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Event Tradecraft – Duffles

Special events were a big part of Iceberg’s first decade. Some we organized ourselves; others we participated in as guests or vendors. Some were close to home; others required road trips or air travel or both.

Events take organizational skills, as well as patience and, if at all possible, a healthy (or warped) sense of humor –– especially when there’s travel involved, or the distance from vehicle to venue is considerable and something of a maze. Or when the bathroom in your hotel room is quite literally too small for you to fit, or the air conditioning in the hotel is broken in the freeze position.

In this series of notes (exact number to be determined), I’m going to answer some of the actual questions we’ve been asked about how we operate during events. The answers will reveal some of the lessons we learned –– usually the hard way. If you have a question I fail to answer, please feel free to send it along. So…

Question 1: Hey Iceberg, what’s with all the duffle bags?

Books arrive from the printer in boxes, so the obvious assumption… and the one we made at the beginning… is that we could just transport them to events in those boxes –– one less thing to pack. We quickly realized it wasn’t so simple.

First, the number of books in the boxes didn’t necessarily equal the number of books we wanted to carry. Second, boxes filled with books are inevitably heavy and don’t come with lift-assistance. And third, they don’t work at all if you’re going to be flying.

I think we came up with the duffle bag solution the second time we participated in Toronto Trek, then the largest fan-run science fiction convention in Canada. All we had to do was transfer books from printers’ boxes to duffles and surround them with weightless packing material to avoid damage. By repacking we could manage the quantity, and the handles on the duffles made them easier to carry.

It worked the first time, sort of, but only because we were within driving distance. No matter how carefully you pack, soft-sided duffles can only offer so much protection –– with every book you remove, the more the remaining ones can move around. And, of course, despite the handles, they were still heavy.

So we came up with some improvements. New duffle bags with wheels replaced the ones that had previously been acquired over the years (at events like the Canada Games), and we started using more boxes… but not printers’ boxes. Instead we used crush-proof shipping boxes sized to comfortably hold only one row of each title, then placed eight boxes in each bag. We colour-coded the duffles, designating certain ones to be opened first, and the others to be accessed as books moved throughout the event. The average weight per bag –– less than 50 pounds –– even made them suitable as checked luggage when flying.

It worked brilliantly the first time we tried it. It still worked brilliantly at Iceberg’s 10th Anniversary Gala Reception. And believe it or not, those crush-proof boxes really are crush-proof. Because while we’ve replaced a few over the years because they were starting to look shabby, most of the duffles still carry the originals… waiting to be filled for the next event.

(Photo: Mikael Christensen, Kenneth Tam and Wesley Prewer at Polaris 22, 2008.)