The nefarious USPS had reduced 201 of our precious Guilded Age Volume Ones to mere concepts before they reached the warehouse of Diamond Comics Distributors. So, I prepared to replace them by car. The trek from Norfolk, Virginia to Plattsburg, New York was a mere 12 hours by Google Maps’ calculations, and hey, I could probably shave that down to 10 or so if I consistently drove 9.5 miles over the speed limit.
You can’t get arrested for doing less than 10. I learned this from my driving instructor, a charming fellow who might have been slightly tipsy on Saint Patrick’s Day, when he gave himself a small wedgie just to show me he was wearing green underwear. I was driving at the time. Anyway, armed with this knowledge, I was ready.
The process began with the boxes of books (20 to a box, about 30 pounds of paper in all). I asked my apartment complex for a dolly, and they gave me a sort of collapsible metal basket on wheels. This structure took two boxes and promptly fell apart. So I had to carry the boxes in by hand. Well, I’d been meaning to spend more time at the gym lately, and this was almost as good. That brief ache in my back when I did boxes 6 and 7 together didn’t turn out to be anything permanent, so that was good. With 8 and 9, I remembered to lift with the legs.
I assembled the boxes into the shape of a really fat guy in the back seat, just so I’d have someone to talk to during hours 7-12.
What with one thing and another, I finally got out of there at 3 p.m. I suppose it would’ve been ideal-ish to leave around 9 a.m., try to get to Plattsburgh that same night, drop the books off 9 a.m. the next day and head for home. But I had errands to run before this journey, and a gathering of cartoonists I wanted to meet up with on the way back. I also had no money budgeted for hotels. So sleeping was going to be an issue.
I’d figured on finding a truck stop on the highway, but when your body tells you it’s had enough and you’re maneuvering a 2500-pound hunk of rubber and metal, you better listen. I ended up stopping around midnight by an abandoned farmer’s market, which I presumed wouldn’t mind as long as I was on my way by daylight. I pulled out the blankets I’d packed for the purpose, covered my head with a winter jacket, and committed my resources to achieving unconsciousness.
But I couldn’t stay asleep. Maybe it was the excitement. Maybe it was the prospect of getting carjacked by an enterprising vagrant. In any case, I was wide awake and on the road again at 2:30, then sleeping again, in a rest area this time, from 5:30-8:00.
In between those two sleep breaks, my phone charger stopped working.
The charger had been persnickety for a while, generally refusing to work properly unless positioned in a certain way, but I’ve been operating under severe budget constraints lately and can’t afford to replace merely eccentric hardware. But no more car charger meant that I had to seriously ration my phone’s electricity. Which meant that my moment-to-moment GPS, instructing me which way to go in its reassuring, GladOS-like voice, was no longer an option.
This turned out to be somewhat important, when I arrived in Syracuse around 9 a.m.
If you don’t know your New York geography, here’s the quick version. New York looks like a shoe on top of a tent peg. The bottom of that tent peg is where New York City is. Plattsburgh, my intended destination, is near the top of the shoe. And Syracuse is riiight about where the heel of the shoe joins the foot.
Sometime in the more sleep-deprived part of my journey, I’d made a critical wrong turn. Thank the stars that I’d planned to get in around the early morning, so I had time to get to Diamond before it closed. The last leg of the journey there was on a ridiculously long two-lane state road, where I kept getting stuck behind all sorts of idiots who didn’t know about the 9.5-mile-per-hour rule. At this point, I had progressed beyond talking to Cardboard Box Man and just uttered random words and phrases under my breath, like I had a G-rated version of Tourette’s syndrome.
At least I got to see the countryside.
2 p.m.: Finally, Plattsburgh! Finally, the Plaza Center! The mall where Diamond Comics Distributors is located! I’d say it was in a rundown part of town, but really, the whole town looked fairly rundown to me. But what did I care? At last, my journey was ov—
Where the hell was it?
I turned on my laptop, connected its phone charger and started sucking juice out of one electronic crutch to feed the other. And I rechecked the GPS. It was supposedly here… but all I saw was a Dunkin’ Donuts, a Dollar General, and a supermarket. Finally, I walked into the supermarket (I was jonesing pretty hard for some orange juice, anyway) and asked the first clerk I saw.
“Oh yeah,” she said. “It’s behind the Dollar General.”
And so it was. Diamond Comics Distributors, the mighty backbone of the entire comic book industry, has a warehouse that looks like this:
I mean… that’s not even a real sign. It’s a piece of paper they just taped onto the wall, there.
When I showed them this image, my friends thought Diamond employees just put up the sign because they saw me coming, but sadly, my presence had been unheralded.
Nevertheless, the nice employee let me back my car up, and place all 201 books into a waiting carrying cart. 20. 60. 100. 140. 160. 180. 200…
The last box had been opened already, before I put it in the car, without my realizing. It only contained 17 copies. There were three extras I’d left in the car, which I had thought meant I had 203. But… 200. I was one short.
I was one short.
I did what anyone would have, of course: I set fire to the car and drove it directly into the side of the building.
Actually, I went to the local comic-book store in the vain hope that they had one of the sixty copies from my first shipment which actually made it through. No, they didn’t, but the proprietors were so nice that they ended up selling me something. Perhaps I was just looking for a balm to soothe my failure.
Little did I know, as I returned to my car, that I had purchased the most pretentious graphic novel in the universe. (Honestly, Dave McKean is normally great, but I think he overdosed on meta with this one, and this is coming from a writer who’s frequently accused of being addicted to meta the way ordinary people are to meth.) By the time I got to the fourth creation myth in twice as many pages, I decided to call my associate at Diamond and let him know of this failure. I could, of course, mail the single remaining book upon my return.
But aha! “Fear not,” Diamond Guy told me (paraphrased slightly). “We generally order several more than we have received orders for, just to cover shipping errors”– at these last two words, I tried to restrain an outburst of bitter laughter– “or problems on our end. We’ll just roll one over and add it to the total of the second order.”
I hadn’t failed! Relief coursed through my veins, the sun in the car was warm, and the graphic novel’s characters were droning on and on about how cool the process of making art was. Naturally, I fell into a deep slumber. The sleep of the just.
The journey home would be fraught with inconsiderate wi-fi providers, frightening truck stops and roadie showers, but it was all worth it to attend a gathering of my fellow cartoonists and say to them, “I just drove about 1500 miles. Do you love comics that much? Are you sure? HOO-AH! [flex left bicep] [flex right bicep] I bet I love comics enough to flip this whole table!”
I didn’t actually say any of this, of course.
But I said it with my eyes.