Notes From A Book Tour: For What’s It’s Worth

The Road-NY thruway

Driving Route 90 – The NY Thruway

My last day on the road I drove Interstate 90 East with the idea of standing on the shore of Lake Erie in early morning light. I could see the Great Lake from the highway so it didn’t seem like much of a detour and I had an early jump on the long drive ahead of me. The cheap motel I spent the night in had a lumpy mattress, a septic smell in the otherwise clean bathroom, and a noisy couple next door getting it on in a squeaky bed.

Hotel room in Erie

My hotel room – Lake Erie, PA

When would I ever be traveling along the shores of Lake Erie again? It could be sooner than I imagined, or never. I veered right and took the exit for North East, Pennsylvania.

PA Vineyards

North East, PA vineyards

On a quiet Sunday morning, I drove past miles of vineyards, pumpkin patches, apples, and signs proclaiming Jesus is Lord. There were dilapidated barns sitting beside dressed up barns advertising wine tastings. Pretty front porches with wicker chairs and sagging porches with peeling paint. Lights were on in kitchen windows, church parking lots were empty, for now.

Guns-better pic

Guns For Sale North East, PA

Guns are sold in a set back building situated between a liquor store and a hydroponic garden center. There were flags and more flags; waving on front porches, telephone poles, and wrought iron fences. Put there as if I might forget where I was, but the gun shop had already alerted me to the fact that yes, despite the hundreds of miles I had traveled over the past two weeks, I was still here, in The United States of America.

Market Place flag North East

On the outskirts of North East, PA

The drive to the lake was taking longer than I thought it would. Then I noticed the sign for Downtown Erie. Damn! I was driving west, not north, back to where I started before dawn.

What am I doing here? I wondered. What wild goose am I chasing this time? Alone in the early morning light on a quiet church-going day my frustration quickly turned inward. Did I accomplish anything on this Hometown Book Pop-Up tour? I’d sold a lot of books and earned enough money for food and shelter on the drive home but none of those sales would register in the records that keep track of bestsellers.  This is no way to make it to the New York Times bestseller list. As an Indie author, I can buy my own books at a discounted price for resale but those sales don’t count toward my ranking. I contemplated giving people who came to my Pop-Ups a bookmark and sending them home to order the book on Amazon but how could I pass up a sale when it was standing right there in front of me? Would they really buy it when they got home? I told myself there was always value in word of mouth, IF I could get the reader to write a review and recommend the book to friends and share it on Facebook.

Huskies Beer North East PA

Package Store – North East, PA

My car was a mess. I hated my pocketbook; a black hole where my phone, my reading glasses, even my overstuffed wallet, were easily lost. And then there was Siri who couldn’t find her way to Lake Erie. “I’m sorry. I can’t help you right now.” Was there anyone out there interested in helping me on this journey?

My Car is a Mess

A whistle blew as a train approached from the east. I turned around in the parking lot of an abandoned office park and headed back to the town of North East. Maybe I’d find some Messages from America on the quiet tree-lined side streets but as in so many other places I’d traveled through on this road trip there were no signs of hope and resistance.

Mammo month North East PA.JPG

Breast Cancer Month – North East, PA

Instead, pink ribbons were everywhere, reminding the women of this small town that October is Breast Cancer Awareness month.

The local election for Clerk of Records appeared to be the hottest race in town. Everyone was supporting the same candidate. I can’t remember his name and for all I know he could be the only guy running for office.

The town had gone back to their lives post-Trump. They had work to do, bills to pay, healthcare issues to worry about. They didn’t appear to be concerned about the obstacles that would create road blocks along the way; the efforts Trump and the Congress are making to cut healthcare, dismantle the EPA, and give giant tax cuts to the wealthy. The President’s lies, the mass shooting in Las Vegas. I saw so many flags at half mast over the past week, but the flags were raised again and life goes on. For the lucky ones.

Town center North East PA

Main Street – North East, PA

I parked the car in front of a wine and cheese shop, and took a walk through town. Around a corner I stumbled upon a magical alley where fire escapes and painted grapevines climbed red brick walls.

Alley 2 Northeast PA

An alley in North East, PA

I left the alley, looped around the block from the opposite direction, and then entered from the other side. I stood there for awhile and took pictures. I don’t know what it was about this alley but it made me smile and gave me a small measure of hope.

Doorway in alley Northeast PA

Doorway – North East, PA

It’s been over a week since I returned home. I’m trying to decipher the notes I took in North East. I’m trying to recall the hope I felt in the alley. I am now in Providence getting ready for a Hometown Book Pop-Up in Pawtuxet Village, my original hometown. The place where I grew up.

