Tag Archives: transportation

On the Road for an Unknown Writer’s Book Tour

The book tour is an endangered species, part of the soon-to-be archaic practice of publishers in getting publicity for top- and mid-list authors when their latest books hit the market. I remember book tours from the bookstore perspective, because I was once a book buyer and I coordinated readings up in Syracuse, New York. Stephen King, impeccably nice. Oliver Stone, not so nice. Mollie Katzen had lots of culinary tips, William Bennet was reserved, and Donna Shalala had a great booming laugh. For each of these events we ordered 30, 40, 75 copies of their tomes, and the lines stretched out of the store and into the student life building atrium. We’d put extra people on shift and listen to the cash registers ring with sales. It was something of an assembly line: customers waiting, picking up books, paying for books, getting books signed, out the door. A signing could last one or two hours before the interest petered out. We tried not to frown when people arrived with their own books or with books that had been released years earlier, because the authors were sure glad to see everyone. Some of the authors had requests up front or in their contracts that we had to fulfill, things like having sparkling water, or having a rival’s books tucked out of sight, and of course, of course, we were more than happy to oblige them.

When I do a reading, I count it as lucky if the store remembers I’m showing up that night. One reading had me and a few friends standing nervously on the sidewalk, the store dark and empty of staff, while I called my publicist. We were saved from reading on the street or walking away in sorrow when a random car with three store employees drove by us, wheeled around, and opened up the building. By the time I started reading in the quickly rearranged room, 15 people had shown up. Read More…

Cycles of adventure

In the midst of my wild summer plans, family visits, and national park exploration, I learned that my friend, Jamie Moorby, had cycled across the US for charity, raising money for the DC Area Books to Prisons Project, which has a two-part mission: donate reading material to prisoners and educate the public about prisoner literacy. They aim to bring in reading material because many prisons do not have libraries, and the ones that do often have limited access or selection of materials. This cross-country bike ride was something Jamie and several other people participated in, ending in Oregon last month. I asked Jamie a few questions to talk about her experience.

What inspired you to cycle your way across the US, and how long have you been a long-distance cyclist?

I have dreamed of going on a long bike trip since I was a kid, but never pursued it I until this spring a friend asked me if I’d ride with her from New Orleans to the SXSW music festival in Austin Texas. I was quitting my job at a worker-owned/operated food coop in the DC area and moving to VT this summer anyway, so I said sure. Towards the end of that 10 day trip, another friend called me up and said “since you don’t have a job right now, why don’t you bike across the country with me?” I didn’t have any good reasons not to, so I agreed. Less than a month after finishing my 620 mile ride across Louisiana and Texas, we left Yorktown, VA for a 10 state, 3 month, 4,500 mile ride to Astoria, Oregon. Read More…

Even the cops have tattoos

It’s August, as we all know, so there are still a lot of sunny days here in Seattle; I’ve heard but not experienced the loss of direct sunlight that arrives in fall and sticks around until the next summer. That’s how it worked in Syracuse, New York, so I can steady myself for the little bits of insanity that pop up as human beings go through vitamin D withdrawal. It gets weird, that’s for sure.

But if I don’t have the lack of sun to remind me I’m in Seattle, there are other hints:

  • Nobody carries an umbrella in the rain, but everyone wears raincoats, even when the sun’s out
  • Black and brown are the top choices for clothing, unless one has opted to select a bit of hot pink
  • There is apparently some contest to see who can plaster the most bumper stickers on their car
  • People wear jeans to business meetings
  • No glasses frames are “too retro” to wear out in public
  • Instead of just garbage and recycling bins, there are bins marked Garbage, Recycling, Compost, and Hopeless

It is its own little city. I enjoy seeing skyscrapers once again, not for the earth-destroying resources they consume, of course, but for the fact that it signifies there are a lot of people here. In New York City, they seem to touch the clouds but never make it; in Seattle the clouds like to dive in from time to time, I suppose to take in a show or slam poetry event. Even the volcanoes hide behind gray blobs of cloud. It’s almost as if Mt. St. Helens is embarrassed that it threw up all over eastern Washington in 1980. Girl, 30 years later, you can be okay with it. We all see you blew your stack, and it’s okay.

