The Alternative Press Expo in sunny San Francisco has come and gone once again. This was my third year tabling at APE. Although the show had some stiff competition in the form of a free bluegrass festival in Golden Gate Park, attendance was good and the Concourse hummed with the good vibes of people talking about their comics.
Representing Portland along with me was my tablemate Reid. The only thing missing between the two white guys with beards was a pot of Stumptown coffee.
Reid was not only my tablemate this year, we also shared a ride to and from San Francisco. On our way down we stopped in Arcata, California, a small college town that borders the woodsy home of the elusive Bigfoot. It was in those woods in 1967 that Roger Patterson and Bob Gimlin shot the famous video of Bigfoot lumbering across a clearing, looking back with what can only be described as utter indifference, and continuing on her merry way.
How do I know the gender of Bigfoot? It was one of many facts I learned in the Willow Creek China Flat Museum, located in the business district of Willow Creek. Reid and I had made special plans to stop at the museum on our way to San Francisco, and we were not disappointed. The Willow Creek museum celebrates the town’s history and has an entire wing dedicated to the ongoing study of Bigfoot.
I recommend stopping there not only for the wealth of Bigfoot-related evidence (mainly casts of footprints, historical newspaper clippings of men holding casts of footprints, and a beautiful painting of Mrs. Bigfoot), but for the lovely ladies who run the museum. We arrived at the museum right at opening; one elderly woman was turning on the lights. “I’ve got to go wake up Bigfoot,” she said as we entered. Soon after two of her friends came to keep her company. They are all in a quilting club; the museum had notices of their quilting events hanging beside maps of Bigfoot sightings. It was an incredibly cute experience, talking to these women about Bigfoot.
The Bigfoot museum looked like a run to the grocery store compared to the strange restaurant we went to in Chinatown. Sam Wo, a restaurant I cannot recommend highly enough, was where Reid, Tyrell, Matt, and I chose to eat on Saturday night. Let me take you through our journey and attempt to illustrate what kind of place this is.
You enter Sam Wo through the kitchen. Walk in the door, there you are. March right through where all the food is being prepared and up a narrow flight of stairs. There is a smallish dining area with maybe seven tables. A tiny Chinese woman is the only server, and she cannot move quickly enough. It is as though someone is constantly rushing her along. That person does not exist. The customers are patient (presumably they do not want to be the cause of her inevitable nervous breakdown). The folks preparing the food downstairs work quietly; I never once heard them give her an order. No, this server is the one running the place, and she is a force of nature.
When we got upstairs all the tables were full and we thought we’d have to go someplace else. Not so. The server told us that the upstairs is closed some of the time – apparently she decides when to open the third floor. She unlatched a chain and ushered us, along with two other groups, up another flight of stairs. The layout of the third floor is similar to the second.
Once we were all seated the server barreled up the stairs, threw dishes and chopsticks at all three tables, and then shouted numbers at us. “You are table one, three, and four!” she said as she ran back downstairs. A few minutes later she ran back up to take our orders. Table one was a couple and she almost wouldn’t accept their order. “That’s too much food!” she said. They had to assure her that that was what they wanted.
There is a dumbwaiter extending to all three floors, although if anyone could carry trays of food up and down stairs all night you can bet it would be this woman. By the time we got our food she had become a legendary figure, much more real than Bigfoot and in some ways scarier. Don’t ask her for your green tea before it’s ready. I made the mistake of going downstairs to see if we could get our drinks and she yelled at me to go back upstairs. I felt like I had a Chinese grandma.
Our meal was complete but we still had to figure out how much we owed. The receipt was in Chinese and had been torn. Were we expected to remember how much each of our dishes cost and add them up ourselves? Reid was finally able to extract a grand total from the server and we made the wise decision to tip generously. It was one of the most bizarre, fun dinners I’ve ever eaten.
But what about the convention? I was in San Francisco to sell comics. This year, possibly because of the bluegrass concert, a hiphop concert, and the Castro Street Fair, I did not do as well as in years past. I still made table, so the trip was definitely worthwhile, but I am beginning to wonder if I’ve tapped out my market in the Bay Area.
It might be time to investigate other comic conventions. Next year I will be attending MoCCA in New York for the second time, and would like to try SPX in Bethesda and TCAF in Toronto. I also put in my application for ComicCon in San Diego, fingers crossed. If I can get in there, that will be wild.
Thanks again, San Francisco and APE. I had a wonderful time.
Check out the comics of these talented and super friendly people. I love that I have convention friends all over the country.
Noah Van Sciver