Sunday, February 24, 2013

The Hoffman Box: Trying to Get Boston to Download Upload

I won't lie that I had high hopes for the day. Who wouldn't? I was driving into Boston, setting my sights on over a dozen bookshops, all within a two mile radius, and ten pounds of my first novel in my backpack. I had print outs of a local article I had been featured in, print outs of my Amazon reviews, and business cards. I was ready.

I hop in the car, and--oops. No gas. I'm dimly sensitive to early, bad luck omens for my day ahead. But this is no problem. I pull into a station and fill-up my tank, and a receive a bonus ego stroke. A fellow pumper crossed over the island. "Hey man, that must be fun to drive." He pointed at my Challenger. I laughed. "Oh, you don't even know." But in truth, a snow storm was due that same night, and muscle cars perform like Bambi on ice in the snow.

On my drive into town, I worked through my pitch, imagining myself pulling out, with a flourish "Upload" and its vibrant green and yellow cover, smooth as a snake oil salesman. I reassured myself. Even if I botched my first encounter, no big deal. I could recalibrate, if necessary, and improve my sales craft as the day progressed. I'd simply march on to the next store and perform that much better. Unbeknownst to me, my new hiking boots had entirely different plans for me.

Whistling, I pulled into a parking garage in the center of Boston's Financial district ($10 for a full day, not bad), set my Google navigator to pedestrian mode, and set off. Here I go!

By the way, not only is Boston chock full of bookstores, but also churches. With each church I passed, I wondered if I might take a knee inside and beg for divine providence.

My first stop was a very well known bookshop in Boston, a block away from Boston Common (OKAY, this was NOT my first stop--this is an outright lie, which I'll cop to later).

As I opened the door, I tried to turn a blind eye to the words that seemed to drift toward me from the painted window panes: "antique", "rare", "oldest". Damn it. Maybe not the best fit for a just published techno-thriller. I was out the door again in three short minutes, the awkward exchange akin to asking for a Big Mac at Burger King. Okay, strike one, but several to go.

I considered more seriously looping back to the nearest church, but I marched on. I consulted again my mapped out route, ignoring a disconcerting rawness in my heels, and a vague suspicion I shouldn't have worn new, untested shoes on my walking tour of Boston. Although--maybe this wasn't a bad thing. There was a certain religiosity there... A physical penance for my poor planning.

Already limping a bit now, I wasn't able to find the second bookshop. The bookstore was on my map, but in reality, it just wasn't there at all. I was reminded of a Twilight Zone episode I had seen where a couple accidentally wakes up minutes earlier than fate had planned. They go outside and literally witness reality being assembled before their eyes by little gnomes. No gnomes came for me.

The next shop was closed--on a Saturday?! As I worked my way between locations, I am barraged by a strategically placed cast of professional vagrants and college students, each begging for money, but for altogether different causes.

I quite liked the next bookstore, set below street level, an old world set of steps ushering me into the quiet shop. And score one for me, the owner of the shop was actually on site. He patiently listened to my pitch from his folding chair, mountains of books and magazines surrounding him. With the same patience, he explained that I had just walked into a bookstore solely devoted to lesbian, gay, and bisexual literature. I looked around. Yes. This seemed to be true. That would explain the ten foot tall rainbow colored store sign out front.

"But..." he said, "There seems enough of a mystery in this book that people would like it."

My first consignment.

I was now two hours in, and having minimal success. I began to feel like an outsider, marching in and bothering an otherwise sleepy, contented, antiquated Boston with my shrill and bright new book. I was hungry too. And what the hell was going on in my shoes? I dropped my bags and sat on a stoop to re-lace my boots that continued to bite into my heels with needle sharp teeth.

After a quick bite (a magically delicious and restorative slice of buffalo chicken pizza), I was back outside looking for my next challenge. My pronounced limp seemed to work in my favor now. The vagrants stutter stepped as they approached me now, studying my grimace, seeming to think twice about my capacity for charity. That, or they recognized some kind of beggarly kinship with me at this point. Hell, my hand was out just as much as theirs was. Wow, this was hard. I marveled at how difficult it was to get the word out, to broadcast myself. So it was at this point that I remembered a software testing apparatus named the "Hoffman Box", which is an enclosure used to test how software behaves when deprived of its ability to connect to the outside world. Hmmm. Yes. Sounds distinctly familiar.

I then made my way to South Station (a coliseum-like transportation center) and limped around it twice looking for the next bookstore I could see on my map, but again, not in reality. I had a revelation. I should start CALLING these stores first. I called, and it turned out the store I was looking for was located INSIDE South Station. Neither the bookstore manager nor the owner was present, but the employees I spoke to were very encouraging and I left them with all the information I could. Thousands of people passed the bookshop daily. Of all the shops, I hope hear back from this one.

The next two shops were outliers to my neat little 2 mile radius, so I decided to call them instead. And I'm glad I did. Both said their book purchasers weren't in, but shared with me their contact information. I had a sinking feeling I could have done 90% what I would accomplish today from home.

Time to remove the Hoffman Box, I thought. I stopped marching along my own delirious Freedom Trail, got out my cell phone, and called the next five stops in rapid succession. No solid deals from any of them, but I received all the information I need on each store's book purchaser.

For the entire day, I had been slogging around my laptop bag, along with the backpack, hopeful to find a place to write at the end of the day, when I finally tired of my trip. I found a spot in a local cafe, and scored the writer's trifecta: a seat next to a power outlet, an end table, and a twenty ounce latte. I took my mind off hocking my first book and spent three hours editing and updating the draft of my next novel, "dirt", and was heartened and encouraged all the more for it. Finally, real progress.

With my day complete, I headed home. I had tried. I certainly tried. Back in town, I stopped in at a local pub. Superstitiously, I wanted to close the loop, and make the circle complete. Because, you see, here's my confession: my first stop wasn't actually to a bookstore, but to a pub, for a beer, an on-deck circle of sorts where I could steel my nerves, surrounded by memorabilia of the city I was about to invade. So to a pub did I return, closer to home, and as luck would have it, I met who I had been looking for all day: a bookstore owner, with a store one town over. Seems I didn't have to venture so far after all.

As I turned in to bed, I decided to take a look at what had been bothering me all day.

Luckily, most of my follow-up bookstore legwork with eight other stores will be virtual.