Some folks warned me that Seattlites are passive-aggressive, and so far, this has held up to be fairly accurate. Back when Susanne and I first moved to Walla Walla, I was shocked at how indirect people were. For example, if I am staring at cans of beans in the grocery store, assessing which I should procure, and someone from the Northeast comes up behind me, they’ll either say, “excuse me” and reach in around me, reach in around me without saying anything, or push me aside to get their damn beans. But in the Northwest they’ll just stand behind me, waiting, quiet as a door mouse, until I finish thinking about whatever it was that brought me to this corner of the store in the first place. I find this unnerving, because I need and expect directness. But what I didn’t understand until this last week of living here, is that they’re really just fuming behind me, wishing they could say something, wholly unable to break their social contract.

Another story: I used to commute into DC on the Metro, taking a bus to the Pentagon station and traveling by the subway up to Foggy Bottom near the George Washington University campus. When I was on my morning schedule I saw the same people, also heading to work, which included one nice lady who was aided by a seeing eye dog. We got to know each other a little, in that way that repeat commuters do. Because she got off at the same station as me, she’d often take hold of my elbow as we walked to the escalator. It wasn’t anything I said she could do, but it didn’t bother me, either. One day, heading up the escalator, a businessman in a hurry mashed her dog’s foot into the step, severely injuring the animal. I was shocked that he didn’t lose one step on his mighty important commute to Satan Company, Ltd., and I rushed over to him and yanked him aside before he hit the turnstiles, yelling at him to see what he’d done. It was clear he didn’t want to deal with the aftermath—the woman trying to figure out how badly her dog had been maimed, the dog doing its best to be calm but crying and whimpering all the same—but me and the other commuters got his card out of him. I later found out that he’d ponied up the money for the veterinarian, as well as the re-training the dog needed to get back on moving stairs. Cornered, he had no option but to admit his liability, even as he’d tried to just sneak away.

Fast forward to Monday night, here in Seattle, and while we were at the trivia game in a local bar, a woman stepped on a service dog’s foot while meeting up with her friends. Her initial response was, “oh, there’s a dog there?” A few words were exchanged with the dog’s owner, but then she walked over to her group of pals, muttering, “I don’t know why someone brings a dog in here, anyway.” Lady, it’s a service dog. It’s wearing a bright orange back harness that reads: Service Dog.

That was a primo passive aggressive response as far as I am concerned. Damn that dog for being under my feet!

Lest I sound like I don’t like Seattle, let me list a few wonderful aspects:

  • Great, self-contained neighborhoods that nestle lovely little eateries, like Moka Coffee, the Baguette Box, and Sushi Whore
  • Water, water, everywhere one looks
  • People aren’t afraid to play wonderful music—everything from old Sonic Youth to Average White Band, to contemporary indie rock
  • Few places can support many people wearing socks and Birkenstock sandals
  • Even the cops have tribal tattoos

I went ahead and subscribed to the Sunday newspaper because I still believe, even in this anti-paper world, that a subscription to the local rag provides great insight into a place’s culture, people, and environment. And yes, I’ll note that I’ve been quite unwilling to purchase the Walla Walla Union-Bulletin. I don’t find that it actually contains news or much else of interest.

So Seattle, I want to get to know you. We’ve had a few dates here and there, but it’s time to take our relationship to the next level. Where will we go together, oh city of wet weather and shades of green?

Cookies from hell

First, a brief round up of my first writer’s conference:

  • One request for a partial and one request for my book proposal, both for the memoir
  • One request for a partial of my science fiction satire
  • Several new writer contacts—mostly sci fi and fantasy folks, who duh, are the best
  • One silly picture of myself shown on a screen in front of everyone
  • Many, many fantastic conversations about writing and creating
  • At least half a dozen drinks at the bar—they had good hefeweisen, for which I am always a sucker
  • Two great dinners in Seattle—Ethiopian and sushi whore in West Seattle
  • Two ridiculous airline experiences

I’d grumbled and snarked about the demise of airline service here and over on I Fry Mine in Butter, and apparently the universe or something took notice, because wow, getting back to Detroit from Seattle was a fiasco.

The initial flight out of Seattle, a red-eye at 1AM was bad enough—taking a red-eye, I knew, would throw off my internal clock, because it has every time before—but I also had a connecting flight out of Memphis. I’d been okay with this at booking because I had a nonstop to Seattle for my outbound flight, and I’m not choosy in this brave new world of airline service. Choosy is something I reserve for potato chip flavors at the Target Superstore.

