Rationing

Feb. 6th, 2019 02:04 pm
offcntr: (rainyday)
Last Monday I started another production cycle, with only five boxes of clay. At 50 lbs. per box, that's only 250 lbs. On a good week, I can go through that in about three days; even taking it easy, I'd be out before Saturday. So I called my supplier, Clay Art Center, and told them it was time for another ton of clay. "No problem," they said, "It'll be two weeks."

Two weeks?

Yes, all their freight orders were backed up, due to schools restocking for the new semester. They'd also had a clay mixer break down, and only just got it fixed.

Which left me in a fix. I'm scheduled to load a kiln at the end of the month. I need a week for glazing and decorating, which leaves just about two weeks to actually make the pots. With no clay.

Well, not much. The first thing I did was take a long look at my throwing list, prioritizing, what's essential (more special orders), what would be nice (extra soups, stews, plates), what can wait until April (teapots and oval platters, mostly). March is outside of the production cycle, being devoted to taxes and organizing the van for the start of Saturday Market.

Next, I checked on the drying bat of recycled clay I'd loaded up just after Thanksgiving, and discovered it wasn't. Drying, that is. It was still the consistency of, oh, Greek yogurt, only a slight improvement on the applesauce-like slop I'd started with. I cut it up into blocks, set them up on drywall boards next to the space heater, then started with the actual throwing list.

As of Wednesday, I was down to two boxes of clay, and the blocks were still softer than tofu. Think I'd better cut 'em into smaller chunks and turn up the heat.
offcntr: (Default)

It seems everybody has a story like this. Robin and Richard once broke down at a show in Arizona. Bill's van stopped on the Golden Gate Bridge. It's a special feeling of helplessness, breaking down at an out-of-town show.

I'm on my third time now, in two different vehicles:

1. My first van, an over-worked Dodge Caravan, died during set-up at the Bend Summer Festival. One of our neighbors worked on his motorcycle, and was able to fiddle with the carburetor enough for me to drive it, choking and wheezing, off the street and into vendor parking, but it didn't run again that weekend. I had it towed to a garage to rebuild the carburetor, rented a U-Haul to get my pots and booth home. Later that week, I took the Greyhound back to Central Oregon to pay the shop and drive back down the mountain.

2. My second--current--van is a Chevy Astro cargo van, much better suited for a load of pottery than the Caravan, but it's not infallible. Driving back alone from a show in Coupeville--Denise had stayed home with a sick kitty--it broke down in 100° heat alongside I-5 just south of Albany. As with Bend, it had not been a good show--third year in a row of declining sales. The breakdown clinched it: we weren't going back there again. My roadside insurance only paid towing to the nearest town; I paid the extra to take it all the way back to my shop in Eugene, where they diagnosed a broken fuel pump, fixed by the next day.

3. The third time was just a week ago. We were in Washington again, at Edmonds. Because the show site is so constricted, they only let a few vehicles on the grounds at a time, coordinating volunteers with clipboards by walkie-talkie. They take some of the pressure off at load-in by dividing us up into time-blocks; north-facing booths like ours set up from noon to 2 pm. At take-down, though, everyone wants out at once. They confirm that your booth is packed before they give you at dash-board permit and let you get in queue.

The queue runs forever. Two blocks up the hill to Alder on Eighth street, then down Alder for as many as four more. So you wait. Trusting your parking brakes. Start up, move forward a couple of car-lengths, shut down again. And repeat.

On the fourth or fifth repeat, my van wouldn't start. No click, no grind. Also no lights, flashers, dome light.

Mike the painter from across the aisle was right behind me, so pulled up and tried to give me a jump. (As a midwestern boy, I always have jumper cables.) No luck. People were pulling around me to continue their packing up--I wasn't exactly at the curb, but was not quite out in the traffic lane either. I spent an ungodly amount of time on hold with Emergency Road Services, waiting for an actual person (cell service was too poor to connect online), and was told I'd have a 90-minute wait for a tow truck, who would take me down to the fair so I could load up. And then I'd have to start the process over again to get another tow to a garage. If I'd have only made it two more car lengths, to the top of the hill, I could have coasted in neutral down to the park and loaded up. (And no, I wasn't gonna ask for volunteers to push me. It's a steep hill, and anyways, they'd already gone ahead by then.)

I phoned Denise to come up the hill to watch the van while I went down to fold up our tent and start hauling boxes of pottery out to the curb against the eventual appearance of the tow truck, thinking if we could load up fast enough, they might be persuaded to wait for us. On about the sixth load, my friend Shelly, from Club Mud, drove up to start packing her car, and asked how I was doing.

