NOTES FROM A REMOTE NORTHEAST REGION OF PUBLISHING

Thoughts on Blogging

A surge in visitors have found their way to my home page but I haven’t written anything in sixteen days. When I write a blog, the bar graph shows my Internet home soaring to skyscraper heights. For a few days I am living in a penthouse in Manhattan at the epi-center of the publishing world then things settle back down to my modest ranch house on the fringes of suburbia where a dozen or so people stop by each day, travelers along the Internet highway who stumble upon my roadside rest stop.

My blog tells me where my readers come from. It’s helpful in an analytical sort of way. As a busy innkeeper and writer by night, this helps me allocate my time better.

Do Twitter followers follow the link to my blog? Rarely.

Do visitors to my blog click on one of the links to the three books I’ve written that brings them to Amazon where they can buy the books? No, not very often.

What do I do with this information? I cut back on Twitter and take a break from blogging because honestly this is all about selling books, but how do I keep myself in the public eye? I don’t know the answer to this question and I wonder if anyone really does, because suddenly during this second week of my blogging hiatus, and despite all the advice to pimp yourself all over social media, I have been averaging thirty to forty visitors a day which is a decent amount for me on a week I haven’t written anything new.

They are hitting my homepage, the place where you can read About Me, but where are they coming from? There is a very unhelpful category titled Unknown Search Engines, sometimes accompanied by somewhat helpful hints from the search terms used, such as the ever popular my fat ass or jumping cactus, which brings the folks searching for info on the Jumping Cholla Cactus Garden of Joshua Tree National Park to my most popular blog. My hope is they are amused enough by the blog post to stick around and read it, maybe buy a book or two, and then move on to find what they were really looking for. You sell books anyway you can, one book at a time.

Then there’s Facebook.

In the past week, three guys I don’t know sent friend requests. There was very little info available on them. We have no friends in common and they have no friends I can view. No information is available on their profession, education, or location. They each have a picture of themselves with a girlfriend or possibly a spouse. Like my character Sam in Life Is All This, I am not always comfortable sharing myself on the Internet. It may seem to some that this examined life for the public comes easily to me but I much prefer writing fiction and many of my musings have been air-brushed for public consumption.

I ignore the friend requests.

Still Life in Connecticut.

My life as an innkeeper is busy and rewarding. Rich and I enjoy the work. One morning he actually said, “We were born to do this.” That may be true but I am also still driven to write. Some of the best advice I have heard, time and time again is:

Write the next book.

So I am doing that instead of wasting time on Twitter and other black holes on the Internet that fritter away precious time.

I am also trying to find new avenues to promote my books.

One day it pops into my head that I need to contact Tom Robbins. Why Tom Robbins? He is the author of Still Life With Woodpecker and one day a pompous New York writer compared me to him in a not so nice, very sarcastic sort of way.

So I wrote a letter to Mr. Robbins to let him know that despite the dripping sarcasm from the well-connected, self-satisfied New York writer, I was very flattered to be compared to Tom Robbins. I also sent a copy of my latest novel, Life Is All This. Yesterday I received a letter sent with a Batman stamp

Robbins envelope

FROM THE UNION OF MAD SCIENTISTS

Robbins letter

Tom is eighty-two years old and has undergone five optical surgeries since 2006. He is unable to do much extra-curricular reading these days but appreciated my letter, my kind words, and the copy of the book. Then he said this:

As for your rude pen pal, yes, there are among us any number of writers who seem to believe a page is a window pane that they must lick clean with their dull and often nasty tongues to afford a peek at some dreary tableau of social reality on the other side. Well and good — but that isn’t literature, it’s reportage. It’s falsified journalism. Such writers are neither creative nor nimble-minded enough to make of the page a door through which the reader can step into a fresh new world, a reality composed of ideas, images, and situations which heretofore did not (and often could not) exist. A book without imagination, without style, is like a swan without feathers: it’s just another dead duck.

Wishing you every good fortune, I bid you please…feel ridiculously fine.

I appreciated his kind words and feisty attitude. I think all along I knew it was a shot in the dark but I would have loved for him to read the book and give me a few kind words I could have used in an editorial review. That would have been over the moon awesome but…oh well.

Which brings me to:

THE TOPIC OF ELUSIVE AMAZON REVIEWS

So hard to attain. So important to selling books. In so many ways. An author friend of mine finally got her book on Book Bub and saw some amazing results. It took her three tries which seems to be the magic number. Book Bub is looking for a certain number of reviews, they won’t say how many but I’m guessing it’s at least over thirty or forty. I applied anyway, with my six reviews. I now have rejection number one under my belt.

When Book Bub accepts you and advertises your book, your sales jump. Then Amazon notices and starts putting your book on those lists If You Liked This Book You Might Like…. and there’s your book, maybe on the page for Anna Quindlen’s book, finally getting support from Amazon. My friend called it the halo effect.

My husband and I have quickly achieved a halo in the Union of Popular Innkeepers. The guest book’s pages are quickly filling up with glowing reviews.

“You are a both a breath of fresh air.”
“It was a pleasure meeting you! What a wonderful stay.”
“We don’t usually write in these books, but we are so grateful for our experience here.”

Next Question.

How do I transfer this to my books and Amazon? Some of the readers of my newest novel, Life Is All This, had to have liked the book. Is it a fear of having to say something witty and erudite? Is it a fear of having to use words like erudite? Do they not want to use their name on the Internet? Do they not know they can make up a name, like Amazon Reader, Reads Lot of Books, Book Lover, Cat Lady?

This is a numbers game, folks.

And when you’re self published you only have yourself and your readers to promote the books.

