I attended the first annual New York Times Travel Expo at the invitation of Avalon Publishing Group (who also provided the rather considerable hangover I tied on the night before the show). The show was in this bizarre quonset hut sort of dealie just north of the cavernous Javits Center in NYC. We were one of several travel publishers – the others were Time Out, Rough Guide and Fodor’s.
Avalon kicked heiner courtesy of their star author, Rick Steves. Rick was a great inspiration to me when I set out on my first unchaperoned trip to Europe (the one where my boyfriend ‘Nate’ is attacked in the Munich train station’s mens room for attempting to shampoo his hair in the public sinks, for any No Touch Monkey readers out there.) Having lived without television reception since September 2001, I didn’t know he was a huge honking steaming deal thanks to his PBS series. I must say, the man wears his success lightly – just as amiable and approachable as can be. He gave a talk from the rickety, noise-plagued ‘stage’ and it was a kick to see the crowd – lots of retirees in leisure wear – gaping up at him with pure starstruck devotion. All except for this one guy, a dead ringer for the actor Chris Cooper in American Beauty, watching glumly – I have a hunch his interior monologue ran something along the lines of “Aww, I’ll never have as much fun in Europe as this guy…” After Rick’s half hour was up he led the crowd down to a conference room he had commandeered just before taking the stage and there he stayed, answering his devotees questions for at least another hour. Totally commitment to customer service and self promotion! Worked like a charm. People just eat him up – so many satisfied customers wanting to tell us how they had used his book in Italy/France/wherever and it was just wonderful!!!!!! He’s a man and a brand! It was inspirational. We ran through almost all of Rick’s books – Avalon wished they’d brought double the amount.
For my own part, No Touch Monkey is one of only two not-by-Rick-Steves not-a-guide books Avalon had on display. I got worried whenever one of Rick’s older, conservative-looking fans started leafing through, stricken that they might buy it and then be appalled by all the smutty, druggy, poopy talk. But then I saw this foxy young fellow in a t-shirt with a winged skull on it. Ah ha, my demographic! Turns out he’d picked up a copy of my zine, The East Village Inky from Microcosmos in Portland. My demographic was definitely in the minority, but I had many nice talks with many nice people and moved a healthy amount of monkey product … I should’ve had Rick sign my books too! Actually, some of his fans graciously bought my book too – standing in his shadow, I caught some of his residual glow!
Got to meet the travel buyer for a major national bookstore chain, as well as representatives from Avalon’s distributor and Jeff, who authored Moon Handbook’s guide to Cape Cod (My husband’s from Wellfleet and we spend a lot of time in his childhood home in the warmer months.
Entered five bazillion contests for free trips. I’m sure I’ll regret it when I’m suffocated with junk mail. No, wait, maybe I’ll WIN!!!
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I don’t think the show would have been too beneficial from a career standpoint if I wasn’t there on the invitation of someone with a booth and the ability to sell my book. Most of the other presenters were from cruise ships, tourist authorities, time share condos and fancy resorts. Though you could go scuba diving in this little tank of water. I wanted to know what people were wearing under those loaner wet suits.
The swag wasn’t much to speak of, though my children received it with pleasure, particularly the beach balls, post it notes and I Heart N Y bumperstickers.
As always, the people with candies drew a crowd, ditto the free drawings. Some poor saps had their fish bowls and little fill-in-the-blank contact sheets so that you could receive complimentary information. F that! If there’s not a free chance for a 5 day cruise for 2 involved, I don’t want no stinkin’ information!
Humbly submitted by your NYC correspondent,
Rick Steves, I mean Ayun Halliday