Thursday, March 8, 2012

On The Road Again

Yeah, well, Willie Nelson might not be able to wait until he's on the road again, but I can't wait to be off, despite going home to Left Bank Books in St. Louis for a warm welcome and good turnout. I love it when they sell out.

People think this book-tour business is the coolest thing since sliced bread -- and it is if you have money and time to truly enjoy being in these truly cool places. Otherwise you're pinching every penny and depending on the kindness of strangers.

Fortunately, there is an upside. For instance, I never tire of being in New Orleans. So when my friend Diana Pinckley arranged a book signing at Octavia Books, one of the loveliest little bookstores ever, it wasn't her fault that it rained. I still got to eat good food and meet lovely people. It especially helps if the sun shines for the duration of a stay in Seattle.

Knowing I'd be in Seattle with next to no money, I sent out a distress call to friends in Columbia, Missouri, who were previous residents of Seattle and still who still had friends in the Emerald City. They hooked me up with not one, but two households who offered bed and board during my 6-day stay.

My first stop was at the home of Margaret Barrett and her husband Joe Cail. He works part time on a salmon fishing boat; she's and aide to her sister who's an attorney. Joe showed me around several favorite haunts that tourists probably never see, including a neighborhood storefront that stocks an estimated 1,000 beers from around the world and local microbrews. Daily draft specials can be consumed on the premises. Margaret served me a delicious rigatoni dinner made with some of the salmon Joe had caught.

Marie Caffrey, who knows practically everybody who's anybody in Seattle (and who, with her late husband the late Walt Crowley founded, hosted a lovely dinner party where guests pitched in and we all prepared recipes from the book.

Marie, a dynamo who is also president of the Seattle Library's board of trustees, walked me through all nine floors of the stunningly sculptural central library designed by Rem Koolhaas. She also took me to the famed Seattle Locks and let me hang around long enough to see a series of little boats pass through -- including a drawbridge that had to open for a high-masted sailboat. A nearby 4-year-had nothing on me for wonderment in simple pleasures.

In San Antonio the turnout was sparse, but it coincided with the Saturday farmers market and connected me with Darby Ivins, Molly's niece, who lives there. I wandered around the market before the signing until landing at a counter serving chicken and waffles. Yes: fried chicken and waffles with butter and real maple syrup. It was one of the best breakfasts ever.

A successful signing in Dallas reunited me with people I hadn't seen in years, thanks to a lovely event planned by Liz Baron, who owns Blue Mesa Grill.

Houston took me to Brazos Bookstore. You know you've come to the right place when you walk in and Philip Glass is quietly playing in the background. That was was only a few days after I spoke to the Walker County Democratic Club in Huntsville. For those of you unfamiliar with Huntsville, it is where Texas' infamous executions occur and where there is a cluster of seven (or is it eight?) correctional facilities, called "units," are planted. It is a very conservative community, but the Dems soldier on.

So here they were on a recent Saturday evening; 140 progressive Democrats, gathered to hear Molly stories and chat as I signed and signed until there were no more books. Other than a Houston restaurant experience that brightened my stay with Bill and Connie Habern, two encounters remain standouts.

So Houston first: Connie and I had lunch on the very first day of Gulf oysters on the half shell went on sale for $5.95 a dozen at Pappas Seafood House. Hallelujah! Sweet, plump, fresh-from-the-water oysters. Praise the Lord. I don't care what you scaredy-cats say about risky post-BP seafood, the Pappas family has its own oyster beds and I totally trust their oysters and I scarfed them so there.

Now Huntsville.

Dear Huntsville: Other than its dark side, it has a quaint town square that houses Walker County's Democratic headquarters. So, after a late start from Austin, I embarked on the three-hour drive to the lovely, slightly spooky piney woods of East Texas. As usual I missed a turn and got lost. Reverting to my tried and true method of resolving such mishaps, I stopped at a service station to verify my route, seeking help from the first driver I saw in a busted-up panel truck -- a good way to identify a local resident.

"Excuse me, sir, but can you tell me how to get to Huntsville from here?" He looked me over for a second or so. "Yes ma'm," he replied solemnly (manners are still important in most of Texas).

"Which unit y'lookin for?"

Next stops: San Francisco, Colorado and Galveston.