I’m going to leave you with something from a very wise and sweet little girl I met earlier this week. She was here with her parents and her younger brother after they all dropped her older sister off at summer camp. Her father spoke only Japanese, her mother spoke a smattering of English. I could hear the adorable little girl and her three year old brother upstairs, running through the halls and giggling. Her American Girl doll sat on a chair in the sunroom while everyone made tea. They drank lots and lots of tea. After they left, we found a review in the guest book written in childish script with flowers running down the left side of the page, and hearts and curlicue periods at the end of the sentences.

I LOVE HERE. I LIKE THE PIANO.
I LIKE THE BREAKFAST. I LIKE THE GARDEN.
I LIKE THE HOUSE.
LOVE CICI
I AM 6 YEARS OLD.

CICI'S REVIEW

IF YOU ENJOYED LIFE IS ALL THIS, PLEASE WRITE A REVIEW ON AMAZON. IF CICI CAN WRITE A REVIEW, SO CAN YOU.

***BONUS*** To everyone who writes a review during the month of July, you will be entered in a contest to win a free signed copy of LIFE IS ALL THIS. If you use a pseudonym, shoot me a message here at my blog or on FB that it was you. ***WRITE A REVIEW TO WIN***

THE BWI TERMINAL

There is something about transportation hubs that is universal. They are infused with emotion. Teary goodbyes and happy reunions. Tension at the baggage check-in and the security checkpoint. Angry travelers upset over missed connections, lost luggage, delayed flights. Happy revelers leaving snowbound cities for tropical shores. Drinks with strangers in the club car of a train or an airport bar.

I have a long-standing history with one hub in particular. The Baltimore-Washington International Airport. For many reasons, I travel Southwest ninety five percent of the time. They have a fantastic rewards program. They seem to fly most anywhere I need to go. They don’t charge for the first two bags you check. Their cancellation policy is one of the easiest.

We became rewards members when my youngest daughter started college in Denver. First, I applied for the Southwest credit card which offered me two free round trip flights for signing up. Because the offer had no blackout dates I then was able to purchase her flights home to New Hampshire for Thanksgiving and Christmas for a ten dollar service fee.

We packed all her college things in six suitcases, two apiece. After leaving her at the campus in Denver, my husband and I continued on to the Vail Food, Wine & Beer Festival over Labor Day weekend where we lived out of our carry-on bag. I packed light and it was a bit chillier than I had anticipated so I bought a leopard print sleeveless fleece at a sidewalk sale in the center of Vail Village for ten dollars and now find myself wearing it quite frequently here at the inn where until today we were waiting for summer, or even spring, to arrive. My Florida wardrobe is not working in Connecticut.

That was the trip that began our life in an empty nest and we passed through BWI coming and going.

A few years earlier, my sister and I flew to BWI for a girls weekend at our cousin’s house in Chevy Chase. She left from Providence, I left from Manchester. Waiting at Orbryki’s Crab House for our flights home, my brother-in-law called and gave us the news our Uncle Donald had passed away. Donald was my godfather and the first gay man I ever knew but for years he was married. He grew up in a time and place where it wasn’t easy to admit you were gay.

He ran his own upholstery business and did some interior decorating for nightclubs in Providence. His houses were always decorated in a very ornate, Victorian style.

While waiting for our flights, Maureen and I ordered wine and reminisced. I remembered the summer I was thirteen Donald gave me a tip on how to get an Indian tan. Add iodine to baby oil. (This was before we worried about skin cancer.) He also told me watermelon aids in digestion. That same day a young girl and her husband stopped by the beach house he owned in Little Compton, Rhode Island. The girl was a third or fourth cousin of Donald and my mother’s. She wore a long Indian print skirt and a beaded headband and she carried her baby in a papoose. The baby’s name was Chelsea Morning, just like the Joni Mitchell song. Years later, when my husband and I were debating baby names I thought about that day. My husband liked Chelsea but was not hot on Morning so we named our oldest daughter Chelsea Marie.

Obrycki's, Southwest Terminal at BWI

Obrycki’s, Southwest Terminal at BWI

A year after we moved to Florida, my husband’s oldest brother passed away and I found myself dealing with another loss while traveling through BWI on our way back to New England for the memorial service. For some reason I can’t remember, Chelsea was flying to New Hampshire. She was living in Steamboat Springs at the time and we hadn’t seen her in almost a year. She wanted to come to the funeral so we planned to meet at the Manchester airport. Making our connection in Baltimore we crossed the terminal to our departure gate and there she was at the gate across from us arriving from Denver and connecting with the very same flight to Manchester. Sometimes the universe works in mysterious ways. A flight leaves from Fort Lauderdale and connects with a flight from Denver at BWI and one of those classic airport scenes occurs, all hugs and kisses and happy reunions.

Then there was the time I helped my younger daughter transfer from the Denver campus of JWU to Providence. We too met in Baltimore. She was arriving in a terminal on the second floor so I rode the escalator up a flight and saw her striding towards me wearing black jeans with fringe, looking very Colorado and grownup. I waved wildly and hopped off the last two steps to give her a big hug.

The first time I sold a book in an airport was on my flight back to Fort Lauderdale after leaving Providence. Connecting yet again through BWI, my next gate was directly across from my arrival gate with Obrycki’s Bar blocking the way. How convenient, I thought. I had spent a very busy two days moving and unpacking by daughter’s things into her dorm room and was ready for a glass of wine, or two. After all, I had a two hour layover.

