We just got back from SIBA — the Southern Independent Booksellers Alliance trade show, held in Daytona Beach, FL this year. It was a great show. Great Little Books, LLC had a nice presence there and we met tons of terrific people. The bad joke is that two days later, people are still trickling back to their homes and home book stores . . . all having to go through Atlanta during a night or two of bad weather. It took us more than nine hours to fly from Daytona to Richmond (VA) and, although we had a good time, we could have been somewhere a lot more interesting than Florida and not taken as long to get home!
I’d been through Daytona Beach years ago on a family vacation. My parents had a soft spot for the town, since they lived there right after my dad got out of the Navy in 1945; he finished his tour in Daytona. Mom waxed poetic about being able to drive the car on the beach. And looking back, she always laughed at how often they had to eat lobster, since lobsters were still considered something of a junk fish at that time and they were not living high on the hog on Dad’s service salary. Too bad; pass the lemon and butter, please.
Anyway, here I was, with Tim and three boxes of books, eager to set up our exhibit booth and get on to the business of attending some workshops on Friday and then talk to booksellers on Saturday and Sunday. Daytona Beach is a quiet town in September. Our cab driver said that the economy was being hit hard: real estate market, job market — everything. And with the exception of a few race weeks (when the population of the town doubles, to 400,000) and the annual Spring Break chaos, the city did not seem to be doing very well. And in September, the tourist level was way down and the only business usually came from a few conventions. This week, that would be SIBA.
We checked into our hotel, the Plaza Resort & Spa, on North Atlantic Avenue, unpacked and
immediately went out on the beach to discover where we were and where we could find lunch. The wind was howling, there was intermittent rain and it was hot. Felt like Bermuda. But this was not Bermuda. Bermuda would not have the amazing Sling Shot ride or a huge Ferris Wheel planted near one of its beaches. Nor would it have the bevy of amusement rides or a tacky-but-popular thatched tiki bar that was actually called The Tiki Bar. We found a place called the Ocean Deck and went in. Good views of the water (some people swimming in the ocean, despite the pretty fair-sized jellyfish) and a typical beach menu. We had lunch and talked to a friendly and knowledgeable time-share person named Nicole who happened to be sitting at the next table. It’s amazing what you can learn when you open up to people. My fish and chips were good and Tim’s grilled ahi tuna over greens was very good. We hope Nicole passed her SCUBA test!
On the way back to the hotel, we strolled along North Ocean Avenue and ran into a most amazing place: Stamie’s Smart Beach Wear. What was the attraction? How about a 19-foot-long Jantzen diving girl sign over the door? Created out of fiberglass, this diving girl is one of six made in 1959 and it has been the trademark of Stamie’s since 1965. Jantzen — the iconic brand worn by every major star of the silver screen, including Esther Williams, Elizabeth Taylor, Ginger Rogers and Marilyn Monroe — turned 100 this year and long ago lived up to its slogan, “The suit that changed bathing to swimming.” It was a real pleasure to talk to the daughter of the original owners of Stamie’s, a Jantzen Swimwear destination in Daytona for more than 50 years. While we were there, her mother called to check on sales — she’s 96 years old. That’s what I call dedication. Stamie’s is a real treasure, and if you get to Daytona, do not miss it!
Aside from the Ocean Deck, the other restaurants that we tried were all along Seabreeze Blvd., adjacent to the hotel. This is a block filled with clubs and it must look like one of the hotter circles of hell during busy season. We were lucky: they were opening just as we were going back to the hotel.
One night we ate in Sapporo, with its stupefying Floating Sushi bar. You sit at the bar and there’s a stainless steel moat in front of you with small wooden boats tied together with wire. A selection of sushi, vegetables, fruit or dessert is placed atop each one and the flotilla makes a continuous loop around the moat. Each plate of food is color coded and you pay according to how many plates of which color you have stacked up at the end of the night. Wild.
The next two nights found us at the wonderful Lime Restaurant, Chef Matt Rosa’s Caribbean/
American/Tapas delight. Tim had the best calamari (grilled, not fried) he’s ever eaten and the grilled salmon atop spinach salad was out of this world. And, let’s face it, you gotta love a restaurant that features a good selection of rums, Cockspur and Gosling’s Black Seal among them. To top off the evening, the Tres Leches cake was incredible, all those different milk products lending their flavors and moistness to the cake. Olé!
But the most amazing thing about Seabreeze Blvd. is a small art gallery located near Lime. Called Aberrant Art, this is the brainchild of one Barry Kite, a collage artist/poet/actor originally from Chicago, whose pieces hang in a variety of museums and private collections, including that of guitarist Ron Wood. I’m at a loss to describe his art, other than to say that it combines social and political parody via the “re-positioning” of historical art pieces and contemporary imagery. The Chicago Sun-Times calls it, “comical, irreverent, blasphemous marriages of fine art and, often, campy pop icons.”
Some of the images are PG and funny: think Seurat’s “A Sunday Afternoon on the Island of La Grand Jatte.” Then picture a parking lot filled with black and white Volkswagen Beetles, separate the characters in the Seurat painting and call it “Sunday Afternoon Looking for the Car.” Other images are either very racy or just much more disturbing, and need to be seen to be appreciated for the thought-provoking pieces they are. This is not for everyone, but if you bring your appreciation for art and your suspicions of pop culture and politics, you’ll probably be fine.
So what about the book show? You never know how these things go. I hope our books sell like crazy. We certainly brought them to the attention of lots of booksellers who seemed to be interested. It’s our mission: to bring great little books to the people who want them. We’ve got four now, and if you go to our website, you’ll find them. I learned more about the wonderful world of Tweeting and may have found, as a blogger, a bookstore here in Virginia to “get in bed with,” as the show’s campaign says. We shall see.
My most favorite discovery at the show? A little book by Lane Smith (author of The Stinky Cheese Man) called It’s A Book. Read it if you know someone who’s getting caught up in the electronic book craze. My least favorite moment of the show? A breakfast at which an audience member, who said she was a Christian, publicly berated a speaker for “taking the Lord’s name in vain too many times” in his novel. She said this after noisily tearing pages out of his book during his speech.
These are some crazy days, but we find grounding and meaning in the words we read and write, the places we go, the people we meet and the memories we carry with us. Have a good week. See something wonderful, then write about it.