THE CAST:

Cedric
: French Documentary Filmmaker
Jenn: Tour Companion Winner
Jimmy: The boyfriend
Richard: The Publisher/Editor (Soft Skull Press)
Shanna: The Publicist/Associate Publisher (Soft Skull Press)
Andrew: My agent
Leigh Pierce: Writer/Interviewer
SSP: Soft Skull Press
TOUR DIARY PART ONE

Wednesday, Oct 29th, 2003

TWO DAYS BEFORE TAKE-OFF
I am waiting for my boyfriend to come home. I have bought two road atlases. I am waiting for my boyfriend to teach me how to read them. I am waiting for him to congratulate me on what lovely and good road atlases I have purchased. I got the one with large font. I am waiting for him to say, way to go fox, what a good job, you are the best atlas picker outer in the world. He would too. He knows I don’t know how to read a map. He knows I don’t know what I’m doing behind a wheel, or in front of one. He helps me pretend I can do this. I am eating hot and sour soup taken out from Congee Village after a super successful Happy Ending Reading Series. I am paralyzed with map anxiety. I go on the road the day after tomorrow. I do not know how to read a map. I have just learned to drive. I don’t deserve my license. This soup is too hot, but very affordable. Tomorrow we pick up the car from my brother, wash it, clean it, pick up promo materials from Soft Skull. Cleveland didn’t work out, but I am still going there first to do drop-ins. Drop-ins scare me. I’m not even quite sure what a drop-in is. Do I call first? Or just show up? What if they don’t know who I am, or worse, ask me to leave? What if they don’t have my book in their store, don’t like my kind? I need to tell the tour companion winner where to meet me but the itinerary is not set yet. I don’t know what to tell her. Is Michigan near Cleveland?
You see? I’m in big big trouble.

Thursday, Oct 30th, 2003

ONE DAY BEFORE TAKE-OFF
11a.m: Day Worst. We’re leaving tomorrow at 7a.m and we can’t get the car out of the garage. Someone parked in front of us, took his keys, left no contact number. The Quik Park guy doesn’t know when he’ll be back, doesn’t care either, but still, he says, he thinks the guy’ll be back by 1pm. We get free chai from Spiros at Eddie’s Chai Shop while we figure out what to do. Montse calls from Japan and my cell phone dies while Cedric talks to her. I have a ton of errands to do and Jimmy has to go to work, so Ced and I decide to run all the errands in the two spare hours it’ll take the missing guy to return. We agree to pick up the car at 1pm, bring it to the tranmission repair shop where we will meet Jimmy around 2pm (his job is so good to him). Then, we’ll go to Soft Skull, pick up the promo materials, gas card, books and go home to print out detailed maps, study the atlas and pack.My phone is dead so at 1pm we call Quik Park from a payphone on Bleecker and Sullivan.

The car is still stuck behind the missing man’s car. I fight with the Quik Park guy, the quarter cuts me off and Ced and I head over to my mom’s to make some calls, do some more yelling and check email.

1:05pm: We don’t have accomodation for the first six days on tour. I am freaking out, panicked. I am not good at winging it in foreign places. We leave tomorrow at 7am and have no where to stay. SSP tells me to get a motel the first night, but we have no money. We’re taking 100 books with us to sell in order to deal with things like this down the road, but our first night in, without selling one book, how are we supposed to pay for this? Richard books us a motel. I am grateful.

2p.m: I race home. I get online and email absolutely everyone I know who can put us up or knows someone who can put us up. We need housing in six places. I will now spend my day getting crash pads for my book tour, instead of attending to everything else that needs attention, like maintenance on the car, packing and studying the maps.I get responses from the emails immediately.

2:30pm: Emails are being send fast and furious. People are responding but I am still a wreck. The boys go get the car out (finally) and take it to the transmission shop. I need to be making and studying maps with Jimmy, I need to be highlighting and writing out driving itineraries instead of doing this. I am starting to panic. It is the day before I drive across country for the first time. The day before I drive anywhere for the first time and every piece of solid land I ever stood on is slowly liquifying.

