So we finally got into Fayetteville NC - land of strip clubs and bars (saw a couple of pawn shops too!) . Yes there are other businesses in town but at 11pm coming in along Bragg Blvd - that was all we could see. We pulled into the Prince Charles Hotel about 11:30 pm. It was the tallest building we had seen in the town since we pulled in - eight stories tall. It was built in 1924 and like all grand dames, while she may have had a face lift on numerous occasions but once you get a close look, she isn't fooling anyone - there are places that are sagging that give away her age. We got checked into our suite, which we thought would have a king sized bed, but instead had two full sized beds. Now those of you who have met me and the hubby know that we are not going to fit into one full sized bed - a queen would be a tight fit. After the appropriate Hays office jokes we proceeded to tuck into our separate beds and pass out.
Next morning we get up - are surprised to find out there is no breakfast. The hotel had offered a free breakfast. Now I assumed it would be along the lines of what most hotels offer - juice, milk, coffee, rolls, toast - American "continental" fare. Nope - turns out they cook to order. Except for this morning. Someone had locked up the kitchen the night before and not left the key for the morning staff. No free breakfast for us!!
Being adventurous, we hopped in the car and started driving looking for a chicken and biscuit place recommended by one of the idle kitchen staff. Well - we never found it. Never found the liquor store she was talking about either. (Yes were were looking for booze at 10 am. This should be an early warning sign.) We did find the Rainbow restaurant. You know the old adage about "look for a full parking lot - the locals know what is good" - in this case it was dead on. We sat in "The Smoking Section" - yes in the heart of tobacco country, free choice is alive and well. I insisted we sit in the smoking section for the novelty of it and I am glad we did.
There we met Jada - one of the highlights of our trip. Jada was handling her section of the restaurant with a grace that only comes with long years of practice. Regulars were coming in and asking to be seated in her section - and were greeted with a big bottomless cup of joe and a big smile. Some of them even got hugs. We got to chat with Jada a little bit as she hustled to and fro in her section. She had started waiting tables when she was 15 and ended up saying with it for over 20 years. She asked our names - and even gave us a little hug as we went out the door. I only wish the Rainbow was a little closer to home...we would be regulars.
The food was great too - nothing fancy, but correctly prepared every time. And I do mean every time, as we ended up eating there three out of the four days we stayed in the Prince Charles. Eggs done right, buttered toast, crispy hash browns - it's what you want TeeJay's to be when you stop in and rarely ever is. The highlight for us ended up being the country ham - a huge piece of salty hammy goodness. All that and many many cups of hot black java steeled us for what was would be a very exciting weekend.
Ah yes - the convention. The whole reason for the trip. Tony and I do about 2 or 3 conventions a year. Sometimes we get a dealer's table, sometimes Tony will lecture and sometimes we just go to be going - and we always throw a party when we get there. The convention - which for reasons which will become apparent - will remain unnamed. This was the first time we had been invited to this convention - and at first we had sat on the fence about going. But as the line up of talent got larger and larger and included some of the best closeup magicians in the world, we eventually broke down as decided to go as a dealer. The organizer, whom we had never met before, has said there would be about 100-150 people at the convention. While that was a pretty small number of attendees, it is still possible to make a enough money to cover your nut plus a small profit. Plus, Tony had talked to the organizer who has said he would pitch in some cash to help cover the expense of an after hours party - free booze and snacks tend to get pricey after three nights.
Friday and Saturday went great - several of the lecturers were people we had hung out with before and they actually seemed glad to see us. Some of the folks we had been chatting with over the Internet and it was great to put faces to names. And lastly we met some new people who - after Sunday - would become connected to us as well. The lectures were great - some really top notch folks were in attendance. However, by Saturday morning, we could only count about 40-50 people at the lectures - much less than the number we expected. The dealers room was dead - and no one was making any money. Tony worked like a dog to get people part with their cash - and it was like pulling teeth. We hoped that there would be a last minute buying frenzy on Sunday to help offset expenses - plus we would get some money back from the guy who ran the convention to cover our party expenses. In the meantime, we just talked with folks and had a blast.
