Book Tour – Week Three


: French Documentary Filmmaker
Jenn: Tour Companion Winner
Stacy Hitchhiker
Tim Psychiatrist
Neal Pollack “Greatest Living American Writer”
Regina Allen Neal Pollack’s Wife
Elijah Pollack Neal and Regina’s kid
Ben Brown Book Punk/SoNew Media Publisher
Elana Koff Owner of Escapist Bookstore

Thursday, November 13

ROUTE: Las Vegas, Nevada to Alburquerque, New Mexico

We are loopy in the car but feeling slow at the same time, honestly I can’t remember much. On the highway, a man and his car are stuck and he’s waving his hands furiously. Jenn asks if we should stop, see if he needs us to make a phone call. We pull over and he comes running over, his face half deformed and his nose running. We ask if we can call someone for him, but he needs a ride to the nearest gas station up the road. In the car he asks where we’re coming from, what we’re doing and we tell him and he looks at a book. He tells us he has lymphoma and that’s why half his jaw is missing. We get him to a gas station where he runs inside to ask about a tow truck and comes out saying they’ll charge him money he doesn’t have. He then asks us if we can take him back to his car so he can get his stuff and leave the car on the highway for some other sucker to own if we’ll just drop him at the greyhound station twelve miles away. He buys The Long Haul for his long bus ride. We don’t have tons of time and we’re all iffy, we thought this helping stop would entail just a phone call but it’s becoming a bit more intensive, but he did just buy a book and he seems harmless. We agree to take him back to his car to get his stuff.He unloads everything out of his car: a suitcase, a garbage bag filled with clothes, a paint bucket with tools in it and tosses everything into our car. We bring him to the greyhound bus and he tells us about his treatment, that he’s from LA but his primary doctor is in Oklahoma and he has to make this trek every ninety days. At the Chevron station (where the Greyhound bus is) Stacy (that’s his name) runs in, runs out, says the Greyhound doesn’t run here anymore and can we please drive him the 73 miles to the nearest town, where we happen to be passing through. We hem and haw, but finally we relent and Stacy gets back in and we drive him to Flagstaff. He has slowed us down, but he was harmless and sweet and tells us our good deed will come back to us (which it does) and that’s exactly what we need to hear. We wish him well and continue on to “Fartle-Cocky.”

We arrive at Bookmarks in Albuquerque about ten minutes before it closes. They have tons of my book and the store is a mini miracle. We love it and love them and want to stay, but it’s closing time and they’re locking up as we’re still looking around. We grab food and then go to Tim and Susan’s (friends of Kim and Brian’s). Tim is in his 4th year of residency for Psychiatry and Susan is in her final year of Obstetrics. Their house is lovely, and Susan is on-call so she’s sleeping. Tim is immensely sweet and calm and we like him instantly.

The next morning, Tim and I talk about Psychology, human pathologies and he gives me some titles to read that seem helpful for the next book. I don’t know why this is my thing, why mental illness and addiction are my themes, but they are and I am so excited to have the opportunity to have a discussion with a psychiatrist about all the things that fascinate me, about that fictional line between wellness and illness, what determines one sick, what defines one well. I flip through the books, write down the titles in the bibliographies as well and then Tim takes off and Jenn, Ced and I drive to Sante Fe where Jenn will see old friends and Cedric and I will hit a factory outlet to buy tons of useless possessions we will call our own.

November 14

ROUTE: Santa Fe, New Mexico to Austin, Texas via Marfa, Texas

This is supposedly our day off but it’s nine hours to Marfa. Not really what we consider down time. As we near Marfa we watch for the Marfa Lights and have loud insane sing-a-longs. We are finally making this tour our own. Every light we see becomes a Marfa light but as we’ll learn the next day the lights are on the way out of Marfa and not on the way in. What we’ll also learn is that Marfa is NOT on the way to Austin, but an hour and a half OUT of the way.

In Marfa, every thing is closed, we’re the only car driving and a cop car tails us and pulls us over and asks if we’re lost. We ask if there are any hotels open and they point us in the direction of one. We get there, but there is no one behind the counter. The entire staff is gone and we have absolutely nowhere to sleep. A guest is outside talking on his cell phone and we ask him to let us in. There are couches in the lobby that are super comfortable. We figure we can just sleep here. Ced and I go upstairs trying doors for an empty room, but all the doors are locked except for one, a sex party that Cedric walks in on. We decide the lobby couches will be just fine. I set up some cushions on the floor and sleep there, Jenn sleeps on a couch and Ced sleeps on the floor. The sleep is fitful. Every sound I hear startles me, I’m afraid the cops who stopped us earlier will arrest us now and I’ll have to call Richard from the Marfa Jail asking him to wire bail money.

