Book Friends Stories Travel

Book Tour Baby – Part 3

Despite all the challenges of being on the road, there are amazing moments, incredible people, who will give pieces of themselves to me without even knowing it.

There is the arresting sound of Tricia Thompson’s trach tube clearing as she sits, dignified in her wheelchair during a brain injury fundraiser in Kansas City.  The story I heard of the Vietnam Vet in Baltimore haunts me.  His post-traumatic stress was so devastating that he stayed in a dark room and refused to see his wife after his plane was shot down.  One day they found him with shaving cream in his peanut bowl, slowly shaving an unshelled nut.  There is the young couple I have stayed in touch with and their 18-month old daughter whose brain is slowly recovering from being shaken by her babysitter.  There are the broken marriages, the women who have battled back cancer, the people who tell me they have laughed and cried when they read what I wrote, the people who share their stories with me after the reading.  I feel swollen with a sense of gratitude I cannot precisely articulate.

The stories I hear, of misery, triumph and the resilience of the human spirit remind me of how very lucky I am to be in this place, this time and space, exhausted as I am and so far from home.  I am exercising my craft.

Back at O’Hare airport I am ready to depart for Detroit.  On the giant TV monitors  CNN, is cranking up fears about swine flu to crisis levels.  It looks like war of the worlds with people huddled in groups at the gates staring up at the monitors, which are broadcasting projected deaths and statistics at earsplitting levels.  The woman next to me tells me they are thinking about shutting down the airports.  At this rate, in all liklihood, I would be stuck in Dallas, the one city on the tour where I only know two people.

The scene now on CNN is of citizens wearing hospital masks, schools closing, folks stuck inside.  This is not exactly the best time to encourage people to turn out for a book reading.

Taking my mind off swine flu for the moment I walk to one of the terminal bookstores.  Thanks to the Random House publicists, I have finally learned to “make friends with the bookstores” as I’m walking through airports. This means walking in with a car salesman’s smile and offering to sign the copies of your book.

The first few times I do this, it feels very unnatural.  It’s a level of self-promotion on par with QVC huckstering, especially since the book has my picture on the cover. As I roll into Hudson News with my crepe-soled shoes and elastic waist sweats, the employee, who does not speak English as a first language, has no idea what I am referring to as I interrupt her re-stocking of miniature Advil packs to ask for my book by title.  I clear my throat and tell her I am an author.

“You whaaa???” she says in a heavy accent, squinting up at me suspiciously. I am riveted to the mole on her chin that has sprouted a black hair.  “What you want?”

I ask again if she has copies of my books and tell her I am offering to sign them for the store.  Still she looks blank.  At the register is a copy of this week’s “People Magazine.”  As luck would have it—there is an article about the book inside with a picture of the cover.

I open “People” to the proper page and point at my picture, then back to me and to the book I had stashed in my bag.  She squints and puts on her reading glasses,  “Well I don’t know… “ she says. She is having a hard time reconciling the professionally shot family photo in the magazine with the haggard, bare-faced woman she sees in front of her.

“It’s me,” I say in a small voice.

She scratches her chin mole and grabs the magazine for closer inspection.  The  “People” thing seems to impress her a little.

“Well, maybe,” she says quickly and goes to the computer to look up the book, which turns out to be on display somewhere in the back.

All five signatures completed, I gamely offer to put the books back on the shelf,  whereby I immediately swap more attractive retail space at eye level with an older, better-selling  book.  In fact, even my husband has been enlisted in this effort.  When he flies for business he goes into the airport bookstores and stealthily moves the books to a more prominent position.

I have recently, shamelessly, taken to moving my books to the “Bookstore Picks” section of bookstores.  These shelves are not alphabetical, and therefore aberrations are slower to be discovered by bookstore staff.  Another writer friend told me that a book has a better chance of lying undiscovered there for days.  The chain store employees seem to have a photographic memory of where everything goes.  And on top of that, I’ve been amazed at the short attention span bookstores give each book.  They become the flavor of the month for about two weeks and then are banished alphabetically to their category of fiction, non-fiction or self-help.  I silently curse myself for having fallen in love and married a man whose last name begins with “W.”  I am perpetually shelved at the bottom of a stack.

As I head to the security screening line, alarm bells go off when I see two formidable women in gray sans-a-belt regulation uniform pants guarding the entrance to the line like Cerberus at the gates of hell.  I know this type.  They look me over and the bigger one immediately points to my bulging carry on.

“Not gonna fit,” she says authoritatively and her one gold tooth glints.  I’m not even worth enough energy to insert a noun into her sentence.  The other lady shakes her head in disgust as if she can’t quite believe I would attempt something this foolish.

I instantly go from somewhat chilled to red-hot pissed.  My flashpoint has begun to ratchet up in airports as each new person I encounter in positions of authority tries to assert their power.

“Oh, it will fit, “ I counter, a bit too off-handedly.  I know her kind.  This power trip is what juices her day.

“Not happening,” she says, crossing her arms in front of her.

I realize I have gotten lazy in my haste to pack this morning.  I have been careless and the carry on is bulging with books I have accumulated on the outside zipper pocket.   I silently curse at myself but I can’t lose face and re-pack now.  Instead I jam my bag into the “test” area at her feet—the one with the sign that reads, “Your carry on must fit within this space.”  I can already tell it’s not breaking my way.

