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The art of location: scouting for the Smut Stand

 

That fence still counts as protection for my back 180...

That fence still counts as protection for my back 180...

Up here in Atlanta, the days are still warmish. I can walk around just fine in the afternoon with no leggings. In theory I could set up the Smut Stand and do some business, if only I knew exactly where to go.

What makes a good spot for the Smut Stand? It's easy for me to see it, but hard to articulate to others, which means that in a city where I've never done Sidewalk Smut before, I often end up trying out two or three locations, neighborhoods that local friends recommend to me after I've struggled to explain to them what exactly I do and what kind of vibe I'm looking for.

Ideally I'll have a chance to visit the candidate spots without my gear, just walk around a bit first, see when the stores are closing (potential doorways to set up in!) or how late the restaurants stay open, observe the traffic flow. I want an area with a lively amount of foot traffic, but I would rather have slightly sporadic action than a crush of humanity. Occasional passersby have space to stop and talk. A mad fucking throng? There is no room to stop—in fact, Smut becomes a nuisance in that atmosphere—and with that many people, we probably wouldn't be able to hear each other anyway.

In terms of physical space, I only have a couple of requirements. First and foremost? I must be up against a wall. I know that sounds like a terribly defensive position to be in, and actually, IT IS AND THAT IS FINE AND ESSENTIAL. When I am out there working on a piece, my attention has to be largely focused on the work in my typewriter. I do have very good peripheral vision, and I've gotten much better at pulling my focus away from a work in progress to address a passerby right in front of me and then getting back into it, but I NEVER want to be worrying about who or what is at my back. I've seen a couple of the sidewalk poets in New Orleans just set up with their back against a parked car, and I'm like, AT SOME POINT THAT CAR IS GOING TO MOVE, and then your back will be TOTALLY EXPOSED. I am freaked out on their behalf! Give me that fucking fence or wall, or a utility box, anything so I only need to pay attention to half of the universe, the half that is in front of me.

The Smut Stand must have some reliable source of lighting. I have not yet found a good clip-on lamp to go on the table, so I've just been relying on the light from shop windows or the street lamps. This is not just a matter of seeing what I'm doing. This is a matter of safety and awareness, for me and the customers. They will not want to linger long in a badly lit passage or a particularly shadowy stretch of sidewalk, and I sure as fuck do not enjoy the feeling of being in the dark.

Furthermore, the Smut Stand cannot block foot traffic; that is a surefire way to piss off passersby, and I think it increases the chance that someone will call the cops AND that the cops will then have a valid reason for ticketing me or telling me to bugger off. I strive to avoid police confrontations at all times, so large sidewalks or full-out pedestrian walkways are a must. There needs to be room for people to pass—in wheelchairs, with strollers—to take pictures, if they want, to stop and discuss amongst themselves in couples or small nervous clusters. Navigating with and around something as fucking weird as the Smut Stand demands room.

Those doorways of closed or empty storefronts can be good for giving that room, with the further benefit of being sheltered from wind and rain, but that protection comes at a price: being set back means that I am harder for pedestrians to see until they are much closer to me, if not right up on me. It ends up feeling a little stealth, and doesn't give them time to consider what they are approaching.

These are some of the features that I'm looking for in a Smut Stand location. But none of them will do a lick of good, if they people aren't right. I don't think it's anything so simple as how they're dressed, or how young they are, because I get commissions from people of all age groups, and ethnicities, yes, and different economic backgrounds, too. It's nothing so specific, it's just… a look in their eyes, like they are excited to be in the neighborhood and they are looking for a good time.

This is why the "content" of the neighborhood, the vibe, is as important as the structural and logistical aspects. I seek streets with a nice mix of restaurants and music clubs, funking coffeehouses and bookstores, interesting shopping destinations that may be open later, theatres or an art-house cinema… anything that makes this location someplace where people really want to be. Bonus points if it's a tourist destination. But whether these people are just visiting town or live right around the corner, I need them to be hanging out there because they want to be there. They are not rushing anywhere, because they are having fun, and they are thoroughly open to the possibility of continued fun.

And that's where the Smut Stand comes in.

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