Hometown Book Pop-Up Pawtuxet Village

Hometown Book Pop-Up – Pawtuxet Village, RI -Carlos & Tesh at Shastea

Earlier this morning my daughter’s boyfriend, Kyle, invited me to join him on a hike to Ross’s Cliffs, just over the border in Connecticut.

The top of Ross's Trail Killingly CT

The view at the top of Ross’s Cliffs – Old Furnace State Park in Killingly, CT

We took the road I traveled when I worked at the inn and would drive to Providence to help my Dad after the fire at his condo. My mother’s Alzheimer’s was getting worse and times were hard but I enjoyed this ride through rural New England.

Ross’s Trail climbed through sun-dappled trees and I thought about the hikes I took in the Great Mountain Forest when I created Leo Heaton, the first character in Under The Same Sun who spoke to me.

Excerpt from Under The Same Sun:                                                                                                  “I hike a lot and when I’m alone in the woods I notice things. Tonal differences in rocks, peeled birch bark fallen from trees, a twig trapped on a rock in the middle of a swift moving brook. When the breeze blows through the oak trees, leaves dance, and to me it sounds like the rustle of silk. At night when I lay my head on my pillow, it’s just me and my thoughts. I worry about life and what the future holds for my girls. I never expected to be doing this alone so I have a hard time falling asleep, until I let my thoughts drift back to that rocky, primeval forest. Deep in those woods the world is sane and perfect.” 

Sunlight at Ross' Trail Killingly CT

Old Furnace State Park – Killingly, CT

I am having a hard time finding my way into this blog. I can’t remember why I wanted to write about my brief visit to North East. But during the hike, as always happens when I’m out in the woods or walking by the ocean, I found my way.

Maybe what I felt that morning in North East, after getting lost and doubling back to the place I started, was a rapt attention to the world around me. I was transported to an enchanted place where sanity and perfection were possible.

I left North East that day without seeing another soul except those at kitchen windows or in passing cars. I spoke to no one. The stores were all closed. No one walked the streets. The town could be anything I wanted it to be. Then I got in my car and drove an eight hour day, alone, across the entire length of Upstate New York.

Some combination of light, stormy weather looming behind me, clouds and sunlight, created a luminous stunning atmosphere. A glorious light, as if the world had been scrubbed clean and was new again. I could imagine anything. I could imagine America when it was new and full of hope, like a day in Philadelphia when a group of men from thirteen colonies imagined a place where everyone is created equal and there would be justice and the pursuit of happiness for all.

Hoosick Billboard

Billboard at the border at the New York – Vermont border

Just before I crossed the border into Vermont I saw a billboard with large letters that warned of heroin and impaired driving. I had seen similar signs throughout my journey. In Ohio there was even a hotline that drug impaired drivers could use to call for help.

I remember thinking we all share similar concerns and problems. We all have similar hopes and dreams. We truly do live under the same sun.

The problem is, not everyone realizes this. There are too many distractions and hardships, too many opinions, too many tribes that no longer have a shared vision, and too many news sources and politicians that support those divisions.

The hope I felt in the alley was a dream, the American dream, that was signed and sealed on a piece of parchment paper two hundred forty one years ago this past July 4th. We once had a common dream and like in The Wizard of Oz you were there, and you, and you, and me. We were all there.

These days it seems we no longer dream the same dream. Some don’t remember the  dream or misinterpret its message. There are those who are defeated and angry, they lick their wounds and blame their problems on someone else. Someone different. Someone foreign. They are vulnerable to those with enough power and stature to twist the dream to suit their own greed and self-interest.

 

As we approached the top of Ross’s Cliffs I wondered where the hope that briefly visited me in North East disappeared to. It was so fleeting.

Kyle

The Top of the Trail – Ross’s Cliffs

We stayed there for awhile. It was a perfect place to ponder. We imagined Mohegans and Pequots standing on this bluff watching for the white man’s approach. So called civilization on its way.

Peace Killingly, CT

Messages From America: Old Furnace State Park Killingly, CT

It could have been that I was hiking with Kyle, a Mohegan Indian, and thoughts of the retelling of history, the mistruths of the Native American story we were told, came to mind.

It also might have been thoughts of the recent visit I made to the slave quarters at Magnolia Plantation in South Carolina where the curators are finally telling the truth about that piece of American history.

Or it could have been the message on the bench where I sat and contemplated the beauty that lay before me.

“This bench is part of what’s left of my soul, that I carried on my back to share with this cliff and with those that are here for peace, and peace of mind. Thank you all who enjoyed it and left your mark, but whoever tossed it over this cliff once…you were seen and you are more than half found.”