4pm: We have Minnesota, Madison, Cleveland (motel) housing. Kevin Canty comes through with Montana. I am swamped with emails and answering every single one that comes in, even the ones that say they don’t know anyone anywhere. I can’t believe how generous people are.

6pm: Jimmy calls from Soft Skull. They have only given him 25 books. They promised me 100. I tell him to go back in and demand 75 more. He calls back and says they gave him 15 more. I tell him to go back in and demand 60 more. I tell him that Tennessee just emailed me the other day and told me that all the shipments were in. It is now 6pm. I am still at the computer sending out emails and answering them, trying to find housing in the remaining places. I need to be at Maisie’s birthday party. She is 7.I run downtown to kiss Maisie (my niece) and see her ears that she just pierced. She looks like a princess. No, a queen. She is sweet and shy when the whole family gets there and sits next to me playing with my fingers trying to guess what’s in each present. Lili arrives (my other niece, 3 and a half). She is overwhelmed by the amount of presents Maisie is getting and bursts out crying when someone says Maisie is a lucky girl. Lili never knew girls other than her were called lucky. She does not like this new piece of life information. I stay for an hour, see the rest of my family, kiss everyone goodbye and run back home.

9pm:We have offers pouring in for the two places we no longer need housing for: Minnesota and Madison. Jimmy is making detailed maps. We were only given city to city maps, but no maps for the acutal cities themselves. I will not be able to drive any of this. I am filling in the itinerary – getting contact info for people in Portland, Seattle, San Francisco. We only have the first half of the itinerary and I dread having to scramble again for the second half, not knowing when it will arrive. I still need to pack and shower.

10pm: 7 people call offering places. We now have Spokane (thanks to Mila and Joey!). Others offer more Wisconsin and Minneapolis, but we’ve got it already. Jimmy is still making the maps and will have to finish and send the rest to me in California. I am in over my head.

11pm I pack and shower and go to bed.

Friday, October 31, 2003

HALLOWEEN

ROUTE: Brooklyn to Cleveland, Ohio
6:30a.m: Check email. Someone who heard me on the radio emails with a place in Billings. We’ll take it. Still need Bismark and a few others, but we’re leaving now. Jimmy will drive us to Ohio where we’ll pick up Jenn, the winner of the Tour Companion contest. He’ll go with us to Madison and then head to Chicago to see Matt and Kristin.

7:30am: Load up. Pull out. Leave. Somewhere in Brooklyn we all have to poop. Some worse than others (Cedric). We all tried before we left but ended up straining our backs trying to induce poop labor. No dice. Onward.

We stop in Pennsylvania to eat. Cedric is about to lose weight fast and he bum rushes the bathroom before we can fully stop. It’s Halloween — the waitstaff is dressed up as witches, the fat secretary from Drew Carrey. We get food and water. We are still wondering whether we can use our Shell Gas Card at stations other than Shell Stations. We get back in the car and Cedric says something about the woman with the tacky blue eyeshadow and circus tent dress looking precious. We explain about Halloween.

We’re halfway through Pennsylvania — We’re late. It’s 1:40pm and we wanted to get to Ohio by 3pm. Don’t think we’ll make it.

Jimmy’s mom calls. She knows someone in Montana. But, we have Kevin Canty, so we’re okay.

I drive for ten minutes on the highway, freak out, pull off an exit and Jimmy takes over. My palms are dripping and red from gripping and sweating so hard.

We get to Ohio, do my first drop-in at Barnes and Noble (or Barnum and Nobels as Ced calls it). They have no idea who I am and I feel embarrassed. I thought they knew I was coming, but clearly they didn’t or didn’t remember or don’t care or have lobotomies. We go to the second drop-in. The woman I’m supposed to meet isn’t there. I meet someone else, someone dressed up as a mouse or a pilgrim, honestly I can’t tell. I still feel like an asshole doing these drop-ins, my expectations are being humbled against the realities.

We check in to the Econo-lodge, and save the third drop-in for tomorrow. We call Matthew W at 3AM magazine and leave a message.

We drive down to the Flats and Warehouse district. We eat at a restaurant that’s next to a porn shop. The restaurant is a cross between a geriatric home and a tacky European hotel lobby. The woman behind us declares to her table that she’s a “font of useless information” and then proceeds to tell how hummus is really chick peas, you just put it in a blender. It’s a wonder she’s not a professional chef.