Obrycki's Bar-BWI Southwest Treminal

Obrycki’s Bar-BWI Southwest Terminal

A young woman in her early twenties sat down next to me and we struck up a conversation. She had lived in Baltimore all her life, even gone to college in the city, but somehow she met a boy from Buffalo and was on her way to visit him. He wanted her to check out the city and possibly come live with him but she didn’t know if she was ready for that, or the Buffalo winters. One thing led to another and here I was telling her about my novel, The Reverse Commute, and the girl in the story who was living with her boyfriend but wasn’t ready for commitment. When we heard her flight to Buffalo being called to board, I gave her my card and wished her luck. The next day when I happened to check my Amazon account I had a sale. I like to think she bought the book.

I sold another book in BWI back at Obrycki’s Crab House where my sister and I waked my uncle. It was a young man this time who was visiting his girlfriend. He had just been to Asheville, N.C. and so had I. We discussed brewpubs and hiking while my husband chatted with a couple from London. I don’t know why he mentioned his girlfriend loved to read but I pounced on that tidbit of information and gave him my card. I hope he bought the book, too. By that time I had published two books so maybe he bought them both.

I have photobombed my book in airports, including of course, BWI. All the terminals have a Hudson News where they sell bestsellers, magazines, trail mix, and gum. In BWI there was a large display of Dan Brown’s latest book. Dan lives in Rye, New Hampshire not far from where I lived. My husband knows several plumbers, roofers, and electricians who have worked at the very large house he built not far from the ocean with the money he has made from his books. I had my book in my bag so I placed it next to his and photobombed the picture across the World Wide Web on Twitter, Instagram, Facebook, et al. I don’t think I sold any books that day.

Book bomb Denver airport

For you see, it’s very hard to sell books if you are not Dan Brown. Right about now, if you are a frequent blog follower, you might be asking yourself why is she writing about BWI? Why isn’t she telling us her stories from the Inn, because there must be some very funny, interesting stories from this new life she is living as an innkeeper. And you are right, there are lots of stories from my first weeks here at the inn.

But my days are busy and blogging isn’t at the top of my list of things to do. Blogging brings in lots of followers and readers, but blog readers don’t always translate directly to sales, although blogs take time and work, just like writing books. So it is not that I am not writing. I am definitely still writing, in a journal of days with stories of the Inn. I can see a book evolving. A story developing. A story of a marriage, of mid-life career change, and the interesting people who pass through our door. But I see it as a book not a blog.

So I’m trying to keep in touch with my readers, but I’m keeping the Inn stories to myself, for in the end the books matter more than the blogs. To me, at least. And let’s be honest here, I am growing a bit weary of sharing my stories for free.

So here I sit tonight, consumed with my new life as it is very fulfilling, and I’m trying to think of something to write. Something that isn’t part of the unfolding story in my journal. I’m alone in the very large kitchen. The oven is on for I am making twice baked potatoes and brining giant pork chops that I am going to fill with apple stuffing. My husband has left for the airport in Hartford to pick up our younger daughter who is flying out of Denver to spend the summer with us. She was supposed to arrive on Thursday but the Denver airport was a mess and she missed her direct flight. Southwest rescheduled her to a flight this afternoon connecting through BWI.

Well, there it is. The story. Since we sold our house in New Hampshire, my family has been a band of gypsies. My daughter has never spent a college summer at home, until now, this summer in Connecticut, our new home, and we are very much looking forward to it. We spent Thanksgiving in Hilton Head, the girls visited Florida, we vacationed in Colorado and Wyoming where our daughter spent a summer in Yellowstone. We meet up in Rhode Island and Boston, and we also cross paths at BWI. Tonight, after passing through BWI, our youngest daughter is coming home to the Inn where we are creating new stories.

Home is not a place. Home is where the heart is.flying

LIFE IS ALL THIS IS ON SALE THIS WEEK

THIS WEEK LIFE IS ALL THIS IS ON SALE FOR 99 CENTS ON KINDLE. CLICK THE PHOTO BELOW FOR THE LINK TO AMAZON:

Life-Is-All-This267x400 small

In the summer of 1975, Samuel Ryder sets off to hitchhike to the Grand Canyon where he realizes life is very good. Standing on a corner in Winslow, Arizona the road ahead appears to be one neverending smooth ride full of fun, adventure, and pretty women.

Late at night in a vacant hotel lobby in South Florida, decades later Sam finds himself trying to come to peace with the fact that plans do not always work out and the life you imagined is not always the life you end up living. Alone at the front desk, he writes novels and communicates via email with his wife who has left him and now runs a food truck in Colorado. The two of them alone but at the same time together, trying to work things out, trying to hold onto a marriage that has moved just out of reach.

With a sharp eye for the world around him, Sam’s memories wander through the decades of his life as a traveling salesman, husband, and father. His story takes the reader on a journey from 1960’s New Hampshire where he writes letters to his brother in Vietnam, to Boston and New York where he and his wife raise their young family during the tumultuous years at the turn of the century, to South Florida during the Great Recession.

Against the backdrop of the conflicts and anxieties of a changing world, Life Is All This is the story of a modern American family facing life’s hardships with hope, optimism, and humor while discovering that pain, loss, and distance can strengthen their love and enrich their lives.

BELOW MY FEET

Flat on my back across the back seat of my car, I watch the passing scenery fly by, such as it is from this vantage point. Telephone wires, the light spring green tops of newly budding trees, a flag pole. Trucks look like freight cars on a passing train and seem much closer than they normally do from the driver’s seat or riding shotgun, sitting up. I am laying down, my feet propped up on a small suitcase with a couple of sweaters on top to make my footrest more comfortable.

