Observations From the Other Side

Man and a woman behind a small table on a grass lawn.  Books displayed on table.

 Trying to look serious, yet inviting, while staffing our unauthorized vendor booth in our yard during the Lithopolis Honeyfest.

        The title of this piece may imply that following an unfortunate incident, during which I was instructed to "go toward the light," that this article may be a report from The Great Beyond. While I have had an experience such as that years ago, this is not that story. 
       One of the things I think about, while strolling around a festival or fair, is "what is it like to be in one of those booths, and be ignored?" Most people walk on past the majority of the booths, and the people in them. I know I do, even though they are what draws us to the event in the first place. The folks inside hope their wares, will attract our attention and cause us to stop and open our wallets, for a  chance to win a giant stuffed Sponge Bob, or procure a plate of chocolate covered deep fried radishes. The booths and vendors are the primary reason we are there! Extracting dead presidents from our wallets are the reason they are there.
        The recently concluded Lithopolis Honeyfest is a good example. Allegedly, most attendees were looking to purchase honey or beeswax, and seek out a variety in those commodities beyond the industrial concoctions found on the grocery store shelves. But what about all the other booths and sellers, who have nothing to do with bees or honey? Why are they there, or at any other fair for that matter? Because we like stuff - and a lot of it! Street fairs and festivals typically have unique things which cannot be found anywhere else. They attract people looking for stuff - like bees to flowers!
        Yard sales, though on a much smaller scale, operate in a manner akin to a fair midway, and are a fine way of getting rid of stuff to folks who want stuff. My wife and I have gone to yard sales, and have had a few of our own. It was an amazing amount of hard work. Even though we did unload a lot of stuff, and our house is much relieved because of it, we hope to never have to do that ever again! 
        However, we both have specific things we have been trying to sell via other means, to mixed results. A street fair, in the form of the Lithopolis Honeyfest, was scheduled to be held in front of our house. That knowledge germinated the notion that maybe I could sell my book (Hitting the Road Without a Map), and she could sell some of her excess handcrafted metal jewelry. A notice in the paper stated that the Honeyfest was actually happening this year - virus be damned. A rather impressive number of vendors had signed up to be there. Our renegade plan was to set up our stuff in our yard, and become unofficial participants in the whole bee-festive atmosphere. We had less than a week to figure out how to pull it off!
        Though not seasoned pros, the yard sale experience had taught us a few things, and had also provided us with a pop-up tent and a folding table. I would have to make signs, and we both would need to create displays to attract the masses. Once again we discovered that it was a lot more work than we blithely anticipated when the idea was first proposed over a cup of coffee at our kitchen table. Also, we feared the festival organizers might not take too kindly to our unsanctioned guerilla setup, and it was possible they might send the honey SWAT team into our yard to break up our rebel-selling activity. Fortunately, that did not happen, but we did receive some disapproving looks, commonly referred to as 'the stink-eye," while we were setting up.
        Our signs declared "Local Book Author," and "Local Jewelry Artist - sterling silver, copper, leather, semi-precious stones, and beadwork." I made them on the computer, and they looked downright professional. Even the displays reeked of class, with black table cloths, driftwood, barn siding, and commercial grade plastic display risers for Tammy's bracelets.  We were ready for the stampede! How could anyone resist?
        The first hour of being vendors in a booth was a bit slow. A few brave souls ventured through the gate in our picket fence, and furtively glanced at what we had to offer. It was becoming obvious why carnival barkers yell a lot - to get people's attention. Making eye contact is critical in getting a person to stop and pause. Most folks were just strolling by, oblivious of their surroundings. They did seem to be enjoying themselves though, and that was good to see.
        When Tammy and I go to antique shows or carnivals, she does not want to be bothered by the vendors. She wants to take her time and let her own eye and mind determine where she will stop to check things out. I am like that to some extent, but I am also a sucker for a good line of banter, or a pleasant invite. I tried to employ the latter technique on any potential shoppers during our little exercise in capitalism at the Honeyfest. But in sales there are no guarantees, and one cannot interpret a walk-by or a quick look, with no sale, as a personal affront. Besides, we were there to enjoy ourselves and maybe get a bit of appreciative recognition. Our whole livelihood was not at stake, which was not necessarily the case for the folks working the certified and sanctified booths. For us, it became a day and a half of people watching, explaining what we were offering, and answering curious questions.
        Questions sparked by genuine interest, or curiosity, sparked the most satisfying conversations. Then there were the perplexing questions, such as: "Do you live here?" "Did you make this?" or "Did you write this book?" We thought the signage placed all around would ably answer the last two questions. As to the first question, I suppose we could have been hired hands, or shills, selling someone else's stuff just like at the fair, but we were sitting in a yard. Possibly that is why the first question was asked so frequently as well. It was all I could do to restrain myself from responding, "No, we do not live here, and we have no idea who does!" Or, "the folks who live here are locked in the cellar, but I promise we will let them out when this is all over!"
        Suppressing countless opportunities for witty and sarcastic retorts was almost too painful to endure. Now I could understand why some vendors, or carnies, are so caustic and abrasive following days and months of perplexing behavior from the swarms of potential customers swirling past their booths.
        We were fortunate our booth was in our yard in our own hometown. We got to visit with friends and neighbors who stopped by. Some had no idea we had the talent to produce what was on display. We also did not have added expense of travel or lodging incurred by the real vendors. But we did spring for the expensive street cuisine, even if it did take a large bite out of our profits. After all, no gyro shops have yet to open in our little village, and the vendor made really good ones.
        Making people happy was the biggest payoff from our experience as vendors. Seeing folks truly appreciate what we had to offer was satisfying and affirming, especially if they bought what we were selling, and took it home to enjoy. By that criteria, we did indeed make a lot of people happy. But one of the most pleasant exchanges was with an exuberant woman from Australia. She did not buy anything, but she was having a great time, and her joy was infectious.
        So the next fair, carnival, or swap meet we go to, I do believe I will have much more empathy for the folks on the other side of the table. That is a tough way to make a living. It can be made more pleasant when someone stops by and expresses an interest or curiosity. However, I doubt I will ask whether they live there.




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