November 15

ROUTE: Marfa, Texas to Austin, Texas

At 5:30am, guests start waking up, walking around the lobby. The staff comes in and Jenn wakes up and motions to us that we should leave. The staff goes in the back room and as soon as they’re out of sight, we scamper out and get in the car and haul ass to Austin. On our way we stop at Pepes in Ozona, Texas and talk to some Hunters and make fun of their camouflage outfits. Interestingly enough, they don’t shoot us.

We get to Austin early and go straight to Escapist bookstore and meet Elana, the owner. She and Ben Brown are supposed to put us up but Ben can’t until the next night so Elana shows us a room in the back of the bookstore where we’ll be sleeping. Jenn and I almost burst out crying. We got no sleep on the hotel lobby and desperately need a good night’s rest and a decent shower (I haven’t showered since San Francisco, so I really really stink). We go to the Magnolia restaurant (where we’re told the best Mexican food is) to figure out what to do. At the restaurant, I use the phone and flip through the yellow pages to find a hotel room but everything is booked because it’s football weekend. We finally find one, book it, go there, shower and get ready for the Escapist show…accept, I have a tiny little bit of Montezuma’s revenge. Fucking Magnolia Restaurant. I pop two immodium and we go.

The crowd at Escapist is great. There is Hula-hooping, live music, mulled wine, lots of people, a bevvy of hipsters who genuinely like art. Ben Brown is there who tells me that my “stalker” has emailed Neal Pollack asking if he can come to Austin to “surprise” me, sleep at Neal’s and have Neal chauffer him around Austin. They were at a loss at what to do, who this guy is and decide it’s creepy and weird and say no. Blessings on their head. Neal arrives and when Dakota Smith plays, Neal asks me to slow dance while I step on his feet like we’re at a Bat Mitvah. Cedric is conspicuously absent, doesn’t get any of the slow dance on tape and when he shows up he tells me he had a touch of the revenge himself. Lost half a colon in the Escapist bathroom. Magnolia has touched the lower G.Is of us both and I worry that Jenn may be the next to go. Neal reads, intros me, I read and it goes really well, the audience actually laughs at the review that starts, “Amanda Stern is not pretty.” People seem to really dig the excerpts I read and I sell a few books. We hang around Escapist afterwards then head over to a magazine launch party and then over to Ben’s to get in the hot tub.

The launch party is mellow and Neal buys us all sangria and then he and I end up sitting on a curb talking for a while. Ben Brown shows up with Elana and some other girl (Carolyne?) and we talk and hang out and then get bored and decide to go to HEB’s for some beer and then to Ben’s. At HEB they won’t let me buy the beer because I don’t have a Texas I.D. No problem, stay right there, let me just take a fail a few Texan road tests, pass on the third try, wait two weeks for that ID and then I’ll be right back for that Tecate.

At Ben’s (without beer) we change into tee-shirts and bathing suits and get into the hot tub. In the hottub: Ben, Neal, me, Jenn, Cedric and Elana. There is barely room for three of us. Jenn disappears and we hang out for a while talking about publishing, touring, and general and specific anguishes. At around 1:30am we’re ready to go back to the hotel and sleep. Ben gives us directions and I go find Jenn who is sitting quietly on the couch. She informs me quietly that she’s just been sick in the bathroom and I think it’s probably from too much sangria (launch party) and the 100 degree plus temperature (hot tub) but deep down I’m thinking, uh-oh, this one’s been touched by the enchiladas at Magnolia Restaurant. She insists she’s fine and wants to drive.

On the highway, Jenn turns green, mutters, “I’m sorry, I can’t” and I say, “okay, just pull over.” She pulls over, opens the door and throws up. I unhook her seatbelt, Cedric gets out to direct traffic away and tells me to go with Jenn, but I’m a sympathetic puker so I need him to go be with Jenn while I direct traffic. This works out pretty well. After first puke, Jenn insists she’s fine and we drive until we see La Quinta, only thing is it’s the wrong La Quinta and we have to turn around and go back up the other side of the highway. Jenn starts turning green again and we see another La Quinta, which is still the WRONG La Quinta. We run in (Jenn to the bathroom and me to find out where they have put OUR La Quinta). Turns out our La Quinta is near the airport, not anywhere near this highway. The hotel guy gives us the right directions and off we go.