“We’re in Providence already?” I ask my husband as I notice the Independent Man atop the dome of the Rhode Island State Capital. He represents Roger Williams, an early proponent of religious freedom, and separation of church and state. Banished by the Pilgrims in Massachusetts for his “dangerous opinions”, Williams founded Rhode Island in 1636 as a refuge for religious minorities. He was followed by Anne Hutchinson, a spiritual advisor, midwife, and mother of fifteen. After she was excommunicated from the Massachusetts Bay Colony, Roger Williams encouraged Anne to come to Rhode Island where she and her followers established the colony of Portsmouth, a haven for religious freedom. And you wonder where my opinions come from? Such are the things Rhode Island school children learn at an early age.

Providence from car window

Hubby confirms our location. We are headed to my sister’s house in Warwick, along the Narragansett Bay, to visit her and my parents. They live on the Warwick side of Pawtuxet Village. Scenes from my second novel, Take Me Home, blur by the window. The gas tanks along the port, the Johnson and Wales harbor front campus, two and three story tenements. Gone is the large red rooster who stood on the sidewalk in front of Saltillo’s Liquor Store but the giant blue termite still sits atop New England Pest Control along Route 95 at the Thurbers Avenue exit.

Tenements and feet

There is a reason I am flat on my back in the backseat. It is one of those sudden twists of fate, or should we call it a twist of ankles. Yesterday afternoon we visited my oldest daughter in Boston. She is coaching lacrosse at a private school so we watched the practice, then had lunch on a rooftop deck in Cleveland Circle followed by a walk along the reservoir. On our way back to the car I stepped off the sidewalk into a pothole and sprained both my ankles. An X-ray I had the next morning was inconclusive. There could be a metatarsal tear. I can barely walk.

***

I wrote that a week ago. Since then we know it is a metatarsal tear on the left ankle and a slight fracture on the right. When I do something I never do it halfway. This time I really fucked it up. My luck and my timing are impeccable, but we are managing. We survived Memorial Day Weekend at the Inn. Our youngest daughter is arriving June 11th to spend the summer with us. She is a hospitality management major who just finished her junior year at Johnson & Wales Denver so in addition to missing her and looking forward to her arrival, she is a very welcome guest.

Despite my unfortunate accident we’re very busy learning the ropes. Making beds, making reservations, making breakfast. The cell phone connection is spotty as we move from room to room, which wouldn’t be a big deal if i could move easily from room to room without the boot on my right foot and the very attractive flat shoe on my left. The shoe is hard and has no give, the boot rocks. I’ve never been very coordinated. I get cranky when I need something in another room and hate asking my husband for the thousandth time if he could get me a glass of water, a glass of wine, my phone, my comb. His patience has been amazing.

Tweeting and Instagramming have slowed down a bit. And blogging. Yes, the blogging. I like to blog. I enjoy writing about my silly mishaps and daily observations, but blogging takes time. After all, it’s a taste of my writing for the new reader. An opportunity to entertain and possibly sell some books. It needs to be good. Witty. Edited. It takes time, and time is in short supply at the moment.

The biggest question right now is, does a blog sell a book? I don’t think it necessarily does, and with my writing time limited during these summer months of weddings, graduations, weekend getaways, and road trips to the Inn I need to set priorities. The books are the priority and as always, I am writing because I’ve been bitten by the bug. I am addicted to putting words on the page and telling stories.

I have an idea for not one but two books. One has three thousand words already. The other has pages of character notes.

The consensus on how to sell books is to back down on the social media and spend your time writing more books. My experience confirms the fact blogs don’t necessarily sell books. I would like to think they do but the numbers don’t confirm this.

I just returned from the doctor’s office. I have four more weeks of this misery. The other night the temperature dipped to thirty degrees. My husband had to rescue the hanging plants from the porches. This afternoon it is hot and muggy and my calf inside the boot is very itchy. Yes indeed, I am back in New England. To quote Mark Twain, if you don’t like the weather just wait a minute.

For the several weeks until I’m back on my feet (yes that is plural) I will be taking a break from blogging. If you really feel the need to read some of my silly, irreverent ramblings or you’d like to prove me wrong about blogging (Lord knows I am often wrong), the books make wonderful beach reads. Or hammock reads. Airplane reads. Poolside reads. It’s summer. It’s time to read a good book.

And please, be careful where you step. Pay attention to the earth beneath your feet.

An accidental photo taken minutes before my fall:

Foot Before The Fall

Foot Before The Fall

And yes, I know. As my husband said, “You should have been wearing sneakers.”

LONG MAY YOU RUN

Three Days on the Road

My car is repacked. We emptied it for the trip to New Orleans and left the boxes in our friend’s garage in Orlando. The ruptured brake line had been repaired but then we discovered the master cylinder needed replacing. Our man Clenard said he could get to it on Sunday so we hung around with our friends for one more weekend, cooking amazing dinners and relaxing. The guys got in a round of golf.

There really isn’t much you can do about life’s mishaps. It’s called the middle class squeeze. Here we are embarking on a new way of life. We’ve reduced our monthly nut once again. We will be living at the inn in a five bedroom house attached to the main house. There will be no rent to pay, no utilities, no drive to work. All that’s left are automobiles, health insurance, one more year of our younger daughter’s college tuition, food, and other miscellaneous items, but before we can even get there we’re hit with a five hundred fifty dollar auto repair bill. If it’s not one thing, it’s another.

The vehicles are old. My car will join the 200,000 Mile Club somewhere north of the Mason/Dixon line. The shocks are gone. The car bounces and squeaks as it carries a heavy load. Let’s hope she makes it. I never gave this car a name and she’s so reliable I wish I had, but it seems beside the point now.

My very first car named himself. It was a blue Toyota Corolla I bought from McGee Pontiac Toyota in Hanover, MA, a client of the public accountant I worked for in Boston who gave me a good price on last year’s model. For some reason I can no longer remember, I registered the car in Rhode Island using my parents’ address. My license plate was ED 937. Ed McGee. Ed was one of those guys you always call by their full name. We have several friends like that. Dave Stott. Jim Green. Mike Mills.