One of the best things about hanging out at conventions is going out to eat with the folks who are attending. Downtown Fayetteville is in the middle of a rejuvenation that brings to mind the Short North of 15-20 years ago. On a street that used to contain some of the most notorious strip clubs and bars there are new restaurants and "nice" bars opening up with the encouragement of the city. A local was telling me of how the city has made a concerted effort to clean up the area and how back in the "old days", many people would get robbed, stabbed, shot and sometimes killed every weekend. In fact, the city bought the property from the worst strip club, tore down the building and built the new city hall on the land - with the main police station right next door. So yeah - downtown Fayetteville is a much quieter place than it used to be.
Lots of things were within walking distance of the hotel - even a Gameworks-type of business. To be truthful, only one restaurant of the many in this part of the city would survive here in Columbus and it was a sports bar franchise named Beef O'Bradys. Really pedestrian fair, adequately done and served in a clean modern environment surrounded by large flat screen tv's. Oh and if you want your burger rare - no doing. The franchise has a rule against serving "undercooked" meat. (We recently encountered this same policy at the Red Robin up at Polaris - I can see "we don't wanna get sued" written on the menus.)
The other place I ended up eating at was a small tapas restaurant called Blue Moon Cafe. The cafe was small - it maybe sat 25 -30 max and that would be pushing it. It was doing a fairly lively business when I went in to get something to take back to the hotel. They served wine and beer - no hard liquor. Someone at the hotel mention that you have to have a separate licence to sell the hard stuff. The kitchen was open - and I watched the one poor kitchen guy turn out item after item without a stovetop - yup no burners for him! He had a refrigerated prep station, a microwave, a panini press and a small oven/broiler set up. See I have this thing about watching people work in open kitchens - it kinda fun to critique their technique. Lots of items were prepped and held cold - like stuffed mushrooms, shrimp in garlic and olive oil and French onion soup. (I didn't think that was tapas - but hey what do I know?) The cook would then use the oven and/or the microwave to heat items up. For example, the onion soup was nuked - then grilled bread and cheese put on top and popped into the over to be finished off. Sandwiches and sliced of bread would be heated on the panini grill. I ended up getting a salad, some hummus with grilled bread and some marinated olives - for a whopping 20 dollars. Yeah - I felt ripped off. An OK meal with no alcohol for $20?! Bite me!
The next morning - this being Sunday - the true adventure began. Downtown Fayetteville closes down on Sunday morning. Not even the local coffee shop was open. That meant no caffeine for the hung over magicians who missed breakfast.
Since we had a car, I offered to take a couple of the attendees to the closest Starbucks. It turned out to be in a location of the local grocery chain called Harris Teeter. Boy was I glad - we had found a Wal-mart on Friday and as much as I hate shopping there, we had bought party supplies and a few other snackies. Harris Teeter reminded me more of Kroger's - more upscale so the prices were a little more expensive, but they had made to order sandwiches on really excellent bread (which I bought for brunch), a nice deli, a wide selection of beer and wine, and the aforementioned Starbucks.
The three of us loaded up on groceries and caffeine then headed back to the hotel. As we were going back up to the convention floor (the ballroom on the 8th floor), the staff at the front desk stopped and asked me if I had seen the organizer of the convention. This was about 11 am.
My spidey-sense started tingling. When we got up to the ballroom, I saw the other people working the convention huddled together talking in hushed tones and looking around. Rut-ro Shaggy! Tony asked me what was wrong as I gave him his coffee and sandwich - I told him my suspicions - that the convention organizer was not around to pay the bills. True - it was still early - he might be passed out or hung over - we had made a late night of it on Saturday. Time rolls on as we watch some of the lectures.
