Salmon on the Street

Without a moment’s hesitation, or further thought about the project I was assigning to myself, I whipped out my butcher knife and started slicing. CHOP! The head dropped to the deck and spleeeeesh! the guts came out and squep! squep! squep! the bloodline was scraped clean. Just a quick rinse (I suppose that would make a squirt! sound), and those fish were in ice. By the time my turn was up at the tender, I had 30 fish cleaned, iced, and ready for the consumer!

The off-loading process wasn’t as smooth as I had hoped. My brailer system had a few shortcomings, so I wound up pitching quite a few fish one by one into the tender’s brailer, instead of having them lifted effortlessly off my boat in my own brailer bags, which is the system’s design. By 2 p.m. when I was all finished up, I was quite beat.

My bunk beckoned, but because of my previous moment of delirium, I had some fish to sell. My tote of 30 fish waited patiently for me to joist it up to the dock, load it into my truck, and then stand on the street corner and sell fish. After an hour of screwing around I had the fish into my truck and was ready to go to work.

I set up shop on Ballard Avenue, which, as I found out during my sales effort, is also known as “The Ballard Freeway” because there are no stop signs for quite a ways and people use it as a shortcut through town. I welcomed the focused short-cutters of The Ballard Freeway, knowing my signs would stop them. I had four signs, each with the perimeter emblazoned with fluorescent orange paint and measuring 4 feet high x 2.7 feet wide, which read in bold black letters on a white background, “FRESH SALMON ~Local! ~Wild!” How could anyone resist stopping for a fish after they saw those signs, Ballard Freeway or not?!?

I was situated in front of Salmon Bay Sand and Gravel Company, across the street from Kovich-Williams. I lined up my signs so they screamed at the drivers as they passed. They had plenty of room to slow down, stop, and park. I waved at them as they sped past. Some waved back. Most others simply had a blank stare. I whipped out my accordion to command even more attention. I played. More smiles, waves, and pleasantries than before, but nobody was stopping to buy fish. One guy stopped with exclamations of how “Ballard” it was to stand on the side of the road selling fish while playing the accordion. I didn’t appreciate that because it was almost like calling this Croatian a Norwegian.

Then Anthony called. He was all set up on the street corner at 30th and Union Avenue in Tacoma, but he had only sold one fish in a half an hour. I told him he needed to move to 30th and Stevens Street where there wasn’t so much traffic volume, but he was convinced he had a great spot because there was plenty of room to park and great visibility of his signs. I neglected to tell him my spot had the same attributes, but few sales as well.

It was a hard, slow sell on that Monday afternoon. Anthony sold only 20 fish when we both anticipated a sell-out. I sold only 10, but thankfully a friend of Fawn John’s came by and bought six, which really lightened my load. The highlight of the day was when a fish cop stopped and verified all my landing info. I passed with flying colors, and while he was there he drew in a couple of customers, maybe to see what was the commotion?

In retrospect, I would say I should have set up shop AWAY from Ballard, the heart of the fishing community, where a guy on the side of the road selling salmon and playing the accordion would actually be an anomaly. As for Anthony, I can’t figure out why he didn’t sell. He even had a gal-pal come down and hold up a giant chum while she was standing in the bed of the truck!

It was a bit of shock to the direct-sales model, but I was determined to stay the course because I used to sell them like hotcakes in Tacoma, and so should Anthony. Despite this slow start, there would be more fish in the future.


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