I kinda lost it, told her the whole story. Upon receiving my tearful earful, she immediately drove over to my space, started loading shelves and hardware to ferry up to Denise, then came back to get pottery. Kim and Eddie, the paper-quilling artists in the booth behind me also pitched in, though couldn't haul as much, as they'd already loaded their work. Between the bunch of us, we managed to get everything out of the park and up to the van, where I was just finishing loading it in when the tow truck finally arrived.

And refused to tow us.

They'd send out a light duty hook truck, expecting an empty van. Fully loaded, we'd need a flatbed.

I got on hold again. Walked back down the hill to use the porta-pots--in pitch darkness--came back to find Denise talking to a concerned neighbor and a friendly Edmonds policeman. Finally got a service operator, who put me in a three-way conversation with a tow driver, trying to estimate how much a van full of pottery would weigh. I was thumbing through the owner's manual in the dark cab, trying to find the empty weight, and decided to get out of the van to stand under the street light...

...And the dome light came on.

I slammed the key in the ignition, twisted, and started right up. Thanked the operator, apologized to the driver, and headed for the motel, where we arrived just before midnight. And so to bed.

The next morning, we packed up, loaded clothes and bears, checked out of the hotel. And couldn't start again.

I'd noticed a battery store three-quarters of a mile down the street, so called to ask if they could deliver and install a new battery for us. Normally, they could, but a couple of people had called in sick (I'm thinking hangovers) so they were short-staffed.

Which is how I wound up getting my morning exercise rolling a hand-truck down Broadway in Everett, getting a replacement battery, which I had to install with a pair of pliers and a crescent wrench. Barked my knuckles something fierce.

And still couldn't get it to start.

It turns out it's lots easier to get a tow on a Monday morning during business hours than it is late Sunday night. We rented our hotel room back for the day, and I rode with the tow driver to the nearest garage. They promised a check of the electrical system, said they'd do their best to get us back on the road again, and drove me back to the hotel.

Slow-forward five hours.

The garage calls. They've found the problem: the screws holding cables to battery are stripped, so not making proper contact. With an hour's labor and two small parts, we're ready to go as soon as the Uber can bring me back to pick it up. (They're short-handed too.)

I get back to the hotel at quarter to six, noticing in passing that the shifter seems oddly stiff, and that the under-dash panel hasn't been properly reattached, but I'm so relieved to be moving that I don't think any more about it. We reload our stuff, check out again, and walk across the street for supper at the Chinese place while the horrible Seattle rush-hour traffic clears. We finally leave for home at 7 pm, catch clear traffic all the way down the interstate, and come in the doors here at just about 1 am.

But I'm not done yet. While driving, we discover that not only is the shifter stiff, it won't go into low gear (1 and 2) at all. And when it gets dark enough to use the headlights, the instrument panel light doesn't come on until about ten minutes after we start up.

So it's back to my shop in Eugene on Tuesday, where they eventually find, Thursday afternoon (short-handedness seems to be a theme here) that, in addition to not putting the dash panel together again, the shop in Everett didn't seat the battery properly back in its tray after replacing the terminals, just left it askew and tightened the clamp. This left a corner of the battery pushing against the shift column which... you get the idea. My shop only charged another hour, though it probably took them longer to retrace the previous crew's missteps. I took down a half-dozen coffee mugs as a thank-you present, then drove home to reload the van again for our show in Roseburg.

offcntr: (rainyday)
It was the worst of days.

We rolled out of bed for the first Saturday Market of 2018 at about 5:30 am. Actually clear and not raining at the time, though the hour-by-hour forecast said it'd probably start around 9 am. Still, a promise is a promise, and I did bake the cake.

By the time we finished breakfast, filled the tea thermoses, loaded the bears up into the van, it was close to 7, and it had started showering. Intermittent showers and clearing all the way down Delta highway (it always rains on the Beltline bridge, and usually by the ponds) but not terribly wet when we hit downtown. We got the booth set up in a dry moment, had intermittent showers while unpacking, requiring us to pull a box or two at a time out of the van, but since nobody else was waiting for a space at the curb, we took our time and got everything in mostly dry. Except for us. I sent Denise home with the van to get dry raincoats for the both of us.

Then, around the time they rang the bell to start giving away unclaimed booths, the sun came out! Still breezy to gusty, but nice! Warm! We wound up taking down the side walls of the booth, admittedly in part to keep them from flapping at the pottery. But it was lovely. People came out. We bought a bucket of reusable forks from the stash Market maintains for Food Court and cut the cake.

Gave away a lot of cake, to other vendors, neighbors, customers. Also did pretty good business, mostly in the $25 range. By lunchtime, we were well over $300. It was looking to be a pretty good opening day.