Memphis’ airport has seen better, happier, less stinky days. I had to really eyeball which chair I sat in as some had lost a considerable percentage of their stuffing to some other quadrant of the facility. I figure there’s a room in the basement somewhere with bags of chair fluff. I just need to sort out why. I made my way to a Starbucks and procured a mocha and a cheese danish because I was pretending it was breakfast time. It was, in fact, 7:20AM local time, but my stomach didn’t know that, so I gave it some cues. Here, stomach, coffee. Here, stomach, danish!

Busying myself in my ebook—Patricia Cornwell’s latest, and she sounds like a cranky old lady writer these days—I did not initially notice that the monitor displaying my departure time had changed. 9:45 quietly became 10:20. At some point I lifted my head, probably because I saw movement on my horizon, triggering the lizard portion of my brain to make sure there weren’t any predators on the savanna. Fortunately, there weren’t, but I did see the slippage in my takeoff time. I called my in-law’s house and left a message alerting them to the delay, and went back to my book. I wasn’t too concerned about a small delay, but I really needed to figure out who was after Kay Scarpetta.

At the next gate, a flight to Minneapolis, people starting piling up. I could tell it was a big and full plane. Then the steward made a strange announcement:

“So folks, we’re going to have  a delay here as we have a mechanical issue with this flight. We need a really big, strong spring for the tail rudder. I’m sure you remember that flight that crashed a few years ago because of the tail. So we take these things seriously. Unfortunately the part needs to be flown into Memphis here. We’ll get you all moving as soon as we can. You can scan your boarding passes over here to receive a $6 breakfast voucher from Delta for any food vendor here in the airport.”

Did someone just say flight and crash in the same sentence? Did someone from an airline just say flight and crash? That’s like yelling “bomb!” in the security line!

I looked at the monitor for the flight. Originally scheduled: 8AM. Now expected: 4PM. I noticed as a wave of uneasy crashed over me and my ebook.

Well, something was off with my flight, too. We still weren’t boarding, even though I heard one employee tell another customer that we’d leave by 10:10. My phone buzzed with a text from Susanne: Delta Web site says you’re not due to depart until 11.

Those lying bastards. Now I was annoyed, and I had a good amount of caffeine from my mocha to fuel my anger. I asked the woman at the counter how we were leaving at 10:20 if it was 10AM and we had no plane at the gate? She gave me an uneven frown, as if both halves of her brain were in conflict: this guy is pissing me off, must be nice to customers. I felt badly for causing her distress. I blamed my Starbucks mocha.

Around 11 we actually got on the plane, and then the story takes a downturn. I was seated next to the most talkative, no boundaries, yammery guy I’ve ever had the fortune to sit next to. He just wanted to know my whole life story, this guy. It was one of those times when I considered revealing The Trans just to see if it could shut down any more conversation, but I feared he would just explode with 20,000 questions I didn’t feel like answering. For those of the non-trans status, questions no transgender person wants to answer include the following:

  • What was your name before?
  • What’s it like to see things from the other side?
  • Did you get surgery?
  • How did your family deal with it?
  • Quick, let’s go to the rest room so I can see your winky!

Okay, that last one isn’t a question, though it is a kind of request, I suppose. And yes, that last one has been asked of me. See, this is why my memoir needs to find an agent and a publisher, because the world needs to know that people make these crazy remarks! Notice how I went from memoir to publisher to world? That was nice, right?

Mr. Never Stop Talking rattled on for so long that I hardly noticed we’d been on the tarmac for a while, but sure enough, they hadn’t closed the boarding door and it was 11:30. Still on plane, at gate, I texted Susanne, because her drive to the airport and this flight took about the same time. I didn’t want her hanging out at the airport if I was delayed. Which, okay, I was already significantly delayed. I’d originally been scheduled to land at 12:15.

Delta Web site says you’re not departing until 12:30, she texted back. And here the pilot had just announced we’d be delayed another 5 minutes. Five minutes my ass. Five minutes in sea tortoise time. The stewards came down the aisle with glasses of water for us. Thanks, Delta.