It’s hard to imagine someone would hike this beautiful, spiritual place and toss a gift of  handcrafted beauty over the cliff. It’s hard to imagine the mindset of some of my fellow Americans these days.

Contemplating Ross' Trail Killingly CT

I met wonderful people on my book tour. I also heard horrible things on talk radio. I saw Confederate flags on highways in the Carolinas. Las Vegas happened. I came to the conclusion one on one there are many kind and generous people but America as a whole leaves me feeling sad and confused.

I can’t help but wonder if it was only a dream.

 

Under-the-Same-Kindle cover

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NOTES FROM A BOOK TOUR: BE SAFE OUT THERE

PART TWO OF A  JOURNEY SELLING BOOKS IN AMERICA IN THE YEAR 2017

Jamestown, SC

Passing through Jamestown, SC

 

I wrote this blog on the eleventh day after the Las Vegas shooting. It brings to mind a quote I used in my recent novel Under The Same Sun at the beginning of a chapter titled I Heard The News Today .

“A thousand such simple tricks they played,
 and after eleven days returned to themselves again, not remembering anything that had passed.”
 ~ Robert Beverly’s History of Virginia

Once again the news cycle has moved on from another mass shooting. There are fires burning in the wine country of California, Trump is threatening NBC and other news organizations, Puerto Rico is without clean water and electricity, and North Korea looms large.

I don’t know what event Robert Beverly was speaking of. I found the quote after I finished the rough draft of Under The Same Sun. Rich and I had just left the inn after some contentious encounters with the difficult owner. We were recuperating. Rich was painting at a house on the Cape and I was trying to get back into my novel when I found Thoreau’s book, Cape Cod, on a bookshelf in our friends’ living room. This quote jumped off the page and helped me navigate the final chapters of Under The Same Sun.

If you want to know more, you need to buy the book and read it. I’m here to share Part Two of the stories and the people I met on a recent book tour through the South.

Lake Wylie, South Carolina

Lake Wyle, SC

Lake Wylie, SC

I met Cindy a few years ago. Her son and my daughter live together. We became fast friends. Rich and I visited her and her husband Ron last April in Lake Wylie and also at their pecan farm in South Georgia.

Cindy is a Mohegan Indian and was born on the reservation in Connecticut. Her son lent me his signed copy of Medicine Trail:  The Life and Lessons of Gladys Tantaquidgeon by Melissa Jayne Fawcett, the current medicine woman for the tribe. Gladys was the medicine woman until she passed away at the age of 106. I brought the book to Cape Cod where some of the Mohegan beliefs and teachings made their way into Under the Same Sun.

After dinner, Cindy and I watched the 60 Minutes piece on the Hubble telescope. When it was over we talked about the Trail of Life and how the Mohegans may have come closest to understanding our existence after death.

When I woke up the next morning Cindy was already cooking grits and bacon.

“Something really bad happened last night,” she told me as I poured myself a cup of coffee. “I didn’t want you to walk in the kitchen and see it on TV. I thought I’d warn you first. There was a mass shooting in Las Vegas last night.”

I did not expect this to happen while I was promoting my book. I wrote the book because I want this to stop.

Flowers and Books

Flowers from Suzy – Lake Wylie, SC

We ate breakfast and watched the news with sad hearts. A good friend of Cindy’s dropped by with curlers in her hair. Suzy was getting ready for the Hometown Book Pop-Up later that night. She had three bouquets of flowers for us. She told me the story of her grandmother who had started a flower shop and how her adoptive parents kept it going and turned it into a thriving business. It seemed like such a sweet Southern thing to do, making sure we had fresh flowers for our event.

Later in the day Cindy and I stopped at the Market on Wylie wine shop where I met the owner. Barbara moved to Lake Wylie from New York. Her shop is lovely and she has the most amazing prosciutto, racks of lamb, fine cheeses, prepared meals, and wine. Cindy told her about the book. I gave her a bookmark.

“We have to do something together. A wine tasting book event,” Barbara told me.

I loved the idea. We are making plans for my return visit. “It is a win-win for the both of us,” we agreed.

Market on Wylie Wine Shop

Cindy and Barbara at Market on Wylie

The Lake Wylie Hometown Book Pop-Up was a huge success. I sold enough books that my sales carried me through the rest of my road trip.

The next morning I was the bearer of bad news when I met Cindy in the kitchen for coffee. Tom Petty had passed away.

