Sunday, November 1, 2009


The word for today came out of the bayous of Louisiana around New Orleans.  My dictionary broadly defines lagniappe as “something given or obtained gratuitously or by way of good measure.”  It’s the 13th roll in a baker’s dozen.  The second cherry on top of your hot fudge sundae.  The “gimme” cap from your John Deere dealer.

This past week, I spoke to the College Stores Association of North Carolina down in New Bern, one of the state’s oldest and prettiest towns, at the confluence of the Neuse and Trent rivers.  Until their program chair approached me back in the summer, I had never heard of CSANC, so I immediately Googled them and discovered that they are part of a large national network whose members are on more than 3000 campuses across the country.  They’re not just bookstores either.  They sell everything from food to electronics, clothing,  dorm furniture, and anything that can have a college mascot or Greek symbol imprinted on it. 

This annual meeting brought together both the store managers and the vendors that supply those stores.  There were serious workshops on everything from freshening up stores and how to spot employee theft to custom-publishd textbooks and “Student Technology.”

Once again, I was reminded just how many parallel worlds there are—whole industries trucking along in their own lanes, lanes that never intersect with mine except on the most casual and superficial level possible.  I’ve been in campus bookstores, but it never occurred to me to think that they had an association and trade shows similar to my familiar Book Expo, a huge trade show that brings together publishers and bookstores and vendors that also service the industry.  

It’s like High Point here in the central part of NC.  Several years ago, I’d gone over to do a signing at a now vanished independent bookstore and someone said, “You really ought to set a book here.”

This was August and the town was deserted.  I had noticed lots of wide one-way streets and big boxy structures that looked like stores except that there were no show windows at street level.  I couldn’t figure out why such a sleepy little city needed so many one-way streets, so when someone suggested this as a setting for my district court judge, I smiled politely and asked why?  In my ignorance, I wondered what on earth I could find to write about in High Point?

That’s when they told me about Furniture Market, an international gathering of buyers and sellers of furniture.  How those one-way streets are jammed bumper-to-bumper twice a year.  How the town bulges at the seams because the population literally doubles for ten days.  How you can’t find an empty hotel room or a rental car within a fifty-mile radius.  I immediately thought it might be amusing to send my fictional judge over there to hold court, to let her go bopping into the Radisson and ask for a room, only to be told, “Sorry, our rooms are booked two or three years in advance for this week.”

I knew NC was famous for its furniture, but it had never occurred to me that they would have a trade show even bigger than Book Expo.  That there would be warehouses crammed with accessories for staging furniture ads – row after row of lamps, teddy bears, candlesticks, vases, rugs, artificial flowers.  Or that those big boxy buildings contained endless showrooms for every type of furniture imaginable.  Killer Market was the result of my being invited to stop and take a second look.

As a writer I get to explore all these parallel worlds around me—to learn about potters and fishermen and mountain developers, and yes, to meet congenial people like those who make up the College Stores Association of North Carolina. 


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