Cooke Street Carnival 2012

It was another big afternoon at the Cooke Street Carnival.  The weather was flawless, and the crowd was huge.  There were peep eating contests.  There was a slow bike race.  There were bunches of food trucks.  There was local beer.  There was fabulous music. There were all kinds of handcrafted beautiful things.  There were albums, $10 for 5.  Good ones, too.  It all came together.

Things were pretty slow to start out with, at the Advice Booth.  If you’re new here, the Advice Booth is just that: a place where you can get an opinion from a friendly stranger.  Note that I did not say “unbiased” or “professional,” just good old fashioned neighbor-to-neighbor advice.  We have no qualifications for this service.  Our fees reflect this fact.

Which is not to say that our advice isn’t excellent.  We had a carefully crafted team with a range of areas of expertise, and a range of personalities.  We had “oh, honey, sit down and let’s talk it all out” people, and “buckle up, because I’m about to drop some knowledge on you” people, and everything in between.  There were seven of us advice givers in and out of the booth today.  Sure, we had wigs on, but the secret to the wigs is this:  they make it just anonymous enough that you’d consider sitting down in a chair next to one of us and telling us something you haven’t told anyone else.  It’s fine.  We’re good secret keepers.  We’re also not judgy.  And if we can’t solve your problem, I’ll bet between all of us, we know someone who can.

We had a range of options.  For $1 you could draw a carefully crafted piece of advice out of the Advice Jar.  For $2, you could get a yes-or-no opinion from an Advice giver, PLUS a Magic 8-ball answer.  For $3, you could get sit-down advice and really talk things out, and also a cookie.  And we had fortune cookies from the Cooke Street people, which were a huge hit.  I opened my fortune cookie right off the bat, and here’s what it said:

“Sometimes advice is what we ask for when we already know the answer.”

As we learned last year, that’s kind of how the advice thing works.  Once someone is at the say-it-out-loud stage, they probably have an idea where they’re heading with it, or at least what their instincts are telling them.  Once you talk it out, the answer is usually kind of clear. When you’re telling a stranger your problem, you cut right to the chase.  You’ve already whittled it down to essentials.  Things look a lot clearer that way.

After last year, I wasn’t surprised that people stopped by with serious things to discuss.  There was a girl whose sweetheart just got shipped off to Afghanistan.  There was a couple considering a big move, and a guy who deserves much better than he’s getting, and another in my string of career-changing teachers, and a kid who wanted to know if she’d be able to graduate early.  Some of that advice was easy, and one guy left and yelled to his wife, “THAT IS THE BEST $3 I EVER SPENT!” Some of it was hard, and that guy left and said, “I knew it, you’re exactly right, and I do deserve better.” The girl with the military sweetheart didn’t really even need advice, she just needed to tell someone how she felt.  “I can’t tell you how much the world needs this booth,” she told me after we’d sat in the rocking chairs and read our fortune cookies together.

It wasn’t mostly serious, though.  Mostly what we got, which I loved, is a parade of people reading our signs and snickering.  And yes. Yes, we do think we’re hilarious.  There was some minor heckling, and a lot of wig compliments, and a whole bunch of people taking pictures, and a slew of giggling children. I am a pushover when it comes to giggling children.  They all got free Magic 8-Ball readings.  And then Bombadil played.  I love it when Bombadil plays.

It turned out to be a great afternoon.

Because people were honest enough to tell us all kinds of things today, I’ll let you in on an Advice Booth secret: this particular group of advice givers has been a little tossed about since last year, some in little ways and some in big ways.  None of us had any hesitation about giving advice last year, but at some point in the last few days, almost of us have had to say to the others, “I don’t have anything figured out right now.  Nothing looks like I thought it would by this point in the year; nothing has worked out lately like I’d hoped; I’m not where I want to be, and I feel like the rug has been pulled out from under me, and my confidence is shaken.” We all agreed, though, that we’re still really good listeners, and really good at seeing things clearly for others, and that together we were enough to tackle whatever came up today.  We are Team Advice.

Which is why, when the carnival was over, we had our own advice session.  We didn’t earn anywhere close to the amount of cash required to get me a ticket to Cat’s Cradle tonight, which was my first hope.  We did, however, earn enough to cover cheeseburgers at the PR, so we took our advice session there.

We sat at a big table in the back room and we had an envelope with everyone’s name on it, and we tucked little handwritten pieces of advice into everyone’s envelopes, with a lot of love.  PJ, our drop-some-knowledge-on-you advice giver, straight-up called us all on the carpet, before she even wrote anything down.  “Sure, things have happened that are less than ideal.  Sure, people hate their jobs, and people are dealing with family crazy, and people are battling some huge hassles, and you know what? $&!% happens and we get through it,  and you’re still amazing, and you’re still amazing, and you’re still amazing, and you have not lost any of that just because of the aforementioned $&!% happening.  It’s all going to be fine.”

And it is all fine, for all of us.  I know it for sure, because I opened up my envelope, and read everything in it, and I am reminded once again that I am surrounded by people who love me, and we really are all in this together, and if it takes a village, I am a lucky, lucky girl to be in this one.

Also: because my fortune cookie told me so.

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