holds it, that's going to be one tough act to follow.

Wednesday was our last full day in New Orleans (we were flying out early Thursday morning for Iowa), and more than half of it for me was taken up by the conference. Julie used this opportunity to spend the money she won playing the slot machines on a pedicure and massage at the Ritz Carlton spa, followed by lunch and a nap. When I finally got out of my meetings, around 3, we made the rounds of the french quarter picking up gifts and souvenirs, including Rachel's mother's day presents (handmade truffles, a recipe book from the New Orleans School of Cooking, and the ingredients for Cafe du Monde's cafe au lait and beignets), a photograph from an artists's co-op that we'd visited early in the week, and a box of pralines for everyone to share in Iowa.

After our shopping spree, we returned to the hotel for a nap and shower before dinner. We went to Bella Luna, an italian restaurant where every table has a view of the river that was recommeded to me by my mom, who has been to New Orleans many times. After dinner we opted for cafe au lait and beignets at Cafe du Monde rather than dessert at the restaurant, and after lingering for a while to soak up the last bit of the city's charm, we went back to our room and got ready to begin the next leg of our journey.

The Matrix is obviously the best film Keanu Reeves has been been involved in. But Bill and Ted's Bogus Journey is a close second.

Thursday was supposed to be the day that most of the family met in Iowa for Tori's graduation. Dad and Rachel were driving from NC so they could help Tori haul her stuff back home, Julie and I were flying in from New Orleans after my conference, and Dodd was flying in late from Baltimore. Aside from having to get up at a ridiculously early time (our flight was at 6:30, so we had to be on our way to the airport by 5), our travel went pretty well—no delays on our flights, no problem with the rental car in Moline (it was even a silver one, which is currently the only color I think cars should be). Dad and Rachel had stopped in Indiana the night before, and they ended up getting to the hotel at almost the exact same time we did, so after a quick nap, we all met up with Tori for an afternoon wine reception and later, dinner.

(Dinner was at the hotel restaurant called The Beefstro and, well, you can probably guess how good it was by the name. The less said about it the better, although I will mention our waiter Paco, who bore an uncanny resemblance to Frank Zappa and who, even after agreeing with us that the iced tea really sucked, did not offer to get us a replacement beverage.)

Dodd was supposed to arrive in Moline (which is about an hour's drive from Iowa City) around 11 pm, but his flight was delayed getting off the ground in Baltimore, and he missed his connection in Chicago, which was also the last flight to Moline that evening. So dad hooked him up with a room at the airport Marriott, and he took the earliest flight the next day, arriving in Iowa City mid-morning.

Carrie had the latest flight, scheduled to arrive around 4:30 in Cedar Rapids. Dodd and I skipped out on another reception and drove together to pick her up, waiting an extra half hour or so because her flight from Chicago had been delayed. Now, with Carrie, you always have to be concerned about whether you're getting happy Carrie or angry Carrie, and we were little concerned because she's the type of person who can get hurt feelings if dad doesn't come to pick her up himself, and he had gone to the reception with Tori. But she seemed jovial enough getting off the plane, and so we figured we had gotten lucky.

And then we went to baggage claim, and our chances of keeping the happy Carrie went from 80% to less than 1% almost instantly.

It's never a big deal if you don't see your bag right away, but as the minutes ticked away and everyone else on her flight had gotten their bags and left, and no new bags seemed to be coming around, it because clear that somewhere along the way her bags had gotten misplaced. This alone would usually be enough to set her off, but considering that the last time she had flown this particular airline they had destroyed an expensive piece of luggage and still hadn't reimbursed her for it, she went from calm to livid in about 3 microseconds. I actually felt sorry for the lady behind the counter, because really, it wasn't her fault, and there was nothing she could do for Carrie except promise to track the bags down and have them delivered to the hotel, but that wasn't good enough for Carrie. Something I've learned with all my flying over the past year is that you always put your personal items (like hairbrush, toothbrush, etc.) and a change of clothes in your carry-on, so even if they do lose your luggage, you're not completely screwed. But of course Carrie didn't do that, so she had nothing to change into for dinner that night or the graduation ceremony the next day, and she was pissed. I had to leave a couple of times just to get away from the tirade, and as Tori was wrapping up, Dodd headed outside for a smoke to take his own mental break from the anger.

As it turned out, the bags were delivered to the hotel while we were out at dinner, so it ended up not being a big deal. But I don't think Dodd or I are going to be in any big hurry to volunteer to pick Carrie up next time.

Today is Hopkins' commencement ceremony, which I'm working for the first time since starting to work here. They lured me in with the promise of two bonus vacation days this summer for working it (instead of taking the forced holiday that they impose to free up the parking lots on campus for guests of the graduates), but it should actually be pretty fun because, with a little scheming, I got myself a plum job. I'm hoping I can meet both of this year's honorary degree candidates, Al Gore and Ed Witten (I really, really wish I had a copy of the Futurama DVD that Gore appears on for him to sign, but I didn't think of it until last night after all the places that sell it were closed). I should at least get some good photos of them; details here tomorrow.

Well, no pictures of Al Gore or Ed Witten, because my stupid camera has problems with indoor lighting so all the photos I took came out fuzzy, but I did get to shake both their hands and exchange a few words with them. Ed Witten showed up early for his photo, so I got to chat with him for a couple of minutes about digital photography matters, specifically about how long CDs last. He seemed alarmed that his own collection of digital photos was in danger of disappearing after hearing one of the photographers say that he still used film for some projects because burning digitial files to disc isn't suitable for long-term archival purposes. So a fairly meaningless interaction for him, I'm sure, but it was cool to meet someone like that in person and have them talk about something fairly mundane (I'm sure a lot of you don't know who Witten is, but if he succeeds in his task of writing the equations for the grand unified theory, there is no doubt that your grandkids will know his name).

Gore was a different story. I was hanging out with his escort, who just happens to be one of our admissions counselors, and his business manager, so I was only a couple of feet away from him for about half an hour, but of course everyone wanted to talk to him and there really wasn't an easy way for me to push a dean or a faculty member out of the way and introduce myself. But while we were waiting for everyone to get in place for the first round of photos, he caught me looking in his direction, made eye contact with me, and nodded. I hesitated for a second, but then stepped towards him, shook his hand, and said something embarrassingly stupid like "I really wish you had won." His response: "Me too." After that it was time for photographs, and then he was ushered down to the field for his speech. So I didn't get to say anything witty to him or ask about his experience doing episodes for Futurama, but there was a minimal interaction. And that's really all I could have hoped for given his short visit and the heavy demands on his time while he was here.

Gore's speech wasn't too bad, although I got the feeling that he'd delivered most of it before to other audiences. The first half was really funny, though, showcasing the humor and humanity that he seems to posess in abundance but which never made their presences known during his eight years as vice president and which may have cost him the election (well, what really cost him the win was not using Bill Clinton to deliver him Arkansas and/or Tennessee, which would have made the Florida recount irrelevant, but I won't harp on that now).

I thought working one day in exchange for two vacation days later was a pretty good deal, but I left home at 6:00 am and I didn't get home for 6 pm, and I was busy for most of the time I was there, so I think that Hopkins actually got a fairly even trade. Still, it was fun to see the ceremonies and indulge in a little star-gazing, and my hard work is just going to make me enjoy my two extra days of vacation this summer all the more.

Man. Was that really a three day weekend? Family came up to visit and I had a lot of fun, but I think I need another day off. Now.
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