Ed McGee at Daytona Beach 1982

Ed McGee at Daytona Beach 1982

Ed traveled cross country twice. My current car, the Hyundai, has traveled up and down the East coast, spent a lot of time at lacrosse fields in the Mid-Atlantic, and commuted forty-five minutes both ways from Exeter, NH to Ipswich, MA five days a week, fifty weeks a year, for four years. The miles added up quickly but she has required little maintenance other than oil changes which were not as often as they should have been because how do you find the time to change the oil when you’re always driving the car? But she never complained, she just got the job done. Let’s hope she and I make this last trip without incident.

Day One

I packed a bag of music for each vehicle. Day One I am listening to Van Morrison, Neil Young, Dire Straits, David Gray, and Tori Amos. I play the music really loud and sing along so as not to hear anything worrisome from the car. If I can’t hear it, it’s not happening is my philosophy. I know my reasoning is faulty but to use an expression my husband despises, it is what it is.

Our goal is to drive roughly four hundred fifty miles a day. Today’s destination is Florence, South Carolina. On a long trip like this I become one with the road, the passing scenery, the names of towns, and the geography. So many of the names I see recall scenes from American history. (In case you’ve forgotten, I am the daughter of a U.S. History teacher.) I love the names of the bodies of water I cross-the Rappahonock, the Allegheny, the Chesapeake, the Susquehana.

My husband and I are not caravanning. He keeps an average speed of sixty-five miles per hour because of the weight of his load. I’m traveling between sixty-five and seventy. I report my border crossings. He calls in for a gas station pit stop up ahead or a lunch break. We speak in terms of corridors (the I-4 and the Northeast), beltways, route numbers, and mile markers.

Le

Leaving Orlando

We stay pretty close until the end of the day when I get well out ahead of him and beat him to hotel number one-a Fairfield Inn in Florence right off Route 95. Of course I think of Sam Ryder, the protagonist in my latest novel Life Is All This, writing his novels and blogs at the Fairfield Inn in South Florida. I decide Sam Ryder would be another one of those guys whose friends would refer to him by his full name.

We have dinner at the restaurant next door that looks like a chain but is actually a local place called Percy & Willy’s where we have the best French Dip sandwich we have ever eaten.

Day Two

After the free breakfast at the hotel, we’re back on the road. My music line-up for the day is the Talking Heads, Sting, J.J. Cale, Dave Matthews Band, and Natalie Merchant. A guy from Georgia with a bumper hitch towing a wheelchair with a pillow flopping off the side passes me on the left. I saw this guy yesterday. I wonder if he too stayed at the Fairfield Inn in Florence.

I pass a woman from Florida driving a truck with large lettering on her rear window. A Woman and Her Truck Are A Beautiful Thing. She is also driving solo and hauling a trailer. She looks to be in her mid-sixties. I wonder where she’s headed. There are lots of snowbirds on the road north, driving trailers towing cars with bikes attached to the rear bumper.

Somewhere in Virginia

Somewhere in Virginia

The medians of North Carolina are covered with wildflowers. Red poppies. Yellow black eyed Susan. Something pink I can’t identify at 70 m.p.h. I am on speaker phone with my friend from Rhode Island who shared this ride with me two years ago when I moved to Florida. We discuss Lady Bird Johnson, agreeing the Highway Beautification Project was a great First Lady kind of thing to do and shake our heads at the the thought that something like that could never get passed through Congress in this day and age of crumbling highways and falling bridges. Although I do acknowledge the road has narrowed down to one lane quite frequently on this trip, as I have crossed several bridges that are finally being repaired.

Arriving at our destination together, we pull into the Courtyard hotel in Annapolis at 6 p.m. On the road into town for dinner, we are stopped by a lineup of a dozen cops who ask us where we are from, where are we going, and have we had a drink this evening. “Yes, we had one an hour ago at our hotel.”

“Well, we’re running this DUI checkpoint all night so if you have another one, you will be taking a breathalyzer and you will be over the legal limit.” Oh, really? My husband orders ice tea with his dinner and our waiter tells us the roadblocks are really killing business. It is Cinco de Mayo and we are the only customers at Buddy’s Crabs and Ribs, seated in a large dining hall with a full buffet of raw oysters, crawfish, catfish, and seafood pasta salads. I ate here years ago when my daughter played lacrosse tournaments and college games throughout the mid-Atlantic.

My younger daughter recently asked me, “Do you remember that weird time in our lives when we were lacrosse people?” Yes, of course I do. I made potluck portions of pulled pork that I reheated in a traveling crockpot, or the Barefoot Contessa’s Shrimp and Orzo salad which blew everyone away. I always planned some sightseeing; a trip to Teddy Roosevelt’s house in Oyster Bay, N.Y., a stop at my cousin’s in Bethesda where we took the metro into D.C. and visited the monuments and museums, a visit to the Feast of San Gennaro in Little Italy, a walk through Valley Forge in Pennsylvania. Hey, we drove all the way down here, we might as well see something.

But on this trip north we’re all business. We are anxious to start our new life and get this drive in our old vehicles behind us. We get lost driving back to the hotel and miss the DUI checkpoint. Back in our room, we catch the Teddy Roosevelt episode of a Ken Burns NPR documentary.

