Center of the Universe Festival Review: A Vendor’s Perpective

July 24, 2013
Petunkalunka at CoUFest 2013

When I awoke at 5:50 on the morning of the 19th, my first thought was, I shouldn’t have gone to sleep. Nothing like a little panic to spur one to action, eh? The Center of the Universe Festival time requirements for vendors mean that my schedule for Friday was tight, allowing for no flaws. My prayer for the morning was simple: Oh Lord, please put my natural absentminded nature on hold today, and replace it with Terminator-like efficiency.

Tazer was completely unaware that today was anything special. She managed to hold it in until we got outside, and then spent the next two hours frustrated that I wouldn’t drop everything to play with her. Poor girl. I wondered how she’d fare being tethered to a tent pole all day. That, of course, was when I realized that I hadn’t yet gotten her an I.D. tag. I had intended to get her microchipped when I brought her to the vet to be spayed, but with Hortense breaking down, some of the “extras” I was planning for the week fell by the wayside. What if she were to break lose or chew through her leash?

The setup process. So. Frickin'. Hot.

The setup process. So. Frickin’. Hot.

In the end, all the setup turned out just fine. Thankfully Tazer did all of her I’m-unsure-about-this whining by about 3:30 (that was about three hours of whining, for the record), well before the area opened to the public. By the time people were out looking for dogs to pet, she was on her best or sleepiest behavior. Man, if I could have made money off of having “the cutest puppy ever,” I would be a rich sucker by now. As it was, I would have needed to sell about 60 more Thank You cards to even begin to recoup my losses. 10 rings would also be a good starting point, but the festival crowd seemed largely uninterested in my usual top sellers, gravitating instead to the skunks and greeting cards. I imagine that having a lot more lighting would have helped as the sun went down.

Ah, nighttime. We the Vendors were notified on Wednesday that, contrary to the agreement we signed for the application, no electricity would be provided. “Bring your own generators,” said the email. And P.S. there will be no refunds on any fees. Poo on a stick—I couldn’t afford a fricking fracking generator. I hustled to Home Depot to pick up any portable solar lighting I could find. Three Malibu Solar Mason Jars later (all they had in stock) I was feeling frantic. How was I to light the entire tent with three little jars? To Garden Ridge I went, picking up another three strands of solar lights with a prayer that it would somehow be enough.

Naturally it wasn’t. People were using the lights of their phones to see what I had on my table, so I basically made no sales after sunset. A dark booth is a creepy booth. Ain’t nobody wanna stop and spend they money in Creeptown. At one point a stranger tapped me on the shoulder. “Hey!” he said cheerfully when I turned around. “You just looked like you needed somebody to say hey to.” Aw, how nice! I thought, and then followed that immediately with, Aw, man. “Hello darkness, my old friend…” Nothing like knowing how pathetic one looks. That probably had something to do with making no sales after the sun went down. Which was more than half of the festival time. Guuuuuuuhhhhhh.

On Saturday morning I wrote a carefully worded email to the lovely festival coordinator outlining a couple of my frustrations with the way vendors were being treated. It was the first time I had  done something like that since telling my boss at camp that he was being a jerk to the counselors and everyone was unhappy. Back then in old 2004 the act of confrontation brought me to tears while talking to the person I was confronting, just big old fat embarrassing tears streaming down my face because I was so distraught over standing up to an authority figure. Writing an email was way easier, because then no one could see me stress cry. Just kidding! I didn’t cry. Except I totally did. But you’re going to pretend I didn’t.

In a grand show of God looking out for my fragile little feelings, I got an call back from the vendor coordinator later that day. “Your dog can come again, don’t worry about finding a pet sitter, and go ahead and bring electric lights. Alles ist gut, ja.* It’s our first festival, so there are still things that we’re working out.”

*German added for no gut reason.

Saturday night was fun, not only because I had a lot more lighting at night, and not only because I froze two pitchers full of water for the evening, but because Michelle will be there. Michelle, the creator of my fantastic new logos, has agreed to help me run the booth. What means this, asketh ye? FOOD! We could take turns doing food runs! To get food! And also because she’s great company and a fantastic saleswoman. Examples: twice I left her alone at the booth, once to get us lemonades from Lucky’s on the Green, and once to take Tazer for a potty break. Both times Michelle had made a sale or two on my return. When she left to scout food trucks, I had sold nothing. Some people just got it like that. I don’t; Michelle does.Michelle Got It Like That

Also, look who was at my tent when I walked up!

Paulette was my JET senpai in Kameoka, a fellow Tulsan, and I have managed to be in town almost a year without seeing her. It was so exciting to reconnect with a good friend, in the way that’s boring to read about but everybody knows how it feels. So instead of reading a description, just imagine the last time the sight of someone you didn’t expect brought a huge smile to your face. Plus, finally somebody wouldn’t look at me like a crazy when I spoke Kansai Japanese in public, and would respond in kind. Honmani tanoshikatta, yo.

On the upside, the bands were great. At least one lead singer was drunk or incredibly hungover (“I drank a lot of whisky last night. That has nothing to do with this. Or maybe it does.” “I can’t get a read on you, Tulsa; can’t tell if you like to party.”), but having some sweet tunes blasting to the southeast certainly helped take my mind off the heat. At this point I feel okay admitting that a large part of me wished I had attended the Center of the Universe Festival as a guest rather than a vendor. I would have loved to see One Republic on the Cox Stage, to dance to all the bands on the Guthrie Greeen, and to be able to wander around and sample the food and grab one of those Forward Movement t-shirts I kept hearing about.

Petunkalunka at CoUFest 2013“Was it worth it?” people asked me multiple times. Hmm…at this point it’s hard to say. I might have made some good connections, and theoretically I might have made my booth fee plus a tiny profit if I’d had access to electrical outlets the first night. I wouldn’t recommend it for small, individually-owned businesses unless the booth fee lowers by $100 or more next year and the owner already has the equipment for an outdoor show. I wouldn’t recommend it to anyone looking for exposure—as one vendor explained to me, the market on Guthrie Green draws a regularly large crowd every Sunday and at most costs the vendors $25. I wouldn’t recommend it to vendors new to the business; to me the payoff [read: loss of money, increase in potential future customers] wasn’t worth the emotional investment, and after almost a year of doing shows I knew better than to think anyone taking my information for “custom work” would actually contact me. I guess the coming couple of months, as I expand on Grumpy Skunk and work with Michelle on creating an integrated store for this very web address, will be the most telling. Was it worth it? It may or may not have been, but I probably won’t do it again.