Driving through the Smoky Mountains White Oak NC

Driving through the Smoky Mountains from Lake Wylie to Nashville

NASHVILLE, TENNESSEE

I met N. Frank Daniels on Facebook through another writer, Darin Strauss.  We became Facebook friends and chatted about books and publishing. Frank was putting together an online imprint and asked if I’d be interested in representing my generation – the baby boomers. When I mentioned I wouldn’t be far from Nashville during my travels we made plans to meet.

Cindy asked me how I knew Frank. When I told her, she said, “You be careful. Text me when your meeting’s over.”

When my daughters both heard about this they said, “Mom, you don’t meet up with people from the Internet.”

“We’re meeting in a bookstore,” I told them.

“Yeah, but still…..” They went on, continuing to lecture me.

Me and Frank Books-a-Million Nashville, TN

With Frank Daniels at Books-A-Million ~ Nashville, TN

Frank and I met at Books-A-Million. I talked about my book and he shared his first novel, Future Proof, which was originally launched on his Myspace page. The good reviews and a book tour he embarked on, similar to mine, got the attention of HarperCollins who picked up his book and sent him on a book tour to places like Chicago and L.A.

Life got in the way and it took him a few years to write another novel. By this time the publisher was looking for “more marketable, commercial writing”. Frank self-published his second book, Sanctuary, with CreateSpace.

At the time I met Frank I hadn’t heard from Politics and Prose, an Indie book store in DC, but a cousin of mine in Pennsylvania had tried to set up a Hometown Book Pop-Up at his local Indie Bookstore in Collegeville. He was given the same song and dance.

“We don’t sell books published by CreateSpace.”

We brainstormed. Frank currently works as a sales rep for a distributor. He delivers food to grocery stores and sets up displays. I told him I once worked for a distributor selling speciality food items. We commiserated about the receivers who rule the back rooms of supermarkets like crazed dictators of banana republics.

He also said, “I won’t ask how old you are because that’s rude but are these the worst times you’ve lived through?”

“Yes.”

I told him about my Dad the U.S. History teacher.

“I remember him being upset in 1968. The assassinations. The riots. The Democratic National Convention. He hated Vietnam. I was eleven back then. I think it was the violence that upset him. Now he’s worried about democracy, and I am too.”

“Yeah, me too,” Frank said.

Out in the parking lot we said our goodbyes. He was over a foot taller than me but we managed a hug.

“Be careful out there traveling solo,” Frank said. “Text me when you get to your hotel.”

LOUISVILLE, KENTUCKY

Louisville, KY

Louisville, Kentucky

I checked into the Fairfield Inn in Louisville at one in the afternoon. Luckily, my room was ready. I asked the woman at the front desk about the waterfront area. She gave me a lot of info and a map.

“I guess I picked the right hotel,” I said.

“You did,” she said. “But don’t be out alone after dark.”

I walked the streets, took photos, then headed to the Riverfront Park. It was a muggy day and I was pretty sweaty when I saw Joe’s Crab House in the distance. It was three o’clock but I had skipped lunch so I walked another half mile, found a seat at the bar, and ordered a cold beer and the best crab dip I’ve ever had.

Ohio River Louisville, KY

Ohio River from Riverfront Park, Louisville, KY

The young woman tending bar told me she was working two jobs to save money for med school. We talked for a long time. I told her about my Messages From America and how I couldn’t find any south of the Mason-Dixon line. She replied, “Oh, you won’t find them. Everyone around here thinks everything’s just fine.”

I asked her about the bridge you can walk across to Indiana.

“It’s a long walk. You won’t be back before dark and you don’t want to be on that bridge in the dark.”

She told me she saw Bernie Sanders there, on the Kentucky side, after he won the primary in Indiana.

“I wanted to vote for him in the primary but I couldn’t because when I was eighteen and still living at home I registered Republican. It was too late to change my party. A lot of kids around here do that, they register Republican like their parents. I’ve since fixed that.”

I paid up and told her I was going to Whisky Row.

“I mean I have to try the Bourbon while I’m in Kentucky. I don’t know if I’ll ever be back, it took me this long to get here.”

I had told her about having visited forty-five of the fifty states and how Kentucky was one of the five I still needed to visit.

“That’s so cool. Just make sure you’re back at your hotel before dark,” she said.

Whisky Row, Louisville, KY

Whisky Row ~ Louisville, KY

Whisky Row was hopping on a Friday night. I met a couple on a pub crawl and asked which bar they recommended. They directed me to Sidebar, a quiet place, not quite busy at five o’clock. I asked the bartender for a local recommendation and he suggested Angel’s Envy. It was smooth and delicious.