Day Three

We leave Annapolis just after sunrise. Today’s music lineup is Mumford and Sons, Allman Brothers, Miles Davis, and Enya. The day starts peacefully. A drive through the farms of the Eastern Shore of Maryland. Heavenly sunlight shines through puffy white clouds onto freshly planted fields. We chose this route because my husband wanted to avoid the beltway around D.C. But the Northeast Corridor lies ahead, always a difficult drive on the last leg of the journey home to New England.

heavenly sunrise

We cross the Delaware bridge onto the New Jersey Turnpike to Route 95. The potholes are getting larger. The highways wear the battle scars of a long Northeast winter. The shocks are no longer absorbing the potholes and there are no breakdown lanes. My car bounces like a trampoline. Squeak, Squeak. I forgot to buy more Velcro to attach my EZ Pass to my windshield as we drive through the tolls that began in Maryland. Leaning forward to hold the EZ pass up to the window as I approach the toll booth for the George Washington bridge, I notice the giant pothole too late. Clunk. Groan. Oh shit.

My nameless girl creaks and wobbles a bit, complaining about why at her age am I making her drive with all these boxes on her seats and in her trunk. Where are we going and what are we doing? Haven’t I worked hard all my life? How many more miles must I travel?

I lost sight of my husband back on the Jersey turnpike while I was driving in the car lanes and he was over with the semis and RV’s but as we reach the crest of the bridge with Manhattan over my right shoulder and rain beginning to fall, we catch sight of him up ahead. Enya is singing a soothing song. I relax into the Orinoco Flow and the comfort we feel when we see my hubby just up ahead calms my jangled nerves. My nameless girl’s chrome heart still beats. She keeps driving the road ahead. The only road we know. We are headed in the right direction.

Crossing the George Washington Bridge

Crossing the George Washington Bridge

VISIT NEW ORLEANS BEFORE YOU DIE

“I am not going to lay down in words the lure of this place. Every writer in the land, from Faulkner to Twain to Rice to Ford, has tried to do it and fallen short. It is impossible to capture the essence, tolerance, and spirit of south Louisiana in words and to try is to roll down a road of cliches, bouncing over beignets and beads and brass bands and it just is what it is. It is home.” ~ Chris Rose, 1 Death in Attic: Post-Katrina Stories

If you’ve never been to New Orleans, you need to visit before you die. It is a quirky, fascinating, exotic place full of life and you are going to be dead for a long time as Bob Dylan once said, so hop in your car or buy a plane ticket and visit this urban city with the hometown feel. It is full of gourmet food, fine music, amazing architecture, and city parks that are exemplary oases of urban planning at its finest, and despite all those delights it is the people of New Orleans that are the city’s greatest asset.

Lafayette Cemetery

Both beautiful and decadent, everywhere you turn are signs of poverty residing alongside Southern elegance; from the homeless sleeping beneath the overpass by the exit ramp that first leads us into the city streets, to the lovely homes in the Garden District where we took a four mile stroll from our hotel to the Tulane campus, to the panhandlers waiting outside the door of the convenience store where we bought bagels, to the Carousel Bar in the very elegant Hotel Monteleone where we had a drink while waiting for a downpour to pass through.

Rainy French Quarter

On the rain soaked streets of the French Quarter we dodged the showers by ducking into shops along Royal Street, and yes a bar or two in-between because after all, this is The Big Easy and we do enjoy our cocktails. We avoided crowded, drunken Bourbon Street like the plague but enjoyed the ever popular Acme Oyster House around the corner on Iberville where we shared a dozen raw oysters shucked and another dozen char-broiled.

Acme Oyster

There was a TV in our hotel room but we only turned it on to check the weather while we drank strong chicory coffee and ate yet another bagel from the six pack we bought at the convenience store. Our accommodations had a small kitchen but other than breakfast we dined out in this city of gumbo, étouffée, oysters (we have consumed several dozen), and boudin.

On one of our walks, I was drawn to a brick building that looked more like an alley lined with flickering gaslights, and it was here that we met Nate, a young man working the age old craft of making hand riveted copper lanterns. I had accidentally stumbled upon a young daydream believer so I asked him how he chose this profession. He explained that after college he ended up working for an architectural company where he became interested in lighting and found his way to an apprenticeship with a coppersmith. “I majored in history and I guess you could say, in a way I am using my education by making historical lighting.” He is one of the lucky ones, finding his passion early in life and a way to make a living doing it in a city where gaslights flicker day and night.

Gas lanterns-Bevelo

On another night, eating another two dozen oysters at fifty cents a piece during the Redfish Grill happy hour, we chatted with our bartender Glenn, a man in his early sixties who moved from Burlington, Vermont to New Orleans in 2005. He and his partner were tired of the corporate nine to five life and decided to move here to try their hand at bar-tending.

“We had no experience in a city where restaurants are serious business and it unfortunately took a terrible storm for us to land a job. So many people had left the city after Katrina and the work force was at an all time low, so we finally landed good jobs, stuck it out in the aftermath of the storm, and fell in love with our new city during some very hard times.”

Now they’ll never leave, he told us. “I don’t think I could handle the cold anymore and summer is so damn short up there in New England.”

“Yes, I’m worried about that,” I admitted, as we tell him how after Jazz Fest we are heading north to begin our adventures in inn keeping.

Everyone in New Orleans has a story, including the tourists. Something about this city turns just about everyone into an extrovert. On another rainy night we visited Frenchman Street where the sound of jazz spilled onto the streets as soon as we crossed Esplanade and turned the corner onto this vibrant, bustling street. Waiting in line for the doors to open to the Blue Nile where we had will call tickets to a James Booker tribute, we struck up a conversation with a man from Montana who was here for Jazz Fest with his childhood friend from California. This was their tenth year attending the festival together. For a half hour we traded stories while listening to the music in the bar next door, and across the street, along with the guy on the corner playing his trumpet for tips. A harmonious symphony providing the beats to our conversation. Where was the last Grateful Dead show you saw? Were the Allman Brothers ever the same after Dickie Betts left the band? What do you think of Trey Anastasia and Phish? And of course I had to share my story from thirty-five years ago about the time I was here during Mardi Gras when Etta James walked onto the stage at Tipitina’s at three in the morning.

