We’d didn’t agree to the idea of the French Market right away. There was a lot of back and forth and logistics questions. For one thing, we lived in Texas. Donald offered to let us stay at his house for the times we came down to New Orleans, and suddenly it looked like we could do this, at least part time. We were going to Mardi Gras anyway, so we set up an appointment for February 17th, 5 days before Mardi Gras. We would try it out for a few days, get our sea legs, and see how it worked out.
In the same time period, we catered a wedding, attended Clockwork Con in Austin, and got an offer to move to Celina, TX that we couldn’t refuse. Our own home with enough bedrooms to house the whole full time crew, a two car garage for a workshop and an acre of land. So, we started packing and getting ready to move. On February 15th, we drove from San Leon to New Orleans with literally the last $250 that we had. We had our meeting, got approved, had an epic foot race to get
all of our paperwork signed and payed for…in the middle of Mardi Gras…and with minutes to spare, we had licenses and badges as official vendors in the French Market. We did our first day that Saturday. We used the last of the money we had to buy our booth space, and we set up in a tent in the back corner of the French Market. We realized a handful of things. We had no idea how to promote steampunk to tourists. We were not accustomed to working outside. None of our set ups were designed for a tent or for wind or rain. At 3pm, we hadn’t made a single sale, and we had scared off most of the people that we had tried to talk to.
This was a market. People come to shop, and we had no idea how to sell to a mundane crowd. Our retail had supported us to some extent for years, but it wasn’t our first goal. For this environment, our priorities were completely skewed. We were more than a little flustered, and out of our element. We were starting to count pennies and talking about how much ramen we would need to feed the number of people we had with us. I called the sales team together to discuss a different approach. Let’s assume for a second that we are here where we were in the convention world two years ago. No one knows what we are. Let’s try starting this out with introducing people to the idea of steampunk. But unlike the convention world where we have panels, people know the word and the kids have time, here you have less than 30 secs to get them to just stop. So we used a simple line “So I bet you guys are wondering what us crazy folks are doing out here.”….and it worked. In three hours, we sold more than we did at most weekend conventions. The next two days were much easier, and it marked a turning point in Airship Isabella.
We suddenly had the potential to have a consistent way to bring income to the artists and the company. So in between an already busy convention schedule, we put in at least one weekend a month in New Orleans. What ended up happening was a 16 week long run. That’s four solid months starting with Mardi Gras where the only weekend we took off was to move to Celina the first week in March. At this point in time, I can’t really talk to you about what we did or how that was. Most of it is a blur of roads, exhaustion, rain and goggles. We went from North Texas to Daytona Beach, Florida and everywhere in between. I remember some specific moments, like buying a trailer in Mississippi that promptly tried to kill us, and then bailing out of the car on the side of the road when we stopped holding the ground and clutching a bowl of blackberries that Tracy Stewart had given me that morning. But the non-facing death moments are hazy. I talked to a very nice woman who I apparently met at Louisianime during that run, which was week 12 btw, just last weekend. I apparently told her my real name, my whole life story and talked her ear off about me, steampunk and ASI for hours on the smoking deck. I can honestly say I don’t remember any of it. I thanked her for listening to me then, and that it was entirely possible that I was trying to remember who I was myself at that point in time. But I can’t say because I don’t remember anything that didn’t involve nearly dying.
When we finally got home, we all hugged each other, cried and made a solemn vow to NEVER do that again. On the road, we had a friend secure a semi-permanent location two blocks outside of the French Quarter in New Orleans for the time we spent there. We had agreed to split the cost of the warehouse. They had need of a place to store some of their stuff and a vehicle. We had need of workshop space and sleeping quarters. Just two weeks after ending the run, we all gathered our things and headed back to New Orleans. The convention run had been expensive and we needed to recoup some of the income we lost on the death trap trailer. The plan was to go to New Orleans for five weeks and make as much money as possible to get us through the summer. In the middle of this, we also had the good fortune of making it to a charity dental clinic and finally getting the surgery to fix Cedric’s teeth. We spent most of the summer in that warehouse working and enjoying what very much felt like a vacation from the craziness of the spring.
But life on the road is addictive, and it messes with your concept of time. People quickly began to get restless and thought we weren’t moving fast enough. We had been in New Orleans less than a month when the jitters started kicking in. Most of us realized what was happening and managed to work through it. Some of us didn’t. In this time, we also realized something about New Orleans itself. For those of you have haven’t ever been here, New Orleans is alive. The city lives. And you only survive here if she decides to keep you. The locals told us this early on, but we were only staying for at most a week at a time. And according to them, anyone can stay here a week. After that, you will either never want to leave or you will be clawing at the walls to get out. We’ve been told that it’s best to listen to that instinct. Either you leave on your own two feet or she will throw you out…generally in a pine box. It really does take a certain type of person to live here, and unfortunately, not everyone on our crew at the time felt that warm embrace.