I was still hungry and decided to try another bar before it got dark. The pub crawl couple had also recommended The Troll Under The Bridge so I walked over for a nightcap. Hey, you know, there was no book pop-up here in Louisville. This was strictly for me, a night in Kentucky to add to the bucket list. As my friend Midge said back in Isle of Palms, “vacation properly.”

Troll Pub Louisville, KY

The Troll Under The Bridge ~ Louisville, KY

The bar was below street level, no windows, dark and rowdy. The local couple was sitting on stools at a tall table.

“Hey,” he shouted. “Too quiet for you over there at Sidebar?”

“Yes,” I said.

“Us, too,” he said.

I took the last seat at the bar and ordered a Knob Creek and a wedge salad. The man sitting next to me had cerebral palsy and spoke haltingly. He told me he had returned to college at the age of forty and was studying political science at a small school I’d never heard of. He wanted to discuss current events. He was curious about my politics and polite in his disagreement. He expressed interest in my book so I gave him a bookmark although I didn’t think he’d buy the book.

“I better get going,” I said. “Everyone’s told me to be off the streets before dark.”

“They’re right but I think you might be a little late on that.” He looked at his watch. “It’s six-fifteen.”

I went out the door, doggie bag in hand. The wedge salad was an entire head of iceberg lettuce. I climbed the stairs to the dark street. How did that happen so quickly?

Whisky Row was just getting started for the night but one block away the streets were quiet. I had four blocks to walk to my hotel.

A black family turned the corner onto the street I was walking. The older woman used a cane and held her husband’s hand. A young couple walked in front of them. I hustled up behind them.

The older woman turned around and said, “What you doin’ out here alone?”

“I had an early dinner while it was still light and didn’t realize it got dark so quickly.”

“You walk next to me,” she said.

I sidled up next to her and we started a conversation. They were visiting from Atlanta.

“We’re here for the whisky,” her husband said. “What brings you here? You sound like you’re from Boston.”

I told them I had lived in Boston for several years and I also lived in all six New England states at one time or another. Then I told them about how I came up with the Hometown Book Pop-Up, visiting places authors don’t usually go. How I was visiting friends and taking my book to the readers.

“I like that,” their daughter said.

Everyone wanted a bookmark so I passed them around.

“Under The Same Sun,” the matriarch said. “I like that. How’d you come up with that name?”

“Well, like I said, it’s a story about small town America during the recent election and how we’re all in this together. We really do live under the same sun.”

“Oh indeed, yes we do” she said. They all nodded their heads.

We were now at the corner of the street where their Marriott was to the right and my Fairfield Inn was to the left, about a half a mile apart. The daughter looked up and down the street. There was no one around, just an old woman sitting on a lawn chair in front of a liquor store.

“It looks clean,” she said. “But I think we’ll walk you to the door.”

“Oh, I’ll be okay,” I said. “It’s well lit around here and it’s a busy street.”

“We’re going to walk you to the door,” the older man said.

I thanked them when we got to my hotel and told them to contact me when they read the book, the link to my webpage was on the bookmark.

“We sure will,” they all said.

Street art Louisville, KY

Walking Louisville, KY

There is no safe place in America. I didn’t intend to be out after dark but it happened. There’s a passage in Under The Same Sun, a scene where Emily Heaton and Henry Howard plan a camping trip in the woods on a summer night just before their senior year in high school. It’s a special night. They’re both nervous and find themselves talking about all sorts of things. Emily mentions her grandmother’s worries and fears. She tells Henry, “One thing I know for sure, I don’t plan on living my life within the confines of fear.”

A little later Henry kisses her on the cheek and says, “I like what you said about fear. It’s a crazy way to live your life.”

John Steinbeck once said, “Many a trip continues long after movement in time and space have ceased.”

I believe this is also true regarding the people we meet on our journey through life. I believe we carry with us everyone we encounter and all the places we go. They make us who we are. They frame our stories and provide a compass. If we close our minds and judge before we experience we become one type of person. If we open our hearts and listen with open minds we will become someone else.

We live in difficult times that could possibly change us. These days are filled with fear, anger, judgement, and sometimes hate. But my compass directed me to the good people who are still out there. Kindness prevails.

***Please buy the book. Help me spread the word. Write an Amazon review. Support an Indie author. Tell your friends. Together we can make a difference.***

http://bit.ly/buyunderthesamesun

Under-the-Same-Kindle cover

Notes from a Book Tour: One Book at a Time

PART ONE OF A  JOURNEY SELLING BOOKS IN AMERICA IN THE YEAR 2017

Over the years of my life I have traveled many a road. A lot of the miles were shared with my husband but on this most recent road trip I was traveling alone, pitching my latest novel, Under The Same Sun.