Tourists are a big part of this city and yes, some are stumble down drunk but most are here to enjoy the sights and sounds of NOLA, as the locals call it. I don’t know how many thousands of people were at Jazz Fest the day we attended. They came from just about every state in the union and various foreign countries too, many of them repeat visitors. The fields were soaked and muddy but everyone shared dry space or room on the blue tarps the seasoned veterans brought along with them. There was no violence that day, no fist fights, no angry mobs. From the gospel tents to the corporate sponsored Acura stage (for everything is corporate sponsored these days) people danced and sang, shared their music stories, drank beer, and ate good food. If you ever make it here, I highly recommend the Trout Baquet from Li’l Dizzy’s Cafe. 

Just before we left for New Orleans, on the day we moved out of our apartment in Boynton Beach, a neighbor told my husband he had worked for the DEA and warned him about the dangers of New Orleans. “Make sure to bring your gun, and watch your every move. People get killed there all the time.” But as my boss once said to me, when he was warning me of other dangers in Miami, “Oh, that’s right, you guys aren’t gun people, are you?”

Gun people. No, we’re not. Apparently there are two kinds of people in America. We are the No Gun people. Other than hunters, I don’t understand the gun people and how they live their paranoid lives. I know for sure they don’t understand me. I like to dine in restaurants and shop at Walmart without a pistol in my purse, sleep in my bed at night without a gun in the night table drawer, and I wish I lived in a world where most people felt the same way. I understand bad things happen but it is not in my DNA to constantly live in fear of the the worst case scenario. I prefer to live my life expecting to find the better angels among us.

Cable news and talk radio have divided and conquered for many years now. Shouting talking heads focus on the negative. The loudest voices in the room get the most airspace. In the meantime, average Americans go about their days; working long hours, paying the bills, helping their neighbors, enjoying good food and music. We are better than the news the media chooses to focus on. I trust the majority of people are good and kind and on the fifth day of my vacation my faith was confirmed.

At a place called Coulis, we met Sharon at lunch after wandering through Lafayette Cemetery en route to Tulane. The neighborhood restaurant filled with hospital workers and local moms with their kids in tow caught our eye, so we ducked in for a quick bite to eat, which because we were in New Orleans ended up being an extraordinary meal. Shrimp and grits for me, huevos rancheros served atop pulled pork for my husband.

Sharon was helping her niece during Jazz Fest and told us about their other restaurant near Tipitina’s. We promised to check it out, so later that night we took the St. Charles trolley to Napoleon and walked the five blocks to Dick and Jenny’s, passing through another one of New Orleans lovely, livable neighborhoods lined with inviting front porches and crooked sidewalks that easily trip you up if you don’t watch your step. Sharon greeted us at the door, excited to see us once again. This time we dined on chicken and andouille gumbo, buffalo frog’s legs, and flounder in a basil cream sauce, finishing the feast with creme brûlée and lemon meringue pie atop fresh blueberry sauce.

Dick & Jenny's

Sharon happened to finish her hostessing shift just as we were leaving the restaurant. The three of stood on the crooked sidewalk chatting for awhile and we thanked her for feeding us delicious food all day long.

“How are you getting home?” she asked.

“We took the St. Charles trolley.”

“You’re walking all the way to the trolley? Forget it, I’ll drive you back.”

So we hopped in her car and on the drive to the hotel, she pointed to the house she used to own before Katrina. She and her husband left for Tennessee after the hurricane, tired of the storms and the chaos and hard times that were the aftermath of Mother Nature’s wrath. “But we got bored and decided to come back,” she said.

Shortly after they returned, her husband was diagnosed with terminal cancer. In a few weeks, because he is still feeling healthy, they are embarking on a cross country trip to see the places they’ve always wanted to visit. Her husband is receiving some type of injection every two weeks and the doctors’ in New Orleans have helped arrange this treatment along the route they are planning to travel from Arizona to California and back along the road East.

streetcar

As I listened to her story, I knew she was a fellow wanderer who believed in living every day on her own terms. She knew that life was short and on this journey nothing goes as planned and often things get difficult. Violent storms disrupt your life, jobs come and go, bad things happen, so it is better to approach life with an open heart and mind. To accept the ups and downs and other people’s quirkiness and differences. There are no right or wrong answers. We all have our own story to live.

We are now on our way to Orlando to get the truck and the trailer loaded with all our worldly possessions. The ruptured brake line has been fixed by the neighbor of our friend – a kind stranger who took care of things while we vacationed. I am writing this blog from the passenger seat as we pass dozens of billboards along Route 10 shouting at us about the Narrow Road to heaven and to Call 1-555-For-Truth.

Hell…I forgot about that.
Read the bible…it will scare the hell out of you.
Jesus is the only way to God.

As always I feel uncomfortable with this self-righteous certainty, but somewhere near the Mississippi/Louisiana border I notice a sign tucked behind some overgrown trees offering a sly rebuttal.

That Love Thy Neighbor Thing. I Meant It. – God.

During my last couple of days in the Big Easy, a skywriter was sharing messages of love and hope in response to the events taking place in Baltimore, reminding us we are all in this together. The disturbing news out of Baltimore is about everything America promised and some of the things it hasn’t delivered.

skywriting

America is a place filled with resilience and hope and the opportunity to keep improving. We are all neighbors sharing the same planet. During my week in New Orleans, I experienced days of music, food, new friends and kindness, and I will most certainly return to this complicated, enticing, vibrant city where I met a stranger at lunch who told me to visit her family’s other restaurant for dinner. Late at night, she invited two perfect strangers into her car and shared her story of sadness and optimism. At the curb in front of our hotel, I gave her my card and a big hug and told her if she happened to pass through New England on her road trip with her husband, she needed to stop by and visit us. I promised there would be a room for them at the inn.