“Look,” I sputter, “I have traveled all around the country, all year and this has fit everywhere.  On every plane.  I have never had a problem yet.”  My voice is rising in an unattractive wail.  But I am speaking the truth.   Somehow you can always squish and shove something just a little bit harder.

“Don’t look like it fits to me, “ she huffs in a sneer.  “It look like it fit to you?” she nods her head toward her co-hort, sneering, while narrowing her eyes at me.

“Nope.”

“You must think you’re traveling on a JUMBO jet,” she says and she laughs at her own joke.  All that is missing is the slapping of a billy club into her open palm and the Doberman at her ankle.

I’m smart enough to know I’m not going to win this.  Not even close.  But I am furious.  I grab my bag and huff away, angry at myself, angry at the system, angry that these
people don’t get paid a little more so they can be just a tad nicer.

I flounce back to the ticket counter to check the bag, knowing that this violates my husband’s number one rule of air travel, knowing that I will add up to 30 minutes or more waiting for baggage on the other end or risk having to wear my present sweat suit outfit on TV the next day.  I check the bag and realize that all of my reading materials were inside and it has just disappeared down the conveyor belt.  Sigh.  There is always the Sky Mall magazine, I tell myself.

When I finally locate my bag in Detroit, limping along the conveyor belt, the bump of books in the outside pocket has now formed a Dowager’s hump. As I pull on the handle, it becomes stuck party-way up. The telescoping mechanism of the supposedly indestructible Tumi luggage will not extend beyond a foot.  I sigh deeply and begin to roll through the airport bent like a crone.

12 Comments

  1. Song Lyrics

    April 19, 2010 at 5:21 pm

    Thanks for sharing, I found this article, while looking for some free downloads and ran across this site, thoughtful comments and good points made.

  2. Susie

    April 19, 2010 at 8:40 pm

    I will always help w moving your sweet W books to letter G-J as those always seems to be eyelevel letters. S.

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    April 19, 2010 at 10:34 pm

    What a breath of fresh air to take the edge off after a horrible day. Very good article that really gets the point covered. Thank you for sharing.

  4. Christine Walker

    April 21, 2010 at 5:59 pm

    Hey Lee 😉

    It was oh so great seeing you at The Bookstall in Winnetka last night! Thank you so much for putting us on your world tour. And I hope that you & your team enjoyed the yummies!

    Just wanted to follow up with you our brief conversation. As I mentioned, my nine year-old son, Schuyler, lives with autism and bipolar disorder severe enough to require 24/7 therapeutic attention at a fabulous boarding school in Chicago (a few blocks from The Obama’s home). We are so lucky to have such an incredible resource so close to us.

    My unexpected journey with Schuyler has landed me right back at the public policy table, where I spent the majority of my pre-mom life, albeit in a different chair. Now, however, instead of being a legislative staffer, I’m the special needs parent advocating the hell out of most bills that are related to mental health and special education. In two weeks, Schuyler & I hit Capitol Hill for the third time – on Children’s Mental Health Awareness Day – to lobby for some key provisions in the healthcare debate that would enhance to quality of life for the millions of families that struggle to manage daily life with paultry few resources.

    In addition, I serve on the board of directors of the Child and Adolescent Bipolar Foundation, based in Evanston. When you have a free moment (yeah right!), please check out or site and take a peek at my entries on our blog. Many are comprised of excerpts from my upcoming book, Chasing Hope.

    While scouring store shelves for a book that would help me keep it together while I was trying to stablize my son, I came up empty. What I found instead was row atfer row of plenty of books that would help me help HIM, but none that help ME. And I was falling apart. No doctor ever told me what to in between appointments, none of my friends had a child with a challenege and my husband (doll that he is) could not accept the fact that he had fathered this boy who was not going to be CEO of Intel or starting quarterback for the Bears.

    As I was reading Maria Shriver’s Ten Tings I Wish I Knew Before I went Out into The Real World, I thought to myself: “Man, there are Ten things I wish I knew when this hurricane hit my life!” In three years of shuttling to clinicians, testing, etc, I had ONE provider ask ME how I was doing. “A crumbling pile of mess, thank you. And you?” Thus a book, blog and business was born.

    So back at it I go, off to Christine’s Lemonade Stand. Those lemons gotta go somewhere!

    Along those lines, I’m half way through a Masters of Public Policy and Administration at Northwestern. Despite having an ungrad degree in political science, time spent on the Hill and a decade working with public officials, still the only initials after my name are MOM. Doesn’t get me far. And you know, having lived in DC, the phone call goes something like this: Hill: “Helllo, Congressman Kirk’s office.” Me: “Hi, it’s Christine Walker calling from the district.” Hill: “And who are you with?” Me: “Hum. I’m with myself?” You know what I mean. So, being too tired being dismissed too many times as this “mom on a mission”, I’m going after the street cred to deal with the big boys.

    Lee, as you make your way in the coming weeks and months ahead, PLEASE consider me a resource for you!! It would be honor and privilege to offer support, guidance and hope to families who are in our shoes. This bumpy road without end that we are on seems a bit smoother traveling with those parents who’ve been there, are there and get it. I look forward to our paths crossing again soon. Until then, safe travels and God Bless.

    Warmly,

    Christine Walker
    399 Ridge Avenue
    Winnetka, IL 60093

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