April 01, 2007

Origin of the Bookstore, Part the Sixth - Off-Site Bookselling, or "Are You a Band?"

For the next seven months we'll be doing a special feature each month in honor of Borderlands' upcoming 10th Anniversary (November 3rd, 2007). We'll share some stories about what Borderlands is and how it got that way.

by Jude Feldman

Borderlands has done (and continues to do) many off-site events, including our well-loved Movie Nights at the Variety Preview Room, the Sonoma County Book Fair in Santa Rosa, and the World Science Fiction Convention in Glasgow two years ago, just to name a few.  This installment of "Origin" focuses on a few aspects of what it is like to create a miniature version of the store, someplace else entirely.

When the staff travels to a convention or other off-site event that involves airplane transport, we frequently pack the books that we will be selling in large gray trunks.  Think of a heavy-duty plastic version of a surplus Army trunk and you've got the idea.  Years and years ago, Alan painstakingly modified these trunks with foam and cardboard padding, to make anything packed inside one neigh on indestructible, even in the hands of baggage handlers.  An amusing side effect of traveling with these "road cases" is that the traveling staff is continually and repeatedly mistaken for a band.  In airports from Seattle to Wisconsin to Kansas City, perfect strangers have approached us and asked "What band are you in?!"  Several of these people flatly refused to believe that we were booksellers, and what a surreal situation that was: Them: "C'mon, just tell me!" Us: "We're actually booksellers.  There are books in these trunks." Them: "No, seriously -- I won't tell anyone if you want it kept secret!  What is the name of the band?"  Us: "No, really, we run a bookstore!  None of us plays an instrument at all."  Them: "Aw, I wouldn'ta told anyone.  You SUCK!"  Us: <helpless shrugs>.

Another entertaining aspect of selling books outside the store is the lengths that Alan and the staff will go to to make our booth or table inviting and reminiscent of the store.  Alan and Roger Range, a very dedicated friend of Borderlands, once spent two hours frantically constructing bookshelves with boards, hammer and nails *in the parking lot* of a hotel in Maryland for the Borderlands booth at the Horrorfind Convention.   We schlepped four Oriental carpets all the way to Anaheim for the 2006 World Science Fiction Convention.  So far we've braved misplaced boxes (Scotland: "I'm sorry, sir, I just don't understand how 32 boxes of books could go missing.  We'll keep looking."), inclement weather (San Francisco: it pattered rain on our cardboard boxes, store banner and cash register all the way to WonderCon this year), and other peoples' near-death experiences (driving to Tempe, AZ for the 2004 World Fantasy Convention, in some of the worst rain we'd ever seen, a car spun out directly in front of our truck.  The car crossed all four lanes of traffic, spinning the whole time, crashed into the guard rail and came to rest.  It was only through some seriously fancy driving that we didn't crash, as well.  Alan was a paramedic, and I have had First Responder training, so we screeched to a halt and ran to help the driver, terribly certain that he or she would be badly injured.  Thankfully and miraculously, the driver was totally unharmed.  The funny postscript to that rather harrowing story is that, since it was raining so heavily, Alan and I were drenched and literally dripping wet after we'd finished waiting on the side of the freeway for the police to arrive.  We pulled off the road into a shopping center looking for a place to buy towels, but it was too late at night.  We ended up buying two bundles of kitchen rags (the only thing we could find) at a supermarket, and trying ineffectually to dry ourselves with the handkerchief-sized rags outside the market.  We were looking like drowned rats and laughing hysterically from the adrenaline and the absurdity.  The passers-by were giving us wide berth indeed.)

But I have digressed, yet again.  My whole point in this is that Borderlands seeks, as best we can, to give the folks who meet us outside of the store an impression of what the store is like, in the hopes they will come visit us in San Francisco.  I like to think we do a pretty good job, and the miniature versions of the store we recreate are much like the actual store: clean, nicely furnished, well-stocked, and staffed entirely by employees who are knowledgeable, helpful and lovable, but of dubious sanity.

And to all of you who have asked, no -- it is final -- we're not bringing Ripley to any off-site events.  It would end badly.

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