We walk down to the river and run into the Village People. Well, worse. Locals dressed up as the Village people. One of them “mock” comes on to Jimmy. They walk to an apartment building and we follow them. They can’t understand a word Cedric says. We decide to follow them upstairs. In the elevator up they talk about their favorite American actors: Pamela Anderson and David Hasselhoff. The apartment is bare. These boys want to be wild but don’t know how. I put some book marks on a table, I figure they’ll find them when they wake up with their heads in each other’s vomit, but they see it and ask if i’m a “real live” author. They get stunned and gawk at me not that I’m an author, but that I actually completed something. They try to rev themselves up with beer, but they just can’t decide how to be wild and we don’t feel like waiting around to see how it’ll all pan out. We leave them and go down to the water. Across the water we see a tent that reminds us of Cirque du Soleil. We want in, but don’t know how to get there with the water separating us. I decide to drive us. I drive us over a bridge and we arrive on the other side of the river. The tent turns out to be a haunted house and it’s eleven bucks to get in. We pass and sit outside it flipping through the Ohio “Scene.” I leave another message for Matthew W. The bouncer walks over and tells us he’s gonna let us go in for free. We’re bound to now, although it wasn’t appealing in the first place.

After the walk through the haunted house, we feel done with Ohio and head back to the Econo-Lodge for sleep.

Saturday, November 1

ROUTE: Cleveland, Ohio to Madison, Wisconsin
Wake up in Ohio. Go to our last drop-in at the Parma Mall. At the Parma Mall the old people are using the corridors as their own personal treadmill. It’s depressing. We finish our drop-in at the Mall and Jimmy comes in and tells us we’re late to meet Jenn McKee at the bus station. Cedric gets mad and raises his voice telling us not to stress out, that we should stop stressing out. He doesn’t really understand that this is a book tour not a casual tour of America. He takes his time everywhere and it’s getting annoying. He is condescending when we need to get going. I am ready to vote him out of the volvo. We go to meet Jenn Mckee at the Greyhound bus station in Toledo. We meet her and her husband, Joe. She’s blonder than I imagined. We all get along instantly, we pack her stuff in the car and head out to Madison, Wisconsin.

With Jenn on board we’re all a little giddy. There’s a new energy and it’s exciting. We’re creating a new group, our own tour. She seems serious and quite certain of the point of this whole trip which makes me feel better. Leigh Pierce (our contact in Madison) turns out to be a worry wart and calls us a lot to make sure we’re okay.

We pull into the Pierce’s driveway. Leigh has made a sign for me that says, “New Driver Parking Only.” I’m not the one behind the wheel. He’s energy that has been bottled and recently released. We’re all tired and I have some weird sinus headache. We shuffle inside, meet his parents and two dogs. We eat brautworst and burgers and taste the “icky” wine (Mrs. Pierce’s words, not mine). We go to the basement, smoke and talk. Then I shower, go back to the basement for more smoking and talking. Leigh only sleeps for 2-3 hours a night. He’s a true D.I.Yer — a real punk promotor. He feels guilty for all the time he’s wasting asleep. He reads four books a week and his backstory is harrowing. We look at his old yearbooks, mock the mullets and find Leigh in his geek years. We’re tired. I sleep on the dog’s bed (it’s big and comfy). I fall asleep instantly.

We wake up early. Leigh has put aside books for each of us (except Jimmy who he didn’t known would be there) to borrow. It is a gesture that is indicative of how hyper conscious he is of other people. He is generosity incarnate. He has also made me Long Haul stickers. He likes my graphic poems (he even has one as a backdrop on his computer desktop) and has me sign all the poems of mine he printed out from my website. I am flattered.

The first drop-in in Wisconsin is the best one yet. It’s a new energy now and we go into Barnes and Noble a team of enthusiasm. The staff congregates as I sign books and we make them laugh. I think it’s my new coat. It gives me hipster confidence.