By 2 pm though - things were starting to happen. The organizer was still no where to be found. Some of the lecturers were having to head to the airport without getting paid. The hotel was still asking the convention attendees if they had seen him. The dealers were getting spooked - along with many of the attendees - and started packing up their stuff. Tony and I decided to head back to our room - and several other followed us, including our friend David from France and proceeded to grab a few beers. We started relaxing and making jokes - not much you can do otherwise. After a few minutes one of the other performers, Jon, came into the room. He had been up all night and our noise had woken him. Jon was rubbing his eyes and taking little steps - just like a little kid who had just gotten up from a nap.
"What's happening?" asked Jon.
David looked at him and said "I've got good news and bad news."
Jon looked at all the faces turned toward him. "I think a I better sit down." And he did.
The room was hushed with anticipation....
"So what's the good news?"
David looked at Jon. "The good news is - You don't have the cancer, and you don't have a spot on your dick."
The room roared.
Jon looked concerned... "And the bad news?"
"You ain't getting paid!!!"
Damn my sides hurt after laughing...I thought I stopped breathing at one point..
The convention staff decided to call a meeting - yes it's true - we have no idea where the guy with the money is. No - we don't have anything to do with the business end of this - we just volunteered to get in the door for free. We called the young man's mother and she said didn't know where he was either. The hotel also had a representative in the room - who stated that we would have our credit cards charged for the rooms when we checked out if no payment was forthcoming from the convention. There had been no formal contract between the organizer and the hotel stating that he was going to pay for the performer's rooms - just a verbal promise. However, the performers had contracts that did have a clause that promised payment of the hotel by the convention.
Then Chino stepped forward - I haven't mentioned Chino up until now. It's hard to describe Chino - to a certain extent he is an archetype in the magic world. The guy who is a member of the local magic club - the man whose love of the craft far exceeds his skill of the craft. But his enthusiasm and tenacity are really what make him a valued member of a club - we've all met a Chino in our time.
Chino has been good friends with the organizer - and in the words of the other club members - "knew him best". They called upon Chino to give an account of this young man's character as they had spent the most time together. Chino talked about what an upright guy he was, how he was kind and generous he was. The performers, looking at their empty purses asked - Generous - how did he show he was generous? To which Chino replied - Why I once saw him give $500 to a titty dancer!
All the performers howled. I think I lost control of my ability to reason at that point. We had - as a group - entered some kind of warped and deranged pocket universe where the rules of normal life had ceased to apply. Once the laughter had died down, the volunteers and the performers started making arrangements to call the police. The volunteers talked to the hotel and worked out a deal where the deposit that was payed on the public rooms would be used to cover the performer's bills - thereby saving some folks' bacon. At the end of the meeting, I turned to an acquaintance of my hubby's, Robbie (also a broke performer!) and said, "Damn, I am worn out. I need a beer and something to eat." Robbie said,"I could go for a bologna and mayo sandwich right now." I said, "OK - I can do that!" And off I went to Harris Teeter once again. I figured these guys would need food and drink as most of them were stuck in the hotel until the following morning when their flights were taking off. I got a bunch of sandwich makings and more beer - including a big bottle of mayo, some white bread and a bunch of pretty decent garlic bologna.
Once we all come to accept that we were going to be monetarily poor but richer in friendship - things went pretty smooth. We drank beer - we talked - I filmed guys playing with cards and coins - over all, it was a fun convention.
So what did we come home with - even if it wasn't money?
Harris Teeter Deli Style Mustard - awesome product. I am thinking of having someone down South send me a couple more bottles.
Brooklyn Brown Ale - Kevin W. is a self confessed beer snob and travels with his own supply of Brooklyn Brown and his own glass. He was kind enough to share one of this precious beers with me and now I am hooked. Kevin arranged for me to receive 2 cases of this fine beverage once I got home - yummmmmm.
Seeing old friends - You know who you are! Always good to catch up!
Making some new friends - including Jon who we will get to see at conventions in both June and July - looking forward to seeing him there!
A really fine story - one that is sure to get us many beers for years to come.
So that was my spring vacation...