Twelve-thirty came and went. We were having some kind of issue with the fuel line to the plane. Terrific. One rudderless crashing wonder to Minneapolis, and one exploding bombshell to Detroit. How’s that merger working out for you, Northwest?

They asked us to open up our air vents and close our windows to keep it cool inside. Mr. Talky Talk went on about people getting stranded on the tarmac for four hours just the day before. Sheesh, Mr. Never Shuts Up was just one happy story after another.

At some time after 1, way way way later that 9:45AM, we took off with the fuel line attached. Just kidding. We took of all fixed up, and I was confident that Susanne knew exactly when to leave for Detroit.

In the air they did the usual beverage service, only this time they gave us the can of soda and not just the plastic cup. I asked for the accompanying cookies.

“Oh, we’re out of cookies.” Three hours at the gate and nobody could stock the cookies?

“Of course you are.”

“Just for that,” he said, “I’m going to find you some cookies.”

“Great,” I said. I presumed this meant he’d find some crumbly bits ground into the carpet from the last 3-year-old’s temper tantrum and press them into my palm with a smile. But 20 minutes later, he handed me a package of the now-infamous Biscoff.

“Lucky you,” said the woman across the aisle from me, who’d been reading at a copy of Laura Bush’s memoir for the last hour.

“I can share,” I said, breaking one cookie in half. I handed her one piece and Motormouth to My Left the other half.

“Wow, it’s kind of cinnamony,” he said, still chewing. “You think that’s cinnamon in there?”

“Yup,” I said.

“That is a damn good cookie.”

“It’s the best thing about Delta,” I said, and I heard the steward sniff, displeased. “After their amazing staff, of course.”

“Of course,” said the steward.

I slept for four hours as soon as I got back home. My stomach is still not sure what the hell time it is.

Fly the Not Free Skies

Airplane movie stillThis was originally posted over at I Fry Mine in Butter.

Once upon a time flying was fun. Planes seemed shiny and glamorous, travelers dressed up, and nobody measured carryon bags with scales. Totally unthinkable were long lines at security and computers sniffing for explosive residue. Mottos like “fly the friendly skies” are long long gone.

It isn’t that I miss airline food, food being a rather broad category when it comes to what was served on airlines. I was one of those folks who chose to bring on his own meals, much like Hannibal lecture, minus the fried human brains. But at least one received a full can of soda. Not anymore. Now I get a plastic cup of semi-fizzy liquid and a piece of the iceberg that sank Titanic.

This is the first flight I’ve been on to offer wifi,and no sooner do 67 stickers adorn the inside and outside of the plane—so the birds can use it, I guess—than they’re charging for it, $13 a flight. That seems a little triskaidekaphilic to me. Why thumb your nose at Lady Luck, airlines?

So it’s one more luxury I won’t be getting, like pay per view on DirecTV or $10 beer in flight. But don’t call it for my convenience, that’s just disingenuous. If it were really for my convenience it would be free or $1. There are 30 rows of seats on this flight; $13 from each of us on multiple flights a day more than buys the modem in what, the first month? I know not everyone will want the service, but surely the price point was set to earn profit.

eastern airline wingsI remember as a kid getting to see the cockpit during flight and I completely understand why that’s not possible anymore. Yet can’t we give kids those stupid plastic wing pins? Those were cool. Kids don’t get crap these days, and it’s sad. Yes, I know times are tough for the airlines. We all cram our bags into the overhead compartments rather than shell out an extra $50 round trip for checking them. And then the air stewards get on the PA system and tell us there’s not enough room in the overheads so we need to be good traveling neighbors and put our smaller carryons under the seat in front of us. I’ve even had a steward hand me my briefcase after I’ve checked my suitcase, and that really got under my skin. If I’ve paid $25 to check the suitcase, I feel like I just paid for leg room, so don’t tell me to cram anything under the seat in front of me.

Also, I don’t get that money back when they lose my bags, which has happened more than a couple of times. It just can’t be that saving 3 ounces of soda per traveler is more important than customers feeling they’re not getting ripped off. I know, I know, I should be happy that I’m flying through the air on a bunch of metal and plastic. I think I just want to feel like I’m being treated a few rungs above chattel.

And yet, there’s that small cup of soda in front of me. I wonder how long I can make it last on this four and a half hour flight.

Oh my God, I think I’ve become a grumpy old man.

%d bloggers like this: