Tour Diary – Week Two


: French Documentary Filmmaker
Jenn: Tour Companion Winner
Richard: The Publisher/Editor (Soft Skull Press)
Alex: My ex-boyfriend and friend
John Kaufmann: Friend in Seattle
Kevin Smith: (aka Hank)Friend
Todd Barry: Friend/Comic
Peter Maravelis: City Lights guy
Kim, Brian and Liam: Friends in S.F
Mom: My mom
Nina: My seventeen year old sister
SSP: Soft Skull Press

Tuesday, November 4
ROUTE: Fergus Falls, Minnesota to Fargo, ND
We wake up at the Comfort Inn. I have a terrible headache, Jenn’s arm swelling has gone down, thank God and Cedric’s head and neck feel better. We decide that we need to clear the bad weather. There is no point driving in the snow and the ice anymore. We’ve done that. It didn’t work. We take a vote on who wants to continue. We all do. We get the number for Greyhound and Amtrak. We decide to go to Fargo and get on a train there and go straight to Seattle. We’ll rent a car there and continue the tour. There are a gaziliion phone calls back and forth. Richard assures me he won’t let us be stranded (he must have spent some time in Fergus Falls to know how imperative it is we not get stranded here). He is taking good care of me. All the anger I felt before I left has disappeared. Seems inconsequential. The bus to Fargo is in one hour (at 1pm). We pack up all our stuff fast, have the receptionist call us a cab to get us to Fargo to get us on a train that we will ride for thirty two hours. Richard calls Amtrak and buys us three tickets. He calls with the bad news. The train leaves at 3:49am that night. The last bus to Fargo is at 1pm this afternoon. We’ll just have to do what the Fargo-ins do and hang out at a mall. We check out, the receptionist buys one of my books. I sign it for her. She jumps up and down. I like her.At the bus station the woman selling us are ticket makes fun of the Fargo accent even though her Minnesotan one is not far off. She also buys a book and Jenn, Cedric and I split the $24 dollars we have made three ways. We get on the bus and go to Fargo.In Fargo we store all our stuff at the bus station, get on a bus and go to the mall. I go to Radio Shack to check email and before I leave I type in and leave that up. I do that at every computer I see. I still need to find a place with an ethernet connection so I can plug in my own computer and put my tour diary up, but that is seeming more and more impossible. We are bored at the mall. Jenn and I sit at Moxie Java (I buy a Moxie thermos) and we both write. At around 7pm Jenn goes to see a movie and at about 8pm Cedric and I go to the Ramada Inn across the highway to see if I can plug in and get my tour diary up. We will meet back at the mall at 9:15pm for the bus back to the bus station.We go to the Ramada Inn, I plug in, but the connection is so slow my tour diary doesn’t go up even though it said it did go up. Ced buys us a shot of whiskey each and we go back to find Jenn. We cross the highway, get to the mall, which is closed and I freak out, but Cedric thinks I’m being dramatic. We finally find a way into the mall and walk the long corridors calling Jenn’s name. We find her outside at the bus stop.On the bus a guy tells us forty times about the movie Fargo and how we should tell all our friends to come visit. He tells us to have a safe trip four times, asks where we’re from ten times and tells us again about the movie Fargo. He’s sweet, but we’re not really in the mood for chit-chat on a loop.We go to the bus station. It’s only 10pm, the train station doesn’t open until midnight, so we decide to go to a restaurant. There’s one a few blocks away open 24 hours. We find it — it’s called the Fryn’ Pan. We settle into a booth, look at the salad bar: brocolli and bacon served in their own little bin. We order burgers, talk, eat. A guy comes in wearing a New York jacket and stops at our table to lecture us for about twenty minutes about how O.J was no murderer. Thanks pal, we figured that Nicole and Ron just slit their own throats too. Alex calls, he just heard the news about the car accident. The Tour Diary link doesn’t work, so I talk him through FTPing a note up to the site. It’s good to hear his voice. On the way back to the bus station to collect our stuff, my mom calls to tell me she upgraded our Amtrak tickets. We’re getting sleeping cars. I can’t believe how good she is, how considerate. She didn’t need to do that at all, we would have managed, but I’m her kid and she’s worried. She’s been a saint through this whole thing. We collect our stuff at the bus station, take a cab to the train station and wait. It is 12:30am. The train leaves at 3:49am. We can find time and then kill it. Cedric has a bottle of Cutty Sark. At 1am the Amtrak guys ask where we’re going. When we tell them Seattle, they say the train has been delayed due to a “fatality” and it won’t get here until 7am. We’re a bit stunned, don’t know what to do for the next 6 and a half hours, but decide we’re better off just sleeping in the train station. Which we do.


Wednesday, November 5

ROUTE: Fargo, ND to Seattle, Washington

We wake up in the train station at 6am, the train is here and we get in, load up. We go to our sleeping cars and Jenn instantly wants to send my mom a present. Me too. After sleeping on the plastic train station chairs this is heaven. We fall asleep and wake up deep in the heart of North Dakota around 1pm.

I have lost my bank card. I can’t find it anywhere. I have ripped through everything, but it’s gone. I have six dollars on me and I’ll need more if I want to eat more than one meal in two days on this train. I go to the breakfast car. The waitress puts me at a table with three other people. I look at the menu. I can’t afford anything except a side of bacon and a coffee. I’ll have that. I’ll have that for lunch and dinner also. The waitress asks me if I’m in a sleeping car, I say yes and sign some piece of paper. She then delivers the news. The food is included. The food is free. I can eat anything I want, at all meals on this train. I think my mother is God.

At the table are three older folks. They have just come from a spiritual training course and are discovering their inner art. Connections mean the world to them and with everything I say, there is some link, some bond that they want to find to make our meeting mean something. It’s sweet and naive at the same time. The couple owns a wellness business that sells magnets. They have magnet mattresses, magnet insoles, magnet pillows and blankets. That’s so ionic, I think. One of the women buys my book.

I have made friends with the degenerate smokers. I can’t remember their names. At a refueling stop we get out, run around do jumping jacks. One of the smokers goes to find a place to buy beer. We’re in the middle of absolutely nowhere Montana for a ten minute refueling stop and this junior moron is going to leave the train to scout for Pabst? It’s time to reboard and there’s no sign of him. The train seems to wait even, but finally, we have to move and as we pass the limitless expanse of snow I think, that’ll teach him. I think I’m getting meaner. I go upstairs to watch some of the stupid movie (Daddy Daycare) before dinner. I read some book, I watch some movie. Finally, it’s dinner time and we eat and Cedric and I have become testy with each other. After dinner Jenn and I retreat to our rooms and I don’t know where Cedric goes. The train is going through mountains, on ice covered tracks and I keep thinking I really don’t want to die. Every shift and jolt injects me with new fear, fear that we weren’t hurt the first time, are we meant to be hurt now? Is this train going to do us in? That’s when I remember XXXXX gave me some valium.

Thursday, November 6
Wake up, go to the breakfast car, am seated with a gentleman who seems to know everything, but really, nothing of value. He tells me that we are going to go through a tunnel that is seven miles long, that every eighth of a mile there will be a light. He tells me which tree is which and what kind of fish tastes the best cooked over it. He knows the evolution of every rock we pass, every mountain trail. Cedric and Jenn join us FINALLY and he continues on and on and on and we soon get up and leave.

The train pulls into the King Street Station, we find a cab, load in and go to John Kaufmann’s house. I talk with my mom about the insurance, insurance won’t cover a rental car so my mom is going to pay for it and I feel endlessly guilty. I try to find a way that she won’t have to pay, I tell her to tell insurance that I’m the main driver, but she won’t lie. Then I spend a good half hour on the phone with my mom and Hertz dealing with the car, the pick up the drop off. Nina overhears how much the car costs and gets mad that mom’s not spending that money on the new Hermes watch for her. My mom says, “this is Amanda’s career” and I hear my seventeen year old sister shout in the backround, “that watch is MY career.” We have a good laugh. Mom is also going to fed ex me a bank card so I can get cash. I need to get a very hefty advance on the next book so I can pay my overly generous mom back.

John, Ced, Jenn and I go to Kinko’s to upload my tour diary. We all check email, spend about 45 minutes there and then leave without paying. We eat the best Thai food in the world, then come back to play a game that John helped make. During the game, the best Thai food in the world comes back to haunt me and I spent some time in the bathroom. John is working on a show he wrote and is directing and has us play the parts for him. Then we crash hard. Someone has bad gas in the middle of the night (not me!).

Friday, November 7
John doesn’t have a shower, just a bath that takes about an hour to fill. I take a bath and try to wash my hair by backward dunking. I lose hearing when I surface. I end up washing in shampoo and conditioned water, get out dry off and feel tacky sticky. I spend the morning calling bookstores asking if they have The Long Haul. I pretend sometimes that I don’t know the last name of the author. Stein, Strom, Sternfels…it passes the time. I call the twelve step bookstore and make them order a copy. I call Bailey Coy Books and ask them if I can come in and give them promo materials. They say yes. The fed ex package arrives with my bank card, and a sweet card from my mom and sister. Jenn practices Trombone and Ced takes a bath. I read tonight at Elliot Bay Books and wonder, will anyone besides the three of us be there?

The girl Kristianne at Elliot Bay books is so cute, we all have crushes on her. But, it has been a long long day and Jenn and I are in a fight with Cedric. We went to pick up the rental car at around 1pm today. The rental car woman tells us we’re late although we’ve never spoken to her before in our lives. They’ve given our car away and are getting us a “better” car. We need to come back in 45 minutes. We all go eat, Jenn and I go to Office Depot to buy stickies to mark the excerpts I’m reading and we get so lost we have to take a cab. We get out of the cab three blocks later.

There has been a power struggle ensuing between Cedric and me, Cedric and Jenn and it’s getting uglier. He refuses to document this tour as an objective observer, as a documentarian, instead, he would prefer to direct it. Direct me. He tells me how he would like me to behave at drop-ins, what and who he would like me to engage and in what topics. When we get to Hertz Cedric starts making decisions that aren’t his to make. Decisions about insurance, primary and secondary drivers, triple A, parking validation. He is stepping on too many toes and Jenn and I are both getting enraged. Things my mother spent hours doing, he is seemingly attempting to undo. Questions we have asked, he is asking all over again although he heard us ask them. He is aggressive and confrontational and right now, is making this tour suck.

In the parking lot Jenn and I go to find the rental and Cedric goes to get John Kaufmann’s car. He has decided where we will meet although Jenn knows better and tells him so. But we are quickly learning that no one knows better than Cedric. When he leaves to get John’s car, I break down. I can’t take this tension anymore. I can’t take how arrogant and dominating he is being. I could not be having less fun on this tour and he is one of the main reasons why. Jenn gives me a hug, I shake it off and we go wait for Cedric at the appointed place. We wait and we wait some more. Jenn gets out and walks three levels of the parking garage to find him and can’t. We are going to be late for my reading if we keep waiting for him, so I write him a note with directions, leave it on his windshield and we leave.

He shows up at Elliott Bay ten minutes before the reading. When he sees me, he puts his finger over his mouth and says, shush, as in, don’t talk to me. Honey, it’s mutual. The reading is good. Kevin Smith comes which is a real treat. He’s great and he asks questions in the end. In fact, there are a lot of questions in the end. Including one from a slightly askewed man who would like to know the exact directions to Happy Ending. Okay, go to the airport, buy a ticket…. Afterwards, Kevin, John, Cedric and I go for “coffee” (Kevin has water, I have a salad and C and J have nothing). Jenn has gone off with her in-laws. Then Cedric and I drive back to John’s in the rental and I don’t want to be alone with him. I don’t want to have to deal with his aggression. Fortunately, we don’t speak about anything relevant on the way home. When Jenn comes home from dinner from her in-laws we all sit down to have a long serious talk.

I say that we all need to stick to our respective roles, that too many voices are trying to lead and it’s causing everyone grief and stress. Everyone agrees on that point. So, I break down the roles. I am in charge of all things book, all readings and drop-ins. Jenn is in charge of when to leave, the directions and driving and Cedric is in charge of shooting. And this is where we pin-point our problem. He refuses. He has “no interest in sitting back” and filming the tour. He wants to direct it. He is angry with me for not engaging the people at drop-ins the way he wants me to engage them (at one bookstore there was a clerical strike at the local university) and he wanted me to engage in a full blown political conversation about the strike with the bookstore owner because as we all know, it’s incredibly relevant to The Long Haul, also timely and convenient, as this tour is about leisure, and not getting places on time. I am frustrated with him, that he can’t trust I know what I’m doing, that this tour isn’t about him but that he can’t seen to accept that. Finally, he agrees, says okay, he’ll just sit back and film, but I don’t buy it. Tomorrow it might just start all over again.

Saturday, November 8

ROUTE: Seattle, Washington to Lodi, CA via Ashland, Oregon

At 8am Cedric wakes me and asks when we are leaving. I tell him 9:30 and he asks if he has time to go swimming. I say he does, but that we’re leaving AT 9:30, and that he needs to be back before and all packed before 9:30. He says no problem and disappears. At 9:45 Jenn and I start packing up the car and we are royally pissed. I feel like I’m dealing with a passive-aggressive teenager. And I think he feels like he’s dealing with parents. At 10am he shows up, asks if he’s late and then says it was out of his control.

The car smells of cat piss. Jupiter, John’s cat has marked something and we smell everything to find what it is. At some point along the way, Cedric asks if we’re in a hurry, can we pull over so he can call Europe? Yes, we’re in a hurry, we’re a half an hour late because of you, and no we can’t pull over. He pulls out his camera, points it in my face and with the deepest stench of condescension he asks me to repeat what I just said, that we are always in a hurry. I think he thought a book tour would be a lovely ambling look at the country, a long and time taking sniff at America, and because it’s not, because this trip is not being run his way, he wants to mock me at every turn. I repeat it, I say, we are always in a hurry and then under my breath I say, because we’re always waiting on you.

We get to Powell’s but Kevin Sampsell, the guy I’m supposed to meet has his day off. I’m bummed. I’ve been wanting to meet him. I’ve heard nice things about him, we’ve emailed in the past, but such is our luck on this tour. I sign a couple books and we decide to split up for a while which we are all desperate to do. We decide to meet back at 3pm in front of the store. At 3pm Jenn and I wait for Cedric. We want to go to the Red Light Exchange but at ten past three Jenn just wants to go off alone, and so do I. At quarter after, Ced shows up, asks if we’re going to Red Light. Jenn’s out and I opt out also telling Ced I can’t depend on him to get us back in time for my reading. I’d rather rely on myself and do my own thing, so I go off to Roxy’s and Cedric mumbles something about how he’ll buy a watch.

I eat at Roxy’s, go to the Buffalo Exchange where I buy a cool black dress for $10 for the City Lights Reading, which I’m most excited and apoplectic about. I go to Heaven to check email (ironic or not?) Then head over to Reading Frenzy. I’m stopped about ten feet from the front door by the most incredible poster for my reading. It’s a take off on Little Red Riding Hood and the Big Bad Wolf (guess which one I am). As Little Red Riding Hood, I’m holding on to the Wolf who drives at breakneck speed, beer cans flying out of the car and strapped to the back, a wagon with bedding and a guitar. In huge letters on the wagon it reads: THE LONG HAUL. It’s phenomenal and I want it. Badly. Jenn and Ced arrive and we go in and are greeted by Steve who gives us a package and two phone messages all left by the same person. This same person has been calling and emailing almost every day, expecting a level of attention that we can’t give, and considering we’ve met him just once, don’t really want to give. It’s getting to be a problem, a drain, a drag. Upon opening his package (which is very thoughtful, but still there is the smell of stalker about the contents) Roxy’s is making a comeback (lower G.I). I rush to the corner Thai Restaurant and use their bathroom.

Back at Reading Frenzy, I meet Chloe who I like instantly and Mark Russell who I’m reading with. I rush out to the Pizza place and beg them to let me use their bathroom. They do. I am terrified I will not get through this reading. The place starts to fill up which surprises and delights me. A guy walks into the back office (where I’m talking to Chloe and trying to hold it all in) and introduces himself. It’s Kevin Sampsell, the guy from Powell’s who had the day off. A sweet surprise. The place is really filled. People are standing for lack of chair space. Mark Russell reads while I sit on the floor begging, bargaining with my spasming colon to behave. I break into small sweats and fevers and then calm back down. Mark finishes on a low colon spasm and for this I am grateful.

I get up, talk a bit, tell people about the accident, intro Jenn and Cedric (who blushes!) tell them about the cat piss (and where we located the smell: my bag and my coat sleeve). Then I read Gravity of a Gray World and Fake it Till You Make it. When I say the title of the second chapter I’ll read, Chloe gets giddy and from the front row says, “Oh, I love that one!” I feel momentarily like a folk-singer whose song is known by someone. I’ve never read this in public and it goes over so well I’m thrilled, one more story to add to the roster. People laugh and get into it, and more importantly, they get it. There are a bunch of questions afterwards and then I talk with Chloe a bit more after. I ask if I can have the poster and amazingly she goes straight to the window and takes it down, rolls it up and gives it to me. We need to leave to drive five hours to Ashland, but we want to stay with Chloe, meet her friends, see Portland through her eyes, but we can’t. Five hours to Ashland tonight, five more tomorrow morning to Lodi for a 2pm reading.

On the road to Ashland I call Craig the guy who’s housing us, but I get his machine. We drive through the mountains. The fog is as thick as (Jennifer Aniston’s hair, Clarified butter, a Canarsie accent — you choose). It’s frightening, we can’t see more than five feet ahead of us and I am afraid that we are about to die yet again in a car. At around 11pm I call Craig again and still no answer. We’re starting to get nervous that he doesn’t know we’re coming, that we have the wrong number, that he doesn’t even know we exist. We decide we’ll just show up and if the lights are out, we’ll motel 6 it. I am getting exhausted and start to fade. Cedric has been asleep in the back for hours and I feel the need to stay awake with Jenn. Everytime I nod off, I am jolted out by this strong sense that I’m the one driving. At 1:15am we call Craig again and he answers. We are relieved. He is, in fact, expecting us. We get lost and call him back and he directs us to his house. Craig, I have been informed (and not by him) is the head of the creative writing department at the local university so we are expecting and older man, a father type. I see Craig standing on the steps of his house and not only is he our age, he’s gorgeous. Lordy. Jenn and I are pleased to be greeted by such a lovely late night vision. I imagine the line of girls outside his door during office hours. His house equally wondrous but we are so exhausted we head straight for our respective beds. I sleep in his son Vincent’s room, age 5?. Vincent’s at his mother’s house so it’s just me on animal sheets, a nature reserve of stuffed animals and a glowing planetary ceiling. The sleep is fitful. Everytime I dream, we’re still driving. About ten minutes after I fall asleep, Craig comes in and tells me it’s 7am. I say, “You’re fucking kidding me?” and get up and wake the others. We leave at 7:40am — another five hour drive.

Sunday November 9
We head to Lodi exhausted and cranky. We have to continue through the mountains where it’s not only foggy but pouring rain. We’re still shaky about driving in inclement weather and we go slow and cautious, navigating every turn with the precision of a calligrapher. We don’t have time to check into the hotel before the reading so we go straight to the library. The woman in charge of the reading is Sandy Smith and she hugs me when she meets because she heard about the accident. We set up the books and The Long Haul cookies and suddenly all these women enter and start setting down punch and baked goods at another table. There is a nice sized crowd and about half has read my book. The Lodi Public Library has chosen my book as the book of the month for their book club. The reading is good and afterwards we engage in a great and long question and answer/conversation. It was hard getting it going, but once it started, it took off. I sell six books and then Sandy and the director of the library (whose name escapes me, sorry!) takes us out for excellent Mexican food. She has us follow her in her car and when she pulls in front of us it says on the back of her car WELCOME AMANDA!. We take a picture of it. At the restaurant they tell me that they have paid for our hotel. Their generosity floors us — we are grateful to be in such kind and caring hands. All in all, Lodi is a great success. Now we understand why there is a song about it.

That night we go into Sacramento where my friend Todd Barry is performing at the Punchline. We’re dead tired, but excited to go out. We pick Todd up at his hotel, walk over and hang out in the green room for a bit. A bunch of bad comics perform and then Todd gets up and slays them. Afterwards a bunch of trashy girls come on to him and embody personalities constructed by Cameron Diaz movies. We are too beat to go to a bar and go back to the hotel.

Monday November 10

ROUTE: Lodi, CA to Berkeley and San Francisco, CA

The next morning we head to Berkeley which hasn’t changed in the twelve years since I’ve been there. I swear the people making and selling the rope belts are the exact same people. The drop-ins are great and we finish early and head to San Francisco. We drop Cedric off at Jon Seltzer’s house who has generously agreed to put him up. We check out his apartment, catch up and then Jenn and I head over to Kim and Brian’s who I haven’t seen in years.

Brian is there and working, so Jenn and I drop our stuff off and head over to the Atlas Cafe for some food. Kim, Brian and Liam show up after awhile at Atlas and I’m so thrilled I don’t know who to hug first. I haven’t met Liam who is now almost ten months old and haven’t seen Kim in ages. He is the most good natured and happy nany and they fit the role of the happiest parents on earth quite well. Jenn takes off for her respective housing and K, B, L and I head back to their place. I play with Liam, Kim and I drink tea and sit on the kitchen floor catching up. At 6pm I have a phone interview with Daniel Epstein from Suicide Girls. It’s a good interview and long and I enjoy talking to him immensely. Kim and I go get burritos and then go to her friend Andrea’s house for dessert. Andrea has an incredible house, there is amazing art up (hers and her husbands) and she has Fly’s Peops on her coffee table. We spend a couple hours there and then head home.

Tuesday, November 11
We do our S.F. drop-ins which all go really well. The bookstores are great and I wish we could stay and browse the shit out of them. We pass by Dave Eggers Pirate Store and we go in. I leave some bookmarks and ask if I can look in the back at the tutoring center, but the woman at the counter won’t let me. Things are different today with Cedric. He’s not talking. I think something happened to him last night, shocked him into some other sense of reality. I know it must be hard for him here, this vast American land and the culture clash between slow easy Sicily (where he’s been living) and fast hectic Americans but it’s been hard dealing with it and I just want things to go back to the way they were when we knew each other in Europe.

We separate, leave Ced in the Haight and Jenn and I go back to Kim and Brian’s and get ready for the reading. I’m not sure what to read. Maybe Gravity of Gray World because I’m most comfortable with it, but maybe it would be better to take a risk, read something I’ve never read before. I settle on Crime Baby. I put on my new black dress and we head over.

Peter Marvelis is just that, only spelled differently. We set up in the Poetry Room and people start showing up. Sarah Caplan, Russell Fong and the kids come and I am overjoyed to see the,. They’ve been gone from New York now only a few months, but I miss them. Sasha, who I haven’t seen in years came straight from the airport (trip from London) and Jeremy, Kim’s cousin (the one I call the Ben Affleck of the Indresano’s). Anne from Tin House is there and loads of others who I don’t know. It’s a big crowd. Peter runs me downstairs and introduces me to LAWRENCE FERLINGHETTI!!!!!!!! I’m awed stupid. He has a good handshake and compliments mind. That’s enough for me.

Before the reading I say some things like how i got a good review but whose first line begins, “Amanda Stern is not pretty.” No one laughs. I talk about the car accident, the cat piss, nothing. No reaction. I am a comic dying badly onstage. With a heavily dried mouth I forge ahead and read Crime Baby. I can only hear the shifting, the yawning, I see a woman roll her eyes. This is not going well. A few people are attentive and I read to just them. I finally finish and feel like I’ve read for an hour but it’s only been 15 minures. People ask questions. Once guy asks about my “process,” how I find my characters and it’s a question that can’t really be answered. There are a few more questions (one asks how I met my boyfriend) and for some reason I feel I’m holding everyone hostage. So I announce we’ll be going across the street for a drink. Some people buy books and then I debunk with Peter. He thinks it went well but I think it went as well as anaphalactic shock. He gives us a tour of the store and I give him a Long Haul cookie to put in the City Lights altar. Then, drinks. Peter shows up and has me so jazzed by this potential political candidate named Matt Gonzalez that I write out a fifty dollar check (I’m drunk and broke but Peter is a persuader). Turns out, I need to be from California so I void the check.

Wednesday, November 12

ROUTE: San Francisco to Las Vegas, Nevada

Off to Las Vegas. It takes 11 hours and we do my drop-in at B. Dalton in a mall. We’re so insane with exhaustion at tthis point, I’m running, walking with a fake limp talking in a variety of bad accents. We’re loopy, but somehow getting along. It’s like a fever broke and we have all adapted to what the reality of what this tour is rahter than what our expectations were and how they have not been met. It feel much better. We are happier. We go to the Stratosphere but it’s too expensive and end up at Sahara where we gamble and lose. We pass out fast and get up early to drive 11 hours to Albuquerque (or Fartle-Cocky as Cedric pronounces it).