In the early nineties one of Canada’s top promoters of high end antique shows bravely decided to take a swing at the big apple. He decided to piggy back on the excitement around the annual January Antique Week in Manhattan where at the time there was about a dozen shows taking place in the area over two weeks. He managed to rent the well-known Puck Building in Soho, and he advertised widely. He even organized a free shuttle bus to run between the Puck building and the Winter Antique Show held at the Park Avenue Armory, and a couple of other of the big venue shows. His full-page ad proclaimed “the Canadians are invading New York….” I forget the exact wording, but the gist of it was we were there to kick American ass. It didn’t appeal to my humble Canadian nature, and I don’t think it appealed all that much to the American dealers either who stayed away in droves, but I must admit it was a gutsy move.
Things started to unwind a bit before they even got started, when a couple of the established big guns of the Canadian Antique scene decided it was too risky, or the costs were too high, or whatever, and refused to participate. The promoter had promised folk art, and had asked me to come along, but I too thought it was too large an investment on a first time show and passed. It was a week before the show when I received the call stating that I was desperately needed in New York, and I could name what it would take for me to come. Well, I thought about the success of the two Outsider Art Fairs that I had recently participated in, and how I liked and respected this promoter and what he was attempting, so with a nod from Jeanine I let him make me an offer I could not refuse. It was still a risk, but we love New York, and the thought of selling there was very exciting. We also had a lot of interesting “gear “(stuff for sale) at the time, including a pair of fiberglass Sphinx that had once graced the entrance of the Bill Lynch Circus which was big out of Nova Scotia in the forties. We thought they were magnificent but had not been able to get any interest at two or three fall shows in Canada. We thought they might be appreciated in New York so we put a bold price on them, figuring if we didn’t sell too well otherwise, the sale of “the girls” would help out the bottom line.
I remember that set up was from 8 a.m on Friday January 24, 1992, but you could arrive anytime provided you were set up for the 10 a.m. opening on Saturday. Our truck was old and open backed, and they were forecasting a lot of snow coming so we decided to rent a cube van. In for a penny. In for a pound. Logistically we decided to pick up the truck on Thursday at 5 p.m. which I talked the rental company into counting as being picked up the next morning, saving us a day’s rental. They knew they were going to make good money in the kilometer charges and I was a regular. The concept was to load the truck which we knew would only take a couple of hours as everything was packed and ready. Then we would leisurely have our dinner, take showers, and catch an early night, so we could leave about six the next morning. On a good day this would put us in Manhattan about 6 in the evening, and we would be able to unload and set up in the evening and hopefully get to the hotel about 9 or 10. We did not know how long it may take to clear customs, but we did know that we could take all night to set up if we wanted to, and we did not want the expense of another night in New York and another day’s truck rental.
But here’s how the best laid plans can fail in January. You guessed it. The weather. All day Thursday as I waited for the 5 p.m. pick up of the rental the weather reports became more and more alarming about the huge snow storm which was making its way across the mid-west U.S. on line to arrive at our place about sunrise. Just as we would be leaving. This was a biggy. A no kidding, you are going to get nailed snow event. About two in the afternoon when we stopped for lunch I looked to Jeanine and said. “I think we have to try to outrun this baby. We should pack and go right away and at least get through customs and a bit down the road and then pull into a hotel for the night. At least if we can get out of the Buffalo area it shouldn’t be so bad. We cannot afford to not make it there in time. We have too much riding on it.” Jeanine found this a hard pill to swallow but soon saw the logic. So right after lunch I called the rental place, put on my sweetest voice and talked them into letting us have the truck then. We hurriedly packed the truck with the help of our worker Albert and our son Brodie who was called into duty, and so by 5 in the afternoon we were on our way.
I remember that it was beginning to snow lightly as we entered the customs warehouse in Buffalo. We sat in a cold little room over-illuminated with a weird green fluorescent light alongside a dozen or so actual truckers. We were all trying to stay warm sipping lousy vending machine coffee, and making small talk as we waited for our number to be called. All the while conscious of the increasing snow floating gently down outside the tiny window. This was the scene for about 45 minutes which felt like 45 hours when you can see and feel the coming storm. When we pulled onto the interstate I said to Jeanine, “let’s just go down the road a way to get a little distance in tonight. I’m feeling awake and every mile we cover, makes one less mile tomorrow under much worse conditions. I gassed up the beast, and we headed down the line.
The snow was getting thick on the road and the road reports were not encouraging but we kept on. Then after about an hour the snow started to lessen, and we realized we were becoming slightly ahead of the storm. We got some coffee at a service center and I looked over to Jeanine who before the stop had begun starting to snooze, and suggested “Look. I’m feeling o.k. there’s some good tunes on the radio, and the road is clear. I say, let’s just keep going until the snow comes, or I am too tired, or something stops us. Surprisingly, she agreed. What a trouper. She even stayed awake for the most part engaging in any, and all conversation we could muster as to keep me from sleep. The hours and miles passed. The snow started up again, very lightly at first. Reports on the radio suggested that Buffalo was already virtually closed due to heavy snowfall. The giant storm was arriving a little ahead of schedule, and it was breathing down our back. We kept going, not stopping again until about two hours before New York when we stopped at a service center for a half hour nap, and another round of coffee. I hated to stop but I was at my limit. Surprisingly that half hour of shut eye was all I needed to wake up and complete the journey.
The snow began to come down heavily then, and I remember that it became very blustery and slippery just as we crossed over the George Washington bridge into Manhattan, and the truck did a little slide to the left just to let us know what we were dealing with. It was about 6 a.m. and there was no traffic so we pulled right up to the Puck building, realizing at that hour we could unload from the street rather than having to bring everything in from the loading dock. We looked inside the locked doors and were delighted to see that some people were already there starting to put down carpet and set up drapes. There was some good strong coffee and some nice snacks set out, and within an hour we had refreshed ourselves, and then they allowed us to begin unloading. And that’s when we met Leroy. But I will save Leroy for next week and the continuation of the story. What mattered then, and it was all that mattered then is that we had arrived safely before the storm.