Roadside Stands

While I was preparing to upload some short stories to Kindle for publication, somewhat ruing the fact that I could afford only the most rudimentary covers for them – a few bucks for an illustration from Dreamstime, simple formatting and fonts in PowerPoint – I abruptly remembered the summer roadside fruit stands we used to frequent in Greece.

We would be on our way to one of those splendid sandy beaches fronting the bathwater warm ocean on Halkidiki – that’s what they call the three peninsulas that stick out into the Aegean Sea like fingers east of Thessaloniki.  On the weekends the side roads off the main highway would be packed with cars full of people hitting the beaches, and along the side roads were numerous makeshift fruit and vegetable stands.  They were set up by local farmers and the goods came right off the fields behind the stands.  All the fresh produce would be seasonal.  There would be tomatoes, cucumbers, eggplant, zucchini, grapes, honey melons, watermelons.  People from the city would stop along the side of the road and fill their trunks with bags and crates of produce, because not only were the goods cheaper than they could find in the city supermarkets, but the quality was much higher as well.

The thing about these wildly successful entrepreneurial endeavors, though, is that they were entirely makeshift.  The shops would consist of rough tables or stands, a piece of canvas slung overhead on poles for protection from the sun, the produce displayed in wooden crates.  Sometimes there was a handwritten sign, black marker on cardboard, and sometimes there was no sign at all.  The farmers did the best they could with what they had, and folks from the city, recognizing quality goods, came regardless of the less-than-polished conditions.

Sometimes smaller farms sold only one or two products at these roadside stands.  You might see an old man or woman at the side of the road with one crate of lemons or watermelons propped up on a stool.  In the city, around the outskirts of the larger weekly street markets, there were always old people selling small quantities of goods, sometimes only a dozen or so bundles of herbs out of a cardboard box.  The security personnel policing the markets making sure the larger dealers gave receipts so they’d have to pay taxes left these smaller dealers on the backstreets alone, realizing that selling those bundles of herbs might make the difference of a widow or widower having enough cash to buy food for the week.

What I like about Greece is that there is room for all these vendors, and that they are not criticized or ostracized for the size or quality of their displays.  The United States could learn a lot about tolerance from European countries whose people have had to put up with each other in much narrower confines – not always successfully of course – for many more hundreds of years.

Back now to my short story covers, which I realize are not as professional as they would be if I had hundreds of dollars to spend on them instead of practically nothing.  I suppose I’m like one of those road side vendors.  Most of you might pass by without realizing I have quality goods to sell because my display doesn’t have the glitter and neon of the big chain supermarkets, but I’m going to do the best I can and put them out there anyway because I have to – I want to – I feel compelled to.  Maybe someday I’ll have the finances to upgrade them.  Until then, be assured that these covers package quality goods.  One of the stories I’m uploading now was even accepted and published in an international science fiction anthology.

I’m reminded of the covers of Hugh Howey’s “Wool” series when the stories first appeared as individual novellas – rudimentary at best, he’s told us on his blog.  And yet people bought them anyway.  Like that wonderful fresh produce we bought by the side of the road on the way to Greece.  We didn’t care that it came in wooden crates.  It was inexpensive and fresh and delicious; that was enough for us.  I’m very thankful for the self-publishing venues available nowadays on which writers can display their goods for sale.  Some spend hundreds of dollars on breathtaking covers; they’re like the brand shops in the malls with their garish, eye-grabbing displays.  Others, like the larger roadside produce stands at Halkidiki, rely on simple signs and word-of-mouth to make their sales.  Yet others put up literature with unadorned covers that approximate those poor widows’ cardboard boxes.  There is room for all.

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