Timmonsville, SC

Driving through rural Timmonsville, SC though cotton fields

Driving alone can lead to soul-searching solitude that turns to reflection and wonder. Or as Wendall Berry once put it, “one’s inner voices become audible.”

There were a few days of doubt and uncertainty. Days when I asked myself, “What are you trying to accomplish out here?” On one such day I left a copy of my book at Politics and Prose, a neighborhood bookstore in Washington, DC. Two days later I heard from the manager who sent an email to tell me this:

“We are not going to be able to accept your book, Under the Same Sun, as it is published with CreateSpace, the Amazon publishing wing, and it is our store policy to not carry any of those titles.”

Book drop DC

A book drop at a Little Free Library in the Tenleytown neighborhood of DC. Hopefully Under The Same Sun gets more love here.

It shocked me that an Indie bookstore would diss an Indie author. But it didn’t surprise me. If you don’t know the right people, have the money and time to get an MFA and attend a distinguished writer’s workshop, or have the ways and means to work an unpaid internship for a popular magazine, your odds of getting traditionally published are 1-4%.

Keith from Politics and Prose ended his email with this: “Your copy will be available for pickup at the store, it will be held under your last name at the registers. We will hold for two weeks.”

I waited and then decided to write Keith back. I told him I was sorry he felt that way and that he hadn’t at least read the book and given it a chance. I told him I was on a book tour and now home in Vermont so I wouldn’t be able to pick up the book but I hoped he wouldn’t throw it in the trash. In my mind that would be like burning a book. Particularly a book where the author had plunged into a sensitive, pertinent, hot button American topic that needs to be discussed.

Gosh I hate pictures of myself but at least I tend toward optimism rather than pessimism in regards to self- doubt. The inner voice of doubt didn’t last for more than a few miles. It was drowned out by a louder voice that amplified the stories people shared with me, the hometowns I visited, and the terrible news I watched in other people’s kitchens and a few hotel rooms. So loud was the other voice, so ever present was the American landscape and its diverse people, I instead found myself reflecting and wondering about the heart and soul of a nation.

Walth Whitman Rest Stop, NJ

The Walt Whitman rest stop on the NJ Turnpike where a scene from Under the Same Sun takes place.

Here are just a few of the good people I met and sold my novel to, one book at a time. They appear in no chronological order.

ERIE, PENNSYLVANIA:

At Joe Roots Grill a local couple was sitting a few seats away from me. I overheard them talking about traveling to places I had just been to. Charlotte, North Carolina. Columbia, South Carolina. When meeting new people I can always find a door to walk through. It usually starts with something like, “I couldn’t help but hear you talking about Charleston.”

They invited me to move closer. His name was Tom and she was Gay. They are graphic artists and illustrators and their story is When Harry Met Sally. They grew up in towns not far from each other. He was from Fairview. She was from Erie. They met at the Pittsburgh College of Art. He would drive her home on holidays, they’d go their separate ways, and then drive back to school together when Thanksgiving, Christmas, and summer break were over. After graduation they once again went their separate ways. Years later they found each other back in Erie. She was a widow and he was divorced. They’ve now been married for ten years and also have a home in Jupiter, Florida.

I told them how Rich and I loved the public beaches in Jupiter and they were very interested in visiting the Wakadahatchie Bird Sanctuary in Delray, which they had never heard of before.  Tom told me a story of a man who once walked across a frozen Lake Erie to Canada. It took him 28 hours. He never slept, just kept walking.

Gay asked the bartender to change the channel from the Sports News to the Real News. He obliged. Our conversation changed to the current state of affairs, our fears of nuclear war, the mass shooting in Las Vegas, and our strong dislike for our current President. We were all in agreement so we quickly moved on to how we enjoyed dining at the bar and meeting new people.

I shared stories from the road and I mentioned Under the Same Sun. They were very excited about the book so I gave them my calling card – a bookmark. They promised to buy the book and we exchanged phone numbers and made plans to meet up when Rich and I get down to Florida again.

Presque Isle Lake Erie

Presque Isle State Park, Lake Erie, PA

After they left I ordered a slice of lemon cake for dessert. The bar was quiet, most people were eating outside on the patio. The bartender made his way down to me. He had overheard my conversation with Tom and Gay and he wanted to talk. He told me he and his husband lived here in Erie. His mom had raised six kids by herself and now that they were all grown up she took a job as a traveling medical technician and moved around to various hospitals where she trained people in medical safety, things like best needle practices. She spends a year at a time in a different city and enjoys this opportunity to see America. She’s in Worcester, MA at the moment.