LOVE-Besthoff Sculpture Garden

Other places we visited:

Sylvain’s for mouthwatering pork shoulder, grits and greens, and the best papparedelle bolognese I have ever eaten.

Avenue Pub for the largest selection of draft and bottled beer I have ever seen.

Cafe Amelie for the prettiest courtyard dining in New Orleans. If only it hadn’t been raining. I will be back.

Audubon Park for a picnic by the Mississippi.

City Park for the Besthoff Sculpture Garden and the Botanical Garden.

Cafe du Monde just because you have to have the chicory coffee and beignets, and you have to be a tourist some of the time.

Cochon Butcher where the homemade boudin is to die for and sandwiches are brought to a whole new level.

Jazz Fest is held each year from the last weekend in April through the 1st weekend in May.

Don’t Punch Your Sister and Other Life Lessons

Considering the small amount of possessions we now own, it was hard to explain what took so long on moving day. Of course, there was the very large issue of my husband’s closet, which was still not empty. There are times in a marriage when you ask how the hell did I end up with this guy, but over the years you learn to bite your tongue and keep the peace. And then there are those times when you can’t control yourself.

“What the fuck is going on in this closet? And you wonder why the hell I bitch?” I know, it was a little harsh but I had packed 97% of the boxes over the course of a week.

He made lame excuses and argued with me about the toaster still sitting on the counter. The toaster? Really??

I ignored him and finally, four hours later, the rooms were empty. Almost.

empty apartment

That morning he brought me two boxes from his storage trailer. The trailer that is now carrying our meager collection of furniture. They contained a collection of our daughters’ childhood mementoes. One box for each daughter. He wanted me to consolidate them.

“You couldn’t bring this to me two weeks ago?” I asked, trying to keep the exasperated tone out of my voice. In all honesty, I wasn’t trying too hard. I was exasperated and losing patience. But those boxes. Oh my.

chelsea and michelle cahoons hollow

Little essays written with crooked, backwards letters. My cat Jenny. My sister and Me. All About My Mom. And books we had made together. We made books! I forgot all about that.

photo-4

The funniest thing I found was a book made by my younger daughter Michelle’s 2nd or 3rd grade teacher. It was titled Things Not To Do. Apparently the assignment was to use something from a story the class had read together because there was a lot of advice about never kissing alligators and don’t ever look under the bed. Michelle seemed to think she was supposed to offer her own advice, and hey why not? As the offspring of parents who always take the road less traveled and believe detours are not something to be avoided but an opportunity for an adventure, why would she follow directions?

dont punch your sister

Don’t punch your sister or you will get in trouble. She will tell your mother. ~ Michelle B.

I laughed out loud, powered on, and with a smile ripped my last strip of packing tape across the box of childhood memories. I consolidated nothing. There was no way I was throwing away any of these precious archives. This is the stuff life is made of.

Despite my aching back, tired legs, and no where to sit to rest my weary bones, by two o’clock we were in the management office returning the keys, out the gates of our gated community, and on the road again . Mumford and Sons playing on my car stereo, my husband in front of me, six ladders riding on the roof of the overloaded trailer he was towing. We took the right onto the big curving ramp at the intersection of Woolbright and Interstate 95, heading north, the rising crescendo of drums and guitars and the howl of Marcus Mumford, oh how I love Marcus Mumford, sealing this moment in time. One of those symbolic turning points I will hold in my mind’s eye as The Day We Left Florida.

Put me behind the wheel of a car with good music playing and my brain is cruising with grand stories. I am writing novels and making movies.

Homesteader

***

Seven a.m. Clermont, Florida, just north of Orlando. We sip coffee in a jasmine scented backyard with hot air balloons floating in the distance. We woke to bad news. The truck has a ruptured brake line my husband discovered when he and Pete were juggling the vehicles in the driveway. My husband’s good friend is on the case. A guy in the neighborhood is a mechanic. Another guy across the street knows this guy the mechanic and gives Pete his phone number. This neighbor across the street used to live in Portsmouth, N.H. where we used to live before we got married. His wife grew up in a town not far from the Inn we are moving to. You cannot make this shit up.

Because this is our story, the imperfect union of two very different minds who somehow agree to never do things the way “other people” do, we planned to take a detour west before we headed north. Our life is in transition. We are homeless at the moment, returning to the northeast to run a B&B, something we’ve never done before but we are confident we can do it well and enjoy doing it, so we are taking the vacation we planned before we got the job offer, bound for Jazz Fest in New Orleans. Great music, great food, a great American city.

Life is short. The truck can wait. We have until the 6th, give or take a few days, to get to the Inn. We leave the keys in the truck. Pete’s neighbor has agreed to pick it up later that day. Shit happens but why let that ruin a perfectly good road trip.

My husband called it a fortunate misfortune. No one got hurt. The brake ruptured in the driveway. I don’t know how this relates to Don’t Punch Your Sister except to say, we are who we are. The eternal optimism may be one of the big reasons I ended up with this guy.

Marriage is hard work. Marriage is a commitment. A promise to have and to hold, For better or worse. LIFE IS ALL THIS is a story about a marriage. It is a story about people like you and me. It’s available on Amazon. Check it out and please Buy the Book.

And here’s one of my favorite guys, Mark Knopfler, singing one of my favorite songs with Emmy Lou Harris. I just realized if I ever get a movie deal for Life Is All This, this could be the soundtrack.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ey9kdeOjT3o