I got back from Houston (actually The Woodlands, a Houston suburb) late yesterday. I had been asked to serve as the Wine Wizard for the Fifth Annual Wine and Food Week ( a truly fun event that's extremely well-run and organized.) I still don't know what the title means but I did enjoy a lot of Texas hospitality - if not necessarily the Texas heat and humidity. Among my Wizardly duties was the hosting of a wine dinner, a luncheon discussion at a swank private club and even a Champagne seminar on a boat (which sprung a leak but thankfully no bottles were lost.) I also spent a great deal of time in grocery stores, signing copies of my book (Educating Peter).
Until I visited Texas I'd never thought about selling my book in a grocery store (I'm no Mary Higgins Clark, after all) but Texans seem to spend a lot of time in their grocery stores- and rightfully so: they are veritable palaces compared to the crummy places where New Yorkers are forced to shop. I was especially dazzled by the HEB stores (I visited three HEBs in as many days). I couldn't stop marveling at HEB's vast meat counter, acres of baked goods and miles of produce. Though their book section isn't quite so vast (and yes, there's a lot of Mary Higgins Clark), according to my sidekick for those three days, Sammie Marth, Texans buy a lot of books in grocery stores.
Sammie is the Regional Manager for Media, which places books, magazines and newspapers in stores all over Texas. Sammie is a spunky young blonde with just the right combination of moxie and charm. She helped me set up my table and arrange my books and even pulled a few customers over to buy my book. After petitioning people randomly to have come have a look, I decided to concentrate on the shoppers who actually had wine in their shopping carts.
This turned out to be every bit as much hit or miss as any other method of solicitation. For example, I engaged one woman in a long conversation about my book- how it was an introduction to wine by means of an education of famous film critic, and it was very funny etc. etc. She appeared to be listening avidly and then abruptly declared, "I don't want that," and rolled her cart away. Ouch. The wine in her cart? Barefoot Cellars. That did at least help to (slightly) lessen the sting.
But I did have some truly wonderful encounters ( a young boy on his way to a rodeo; three women who thought my book would be "great by the pool.") By the third day's book signing, Sammie and I were also offering samples of wine (notably the HEB private label Vinho Verde I mentioned in my last post - which turned out to be pleasant but a bit innocuous). My favorite sale of the week, by far, came at the end of the last day. It was to a biker named Mike (who rode a $30,000 Harley Softail by the way). "I like Merlot," Mike said, offering to let me pose with the bike in the grocery store parking lot. (I accepted.) The bike gang's leader Big Mo bought a book too. "I like a good Riesling," he said. "Nothing too sweet."
I sure do love Texas.