A Wheelchair, A Book Fair, And A Lot Of Nice People

This year I felt the most trepidation I ever have about bringing my books to the Printers Row Lit Fest (a/k/a the Printers Row Book Fair). And I had the best time I’ve ever had.

The trepidation came because I’m still not able to put weight on my foot, which has 2 broken bones.

I’m wearing a clunky Aircast, which is better than a regular cast, but still keeps me a bit off balance on crutches. With how crowded the book fair usually is, I felt nervous about getting through the crowds without incident after my 10-12:30 shift finished Saturday.

A friend suggested I rent a wheelchair for the day. It worked out–after a wild ride or two–and was a much better way to get back home. And I had a wonderful day.

Learning From Riding To A Book Fair

I’ve never been in a wheelchair before. It’s scary.

Two fantastic friends helped me. Despite trusting them, it was hard to ride in a chair with my injured foot in front of me down a sloping street next to traffic. It felt to me as if I were about to topple in front of cars at any moment.

Once we got onto Dearborn Street, which police had blocked from vehicle traffic, I felt much better.

Before any of that, though, we had to navigate the parking garage.

I only live 4 blocks from the book fair, and had I known what it would be like in the garage we would have walked/wheeled the whole way. The garage turned out to have a steep ramp going up into it, with a narrow sidewalk–again along a vehicle-filled space–to get out.

Happily, an attendant showed me the elevator, which was hidden behind a heavy door. The indoor ramps from the second floor where the elevator let me out to the ground floor, though, were daunting for someone who has never used a wheelchair alone. (My friends were outside with the boxes and bags of books and supplies.) I wasn’t that great at navigating.

Also, the ramps exited at an entirely different place. Lots of texting got my friends there to retrieve me.

Oh, and did I mention it was drizzling? Better than the downpour from earlier the morning. But as I waited I wondered if we were doing all this only to be rained out.

Sitting Behind A Table Of Books

The rain stopped about 10 minutes into the official 10 a.m. opening of the fair, and the morning turned to be the best ever of the five times I’ve rented a table under the Chicago Writers Association Tent.

In other years I’ve sweated through hours of 100 degree temperatures with no shade, ducked flying signs during high winds, and scrambled to secure plastic over the books in driving rain, only to find no one returned to the book fair when the sun came out again.

This year, once the drizzle stopped it was a perfect temperature. A bit cool, not too sunny, no more rain, and just enough wind to keep it comfortable under the tent.

The rain did keep the crowd a bit limited early in the day.

But I liked that too. Fewer people made it seem more relaxed. People felt happy the rain was gone, and stopped to chat about it. If someone came up to my table, it was because they’d been drawn in by a book cover or we’d started talking, not because they’d been basically pushed over to my side of a busy corridor by a crowd.

Standing on crutches turned out to be awkward and uncomfortable, so most of the time I sat in the wheelchair.

While most people suggest standing behind the table to be more visible, I discovered sitting worked better for me. I felt more relaxed. Also, more people stopped to talk to me than in previous years, I think because I wasn’t looming over the table like an overanxious salesperson.

Really Really Nice People

The best part of the book fair, and what left me feeling happy and energized though tired, were the people:

  • A security guard in the garage wheeled me down the ramp so I didn’t have to try it myself;
  • The other authors near me offered their chairs and anything else they could do to help;
  • Book fair patrons were friendly, and we had lovely discussions about books, the weather, the historic Printers Row neighborhood, and my advice about getting a real ladder rather than climbing on a chair if you are getting something down from up high;
  • Someone from Sisters In Crime, which had a tent across the way, came over to chat with me about the mystery/suspense series I’m writing;
  • My two friends devoted half their day to lugging me and my books around and checking to see if I needed anything; and
  • When I returned home, the doorpeople at my building opened the handicap doors for me. They also held onto the wheelchair until it could be picked up by the medical supply company.

Overall, it was one of the best days I had since I broke my foot. And I sold some books!