We go to Canterbury books where Leigh conducts the first half of an interview for Clamor magazine. I go into the room I am reading in and see one woman sitting on a chair. This will not do. I corral the store browsers into hearing me read and actually fill almost all the seats. I read and then sell a few books. People seem genuinely enthusiastic about what they’ve heard. A psychologist buys a book. Leigh conducts the second half of the interview which goes well although I can’t answer what gives me inspiration. Should that worry me? Leigh asks if he can meet us in Portland and continue the tour with us, but I have to say no because we barely have accomodations anywhere, it would be too much of a risk. I feel bad, but he understands. We say goodbye. We then go to our last drop-in for Madison at A Room of One’s Own Feminist Bookstore. The drop-ins are getting better. The bookstores in Madison are great.

It’s time to say goodbye to Jimmy. He’s going to Chicago to visit Matt and Kristin. We kiss and hug and then he leaves, the rest of us get in the car and head for Minneapolis.

Sunday, November 2

ROUTE: Madison Wisconsin to Minneapolis, Minnesota
We find our way to Tory Stewart’s house. She’s a friend of Tom Hopkins from High School. Jenn has a friend in town so she goes to meet her. Cedric, Tory and I go to the bowling alley to eat and bowl, except we never bowl. I get up to video tape some bowlers and ask a guy at a table for a cigarette. He’s with another man and woman. They are interesting and cool and I stay and talk while I smoke the bummed cigarette. Tory, Ced and I eat dinner and then I go back over to the table to bum another cigarette. Jake is a technician at the Guthrie, Colleen is a massage therapist and a dula and I can’t remember what Jeff does. They are definitely our people. We get graphic right away, talking about bodily functions and why the speculum in a gynecologist’s office is so damn uncomfortable. Probably a man invented it. Cedric and Tory come over and we all hang out with these guys. Tory is tired so she leaves and Ced and I stay getting drunk and hanging out with our new minneapolis friends. Jake is going back to Brooklyn in May so he asks for my email. We’re drunk, tired and gearing up to go home so Colleen drives us back to Tory’s place. We all crash hard.

Monday, November 3

ROUTE: Minneapolis, Minnesota to Bismark, ND (via Fargo)
We wake up to snow. Cedric is excited. There is so much falling. We pack up, say goodbye to Tory and head to the first drop-in: Barnes and Noble on Nicollet. They not only don’t care about us, they don’t care to be living. Seriously, I’ve never seen people more dead to their environment. It’s depressing. Cedric and Jenn and I get in to a heated discussions about these drop-ins. Cedric wants them to have more energy, to be more alive, for me to introduce everyone right away, and I try to explain that when we’re met with such dismissiveness there is really no point. He disagrees. We head out to the next stop: Mayday books, a radical political store that is also being used to house students ousted from their classroom due to a clerical strike at the University. There are no students in the store, but the seats are all set up waiting for them. The guy is nice, I sign books, buy Bitch Magazine and we go on our way to Fargo.

We have fun in the car. I take the front seat, Jenn drives, Ced’s in the back. We talk about movie stars, who we like and hate, bad movies and good, Cedric gets annoyed because he doesn’t know half of the movies we’re talking about. Then he sets up the camera on the dashboard and we pretend we’re on Survivor, talking privately to the camera while the rest of the tribe is away, fishing, building shelter or trying to sabotage and betray a newly formed alliance. There is ice and snow on the freeway and we skim it. Jenn’s a pro at getting us unslipped and we continue on playing who’s getting voted out of the Volvo.

Suddenly, we hit a bank of ice and we can’t stop riding it, Jenn is losing control of the car (or the car is losing control of Jenn) and it veers and we’re spinning, spinning, spinning tossed into one guard-rail then another and another. I’m watching Jenn the whole time, her face, a share of amazement and calm, while my arms are crossed and I see the world as through the lens of a digital video camera distorting the world — nature turning into lines when the camera moves too fast.

I realize while we are spinning, that I am in the middle of a car accident, but that I will make it out alive, that we will be okay. I know, somehow, that this is not how I will die. We finally come to a stop and the car smells like it’s about the explode. We ask each other if we’re each okay and then jump out of the car. I don’t have my boots on and I stand in the snow and on ice in my socks, so in shock I don’t absorb the sensations of the climate. The car is sticking out onto the highway, there is snow and ice everywhere, we are 50 feet from a lake, what could have been our final destination. In less then two seconds a state trooper is there, then cops. I see that the windows of the car have blown out, the front fender is gone, so’s the back. The sides of the car are completely smashed in. I look down the highway to see parts of our car littering it’s way back to Minneapolis. Guard-rails for at least 100 feet have been taken out.