I tell Jenn to get in the back seat and Cedric drives us like he’s riding a motorcycle. We keep driving up and down the same two sides of the highway but cannot for the life of us find the road we need to turn on. We spend a good half hour looking for the right road, but nothing. As is his fashion, he wants to experiment, find his own way instead of following the directions we were just given and I tell him now is not the time to experiment. He insists and we get stuck at a dead end, then at a road that is blocked off from work. I snap at him to go back the way we came and to follow the directions we were given. He adheres. We have to pull over again and poor Jenn is throwing up in the brush on the side of I-35. We are in full fledged panic. I flag down a sweet man on a date with his girl and beg him to lead us to our hotel. Miraculously, he agrees. We wait until Jenn is well enough and after a few minutes, we are all back in the car and follow the man who also leads us into a blocked off road. This is no good. We all have to turn around and go a completley different “in-the-know” way. We have been lost for over an hour. It feels like another hour, but a half hour later the guy has lead us to the right La Quinta, the airport La Quinta, and Jenn goes upstairs to our room to be sick some more. We are stressed out and shaken and very very worried about Jenn.

November 16

The next morning Jenn sleeps in then takes a cab to Ben Brown’s where she sleeps all day, sleeps the poison right out of her body. Cedric and I go to my scheduled drop-ins, buy Jenn some charcoal (that’s what they give overdose victims in hospitals) and Emergen-C and then go to Congress to shop. We are so in love with this town and we love everyone on the street. We go to our final drop-in at Monkey Wrench and then swing by Neal’s so I can meet his wife and play with the baby. Elijah (his son) looks exactly like Neal from the eyes down and he and I play for awhile while the grown-ups drink beer and hang out. I look at some of Regina’s art (which I like a lot). Cedric plays with the cat and then after an hour we need to go back to Ben’s to check on Jenn.

At Ben’s Elana (Escapist owner) is there and we watch the Simpsons on Tivo and then Punk’d and something else. We order Thai food and watch Donnie Darko. Jenn looks better. Less green. Elana and Ben get in the hot tub, I check email, upload tour diary and hang out a bit with Reed (Ben’s roommate). The vibe here, in this house and in Austin in general is incredible and if I didn’t love my friends and family so much in NY, I’d probably move here.

November 17

ROUTE: Austin, Texas to Little Rock, Arkansas via Dallas.

We oversleep and are hustling to get to Dallas in time for my Radio Left interview. Ben burns a Peaches CD for Cedric as well as some Mac programs and I put on yesterday’s clothes and load my shit into the car. On the way to Dallas is a tornado watch. And as we near Dallas all the toxins in the sky form a cylindrical funnel over the skyline, grey with a black border. If I was a fundamentalist I’d be convinced this was it, the apocalypse. We find the “studio” which is really just an apartment building, and the studio itself, Geoff Staples apartment. There are two cats here, two cats I am deathly allergic to, but must deal with the itching and scratching in order to get through an hour on the mics. David and Geoff are both interviewing me and they are both very sweet and very nice. Geoff wants to pull the interview in one direction and David seems to sense I need him to bring it back around to my level. This I appreciate. Geoff seems to want to politicize what I have to say, but there aren’t any politics behind my book, no social agenda, no left wing commentary, just me, a bag of guts and a bunch of bad ex-boyfriends. Still, it goes well, I think. I start warming up about half-way through. We hang out with them afterwards. They’re sweet as hell. It storms all throughout the interview.

The skies rip open on us. There is every kind of watch out: a hurricane, tornado, cartier….it’s insane. About a half an hour from Texarkana (and about two hours from our destination, Little Rock) we can’t see anything, not a thing, not three feet in front of us, we’re driving through a mechanical car wash and we have to pull off and check into a motel. We pull off the nearest exit and check into the TEXinn. It’s $65 but we can’t afford it. So I barter. He goes down to $50 – still too rich for my book tour blood. I tell him I’m an author (inflating importance is important) and tell him that I’ll give him a free signed book if he gives us a room for $44 bucks flat. No tax. He agrees. We run back to the car, it’s like a bad horror movie – like that John Cusack movie “Identity” where the rain forces a bunch of strangers together into a Norman Bates style hotel and one by one they start getting murdered. This is where we’re staying.

In the room we watch TV and then once the lights go out we’re completely giddy. We start laughing and making fun of Jenn’s food poisoning (Jenn start’s it). Jenn and I are almost puking with laughter as we re-draw the picture of her pulling over to puke. In our portrait she pulls over, I unbuckle her seatbelt, send her flying out the driver side door with one swift kick to the ass, Cedric jumps in and we drive away only to send her shit flying out the side windows: clothes, trombone, her trombone muter that looks like a dog collar. We’re laughing so hard at all the different variations of shedding the puking tour companion we just can’t sleep. We imagine tossing a poisoned Jenn out of the car only for her to come across Stacy (see: ROUTE: Las Vegas to Albuquerque) where they’ll shack up together, Stacy with his garbage bag filled with clothes, Jenn with her puke streaming down the front of her shirt.

Whatever. It was fucking funny. We fall asleep late.