I asked him if he and his husband found it hard living here in Erie, a rural area of New York where many people voted for Trump . At first he said no but then he told me his in-laws and quite a few of his own relatives had voted for Trump.

“A lot of people are okay around here,” he told me. “I try to avoid politics most of the time.”

He’d like to move someday but his husband has a good job working at a nearby prison where he coordinates educational programs for the inmates.

He and his husband were planning a visit to New England for Christmas and looking for a place to stay. I told him about the inn Rich and I managed.

“It’s Connecticut’s most romantic B&B.”

He liked that and wrote down the info. I told him to drop my name when he got there. Maybe the new owners would give him a free room upgrade. He told me he loved reading on his Kindle and I gave him a bookmark.

“Is there a book, too? I want to buy one for my Mom. She loves to read, too.”

“Yes, there is a book.” I gave him another bookmark. We said good bye and he wished me safe travels.

“Be careful out there,” he said.

That was a recurring theme throughout my travels. There will be more of that to come.

Sunrise Isle of Palms

Sunrise on Isle of Palms, SC

MAGNOLIA PLANTATION, SOUTH CAROLINA

When I lived in New Hampshire I belonged to a book club for fifteen years. Most of the members lived in West Newbury, just over the border in Massachusetts. It was started by my friend Midge and she invited my cousin and dearest friend Kathy to join too. We drove together to all the meetings and when Kathy passed away from breast cancer I would cry at the end of each meeting when I drove home alone.

Our book club weekend was based at Isle of Palms, South Carolina where we had rented an AirBnB on the ocean. We walked the beach, toured Charleston, cooked dinner, drank wine, and laughed and shared stories. Some of my old friends finished reading Under The Same Sun by the pool.

A day trip to the Magnolia Plantation had been planned. When we boarded the trolley to the slave quarters we were seated amongst a group of black women roughly the same age as our group. They were from Dallas, Texas and told us their book club was celebrating their 20th anniversary.

“We’re a book club and celebrating our 20th anniversary, too!” one of my friends said.

2 book clubs

A chance meeting of book clubs from West Newbury, MA and Dallas, TX at the Magnolia Plantation outside Charleston, SC

We all started talking at once. We’d read a lot of the same books over the years. We were so busy getting to know one another we didn’t notice the trolley hadn’t taken off for the slave quarters. A woman came up and clapped her hands, “I have an announcement to make,” she said.

Our tour guide had called in sick and the tour was canceled. They were either going to refund our money or see if they could come up with something else. They told us if we could wait a little longer they may be able to reschedule. Many people headed to the ticket booth to get a refund or sign up for a different tour to the gardens or the mansion. The two book clubs continued chatting and getting to know each other. We asked the trolley driver to take pictures and one of the women from Dallas taught us how to air drop a photo on an IPhone. Standing in a cluster waiting, we exclaimed with wonder when our phones simultaneously beeped with the arrival of the photos.

I introduced my book and apologized for taking this opportunity to shamelessly self-promote myself. The Dallas ladies were excited to hear about it and I passed out bookmarks. They promised to put Under The Same Sun on their reading list. I hope to hear from them soon.

We ended up taking a later tour that afternoon. The Dallas group was no longer with us. They must have signed on for a different time.

Slave Cabins Magnolia Plantation

Slave Quarters at Magnolia Plantation, SC. This is a duplex. Ten or more people were crammed into each unit.

Our replacement tour guide was the historian for the plantation. She sugar-coated nothing about this terrible, heartbreaking piece of American history. She told us about the horrific journey in ships from Africa to America, where human beings were stacked like books on a shelf and chained together for six to eight weeks. Forty percent of the people died before they ever arrived in America.

Standing in the tiny slave cabins many of us were overcome with sadness. We had just finished a tour of the mansion and it was incomprehensible to imagine how anyone could treat another human being like this.

I stood alone in one of the small, rough buildings that families once called home and tried to imagine ten or more people sleeping here. I thought about Charlottesville. I thought about Trayvon Martin. I thought about some people’s ire against Black Lives Matter and I wondered why our country still has to fight to make some people understand black lives do matter. I wondered what the women from Dallas thought when they took their tour. I wished we had been together so I could hug them.

Leaving the plantation

Touring the Slave Quarters at Magnolia Plantation

Black Lives Matter Providence, RI

Black Lives Matter Providence, RI

Before I left for this trip I did a few Hometown Book Pop-Ups in New England where I saw several lawn signs sending messages of tolerance and peace. I started an Instagram photo series of Messages from America. Unfortunately, I didn’t find any once I left Washington, DC and crossed the Mason-Dixon line.