The accident was a bad one. No one is seriously hurt. As it hits me what’s happened to us, I begin to cry and fall into Cedric who hugs me. I am shaking, floppy. I want Jimmy. I want my mom. But, I quickly cauterize my emotions, aware that while I have Cedric, Jenn doesn’t have anyone here she really knows and that this is my tour, they are here because of me. This is my responsibility. I must take care of everyone else first, me — last. We are told to get back in the car and to strap on our seat-belts. While we are pushed by a state trooper truck off the highway. Cedric tells me his head hurts, his neck too. I feel his head and there’s a bump. I ask him if he needs to go to the hospital. He says yes. I get out of the car, run to the police car and tell him we need an ambulance. We are then told to get out of our car and sit in the back of the State troopers car where I call Richard at Soft Skull to tell him what happened. He’s not there and I have to leave a message, which I’m glad about because I’m scared that I’ll lose my shit as soon as I hear his voice.

Cedric is loaded into the ambulance. They put a neck brace on him, strap him onto a stretcher and load him onto a gurney. He is scared and makes me promise I won’t leave him. There is no need to promise. His head hurts, his neck too. We all pile into the ambulance while the EMT takes his blood pressure, heart rate and I play with his hair making him know I won’t leave him. He makes jokes which lessens his fear and I realize Jenn hasn’t said a word yet. She feels guilty, shocked. This is not her fault.

At the hospital the doctor looks at Cedric while I go to admitting and fill out forms to sign him in. I finish and use the time to call home. I hear my little sister’s voice and burst into tears and ask for my mom. I tell my mom we’ve been in an accident but that we’re okay. She wants to know about the car. I tell her it’s gone. Richard calls back and he sounds worried, he’s sweet and tells me he won’t let me be stranded and I know it’s true. I know he would do anything to keep us safe. I call Jimmy and then Andrew, my agent. I don’t want Andrew to hear it from anyone else before me. Cedric is okay. They release him and we leave the hospital go to the body shop place.

The auto-body guy tells me we took out twelve guard rails. He said if we were in any other car, not all of us would have walked out alive. I look at the car and suddenly get very emotional. The whole back window is out, the bumpers torn off, the car is shredded in places. The air bag lies saggy like a used condom off the wheel. I feel the loss of the car suddenly. This was my stepfather’s car. He’s been gone now ten years, and I guess we’ve just sent him up a present. This reminder of him in my life is now gone. The car will be taken to a junk yard somewhere in Fergus Falls, Minnesota where a stranger will take it apart and make it useful somehow. Jenn, Cedric and I take everything of ours out of the car, our luggage, the books, all the things we’ve needed along the way.

People have offered us a lot. The cab driver gives us her phone number, the nurse at the hospital gave us her husband’s number (he drives to Fargo every morning). People have been kind here in Fergus Falls, Minnesota but we’ll go to just about any lengths to get out of here.

We get a room at the Comfort Inn and rest, write, have quiet time and will decide tomorrow whether we want to continue. I want to continue. I hope the rest do too.

Andrew calls and offers to get money to me if I need it, call people if I need to. He’s so sweet and good to me, I do not want to cry on the phone with him. Richard too is so giving I just want to sob and tell them I’m okay but i’m not okay, that I want to continue but I want to come home. But, I don’t cry, I just thank them over and over and over again.

My dad, my mom, my brother, my sister. Everyone calls, makes sure we’re okay. We are. We are. It’s all okay. We’re just scared and shaken and in a strange bizarre town. Jenn’s arm has started to swell and is red and blue and green. We ice it on and off. She calls Joe finally and is amazed how well he took it. We are hungry and end up, ironically, at a restaurant called the Speedracer. The food is puke, but we drink gin and tonics, go back to the Comfort Inn, watch an old episode of Growing Pains and fall asleep. Tomorrow we will figure out what to do next.

 

 

 

 

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