Sometime around 1:30, the rain came back. Flat calm, falling straight down, but we had to put the walls back up again. Then the wind picked up, steady, with intermittent gusts. I was talking with a customer about butter dishes, and she'd just decided to buy one when BAM! a huge wind gust blew in, and just like that, she was surrounded by falling pottery. Most of it came from the sidewall of the tent snapping against the top shelf of the side unit, though three soup bowls blew over from direct wind shear on the other side of the booth.

In about three seconds, we lost all the cookie jars, pitchers and creamers, one of the teapots. A dinner plate and a platter got clipped by falling debris and broken as well. Amazingly, the other teapot, the gravy boats, honey jar and two out of three incense dragons remained on the shelf, though the teapot was canted over the edge. My shell-shocked customer reached over and righted it for me. Then went on to buy the stick butter dish, bless her.

I cleaned up in the rain, gathering up broken pots into soaked paper bags. Zora, from the Market, came over with a broom and dustpan and multiple trash bags--I think we had to triple-bag, because the bits kept poking out. One of our neighbors collected the broken soup bowls bits from the neighboring booth, which I appreciated, but kept saying You should make mosaics!, which I didn't. Like I want a reminder of this experience.

Market staff said we could close up if we wanted to, but it was still pouring down and packing pottery in rain is a terrible experience, so we said we'd stick it out and see if the weather shifted. It did actually dry up around 4 pm, but was showering again at 5 so we still had a wet load-out. 

And to add insult to injury, my hat had blown off in the mud, so I was wearing a scarf like a babushka while collecting shrapnel and soaking my second raincoat. Denise had a hoodie sweatshirt under her hooded raincoat, so loaned me her knitted woolly cap for the rest of the day. 

We sold $346 in pots for the day. We broke slightly more than twice that.

The weird thing is? I'm kind of okay. Oh sure, I'd rather it hadn't happened, but it's not the worst thing. We came into April this year well-stocked, even a little over-stocked, and we were already planning to load and fire a kiln on Sunday. And while these were nice things, none of them were irreplaceable. It sounds terrible when you talk about the retail value; it's a lot more manageable when you break it down into clay, glaze, gas and time. The biggest investment was time, and I have lots of that.

Denise had a nicely philosophical take: If this had happened 25 years ago, when we were just getting started, it would have broken us. Even 15 years ago, it would have been hard. Today? It's just another reason to go back into the studio.

Or, to quote my Israeli potter friend Debby, after we'd found out the airlines had broken the pots we were bringing back from a summer workshop at Tuscarora Pottery School:

They're just things. You'll make more.


offcntr: (window bear)
It's taken me a few days to settle down enough that I can post this. For two or three days, my heart would start to race just remembering...

Sunday dawns sunny and calm, so we head to the fair a little early, maybe stop at the Calico Cupboard for a scone. We get the perfect parking spot for load-out, just around the corner from our booth, get out of the van, and holy crap.

The booth is missing.

After yesterday afternoon, we're convinced that everything is shattered. What we see when we get closer is even weirder.

Shelves are empty. Pots are all neatly stacked, covered by the booth walls, held down by our sandbags. The booth frame is folded up and stashed at the curb in the empty space next to us. The freestanding shelf unit on the left is on its back on the ground, but everything else looks… intact.

It's at this point in the what the?-ery that one of our neighbors comes up to tell us the story. About an hour-and-a-half after we'd left for the night, a squall blew through. Wind gusts up to 30 mph, and remember, no sheltering booths or buildings around us. Fortunately, a couple of neighboring vendors were in the wine garden, listening to the band, and saw our booth swaying. They got the fair organizers involved, who got some volunteers as well, and repeated my afternoon process exactly: took down the walls, took down the grid panel, hung on to the booth frame for dear life. Even with 90 lbs. of sandbags on the frame, it was still thrashing back and forth, so they decided to lift it up, walk it into the next space and take it down entirely. Then they took all the pots off the shelves, laid the free-standing shelf on the ground, and covered things up as best they could. Two plates blew off of the grid panel during the affair, and one square baker either was hit or blown over, so only three pieces actually broke.

Fortunately, we'd come in early, so had pots back on the shelves by quarter to ten. We dithered a little about putting the canopy back up--"fooled me twice" and all--but finally decided we needed it for the grid panel, not to mention the sign. We couldn't bring ourselves to put the roof canopy back, though, so we jury-rigged a minimal sunshade from the smallest wall panel. And flinched with every wind gust.

Sales about 80% of yesterday, which seems normal for a Sunday, so all in all a good fair, except that my adrenal glands are all tapped out.

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