Cape Girardeau, Missouri. We planned ahead and booked a room in a nicer hotel, an "Inn", no less, to call our home away from home for the longest stretch of time since we moved away from Chicago. The Inn had a jacuzzi and an indoor pool, a complimentary breakfast boasting of 25 selections (I'm pretty sure they counted each flavor of "jam" as an option.), and free milk and fresh baked cookies every evening.
We thought we had it made, and we thought wrong.
Little did we know, students aren't as eager to buy posters from you on the spot when they realize you're going to be around for an entire week. Our sales kept dropping, and dropping, and dropping, until I dropped all sense of self worth, and made a sandwich board sign. On the front, it read: THESE ARE THE LAST DAYS! Poster sale ends tomorrow! And on the back it said: "Don't leave your walls NAKED! Get your posters while you can!" and then I wore said sign, and walked from one end of the very large campus to the other. (Un/)Fortunately, classes were in session when I chose to walk around with the sign, so a total of five people saw me (and each of them gave me a sympathetic smile.)
Later that evening, one of our bosses emailed us saying she noticed our sales weren't doing so hot and asked if she could help. We told her how low we had stooped in efforts to get our sales up, and she gave us the go ahead to run a special discount sale for our last day. We did and we came within a hundred dollars of making our sales goal for the entire week.
The highlight of the sale was when one of the students had me frame seven posters for him (only three of which he had bought from us), and he, his friend, and I partook in a lovely conversation about this that and everything over the hour it took me to frame them all.
We left Cape Girardeau feeling empty and low, having taken a long, harsh look into capitalism at its finest. Selling stuff people don't need, and convincing them to buy more of it. The same stuff that's rendered worthless if it gets folded, or a little torn. Fifteen dollars one minute, packing material the next. Selling stuff for the stuff. Frames made of plexiglass and cardboard for twenty three dollars, but we'll pop your fifteen dollar piece of paper in there for you for free! Selling image, selling identity, selling tickets to conversation, acceptance, friendship and meaning, so that we can buy our tickets to Europe. Staying at schools later than we have to, in hopes of selling more stuff. Staying up late to process the paperwork, getting up early to catch the pre-sale passersby. Heavy lifting, bruises, upon bruises, upon bruises all over my calves. Bagels with hydrogenated "peanut butter" breakfast and black, burnt coffee. Those are the lows.
Traveling for free. Discovering little pockets of culture and beauty that we never would have seen otherwise. Feeling in your aching muscles that you've truly earned the money you made. Seeing so many different college campuses, and being a small part of them. Hearing the stories of students, so full of passion, hope, dreams and ideas. Sunsets in different parts of the country. Regularly being pleasantly surprised. Meeting up with friends along the way. Pushing yourself to your limits. Learning what you don't like, how you don't want to live, and what money doesn't buy. Showing your ugliest self to the person you want to impress the most and being forgiven and loved. Seeing, doing, growing, living. It hasn't been all bad, in fact, it's been really good at times.