All Are Welcome DC

A sign in the window at the Little Red Fox coffee shop in Washington, DC

Over a week later a bartender in Louisville, KY told me, “Oh, you won’t find them. Everyone around here thinks everything’s just fine.”

However, I did find this while walking around Charleston after my friends left to catch their flight.

Shiloh AME Church Charleston, SC

Shiloh AME Church Charleston, SC

***If you enjoy my blogs, I promise you’ll love Under The Same Sun. It’s available here: http://bit.ly/buyunderthesamesun 

If you’ve read this far you know how hard it is selling books on your own. I need your help. I need your support. Together we can make the world a better place. Join me.

NOTES FROM A BOOK TOUR: PEOPLE

I’m always looking for a story. I never set out with pre-conceived notions regarding what the story will be. There are people I meet that spark my interest immediately. They share a story that resonates. A lightbulb goes off. The story falls in my lap.

Or it could be a place I find interesting because it tells a story of who we are. As Nobel laureate Albert Camus once said, “with clear-sighted earnestness it illuminates the problems of the human conscience in our times.”

Love Your Neighbor Ipswich MA

Ipswich, MA

When I am on the road I am living in the moment. Life’s distractions are sitting in the backseat. Depending on where I’m traveling and who I meet, I sometimes feel like an outsider. An exile in my own country. I try to report the good stories I find. Unfortunately, these days there is a growing amount of negativity and I can’t ignore it. It is part of the story we are currently living. To pretend it doesn’t exist is to turn a blind eye despite the fact I believe there are more kind and generous people than mean and angry people.

My first destination on what I have coined my Hometown Book Pop-Ups was the place where my writing began. Ipswich, Massachusetts. I had lunch with a former co-worker, one of the few people I worked with who was still there. We met at a brewery and caught up on kids, work, travels, and life. Then I had a little time to kill so I walked around the town where I spent four years in a cubicle. A flood of memories returned.

EBSCO Ipswich, MA

A scene from The Reverse Commute Ipswich, MA

Carrie, the friend I was meeting after lunch, has lived in Ipswich all her life. I met her long before I worked in the cubicle. She was dating my brother-in-law and was a lifesaver the day I came home from the hospital with my youngest daughter who had an infected blocked tear duct and was on stomachache inducing antibiotics. Carrie occupied my two and a half year old while I rocked and rocked my newborn.

Carrie is fighting the battle of her life right now. Diagnosed with a rare form of melanoma she had her arm and part of her shoulder amputated. It has been two years of grueling procedures, operations, and treatment. She has shared it all on her Facebook page and shown us all how to be brave and honest, and also fragile and human.

And still, she offered to host a Hometown Book Pop-Up. We met at the Kosciuszko Club. Words with lots of vowels always trip me up. Words like pernicious, auspicious, obnoxious. So like the locals I call this place the K Club. Carrie invited some friends. We chatted about books, shared drinks, and had a good time. Carrie’s mom is the bartender here and also an old friend of mine. There was some discussion about something Trump had recently done that two of the women liked. I avoided politics. I wasn’t here to argue.

Dream

A motto to live by

Carrie’s doctors have told her she is now on palliative care and she should live life three months at a time. So she cashed in her pension and her 401K and went out and bought a pontoon boat with a Bimini cover. Ipswich is like many small towns, insular and full of gossip. A place where people have a lot of opinions and share them with their lifelong neighbors. Some people are judging her for this decision to buy a boat. The only comment I can offer is “People”. It’s a shoulder shrug sort of opinion, as in I really don’t know what to say.

After the Hometown Book Pop-Up Carrie and I and one of her friends from the Trump conversation went to a pizza place. Carrie was wearing a sleeveless summer top. We somehow started talking about health insurance, bills, and the rising cost of rents in the area. The friend pays a thousand dollars a month for her apartment and only earns $1200 a month.

“How do you pay your other bills?” I asked.

“I economize. I make do.”

I couldn’t help asking,  “How? You need food. You have a car. You need gas and there are always repairs. New snow tires. Oil changes. What do you do for health insurance? Does your rent include heat, electricity, WIFI?”

No, it did not include utilities. But she said she wasn’t a taker like other people. She was managing on her own, like we all should. Carrie later told me she inherited some money. I never did quite figure out her politics. It didn’t really matter. She was a very nice, friendly woman and her hair raising stories of illegal Mexicans in Tucson, Arizona sounded like something out of Breaking Bad. I didn’t know what to believe but we had a nice night.

PEOPLE.

Meanwhile, a little boy in the booth behind me was standing on his seat and staring at our table. Carrie was talking about the people who were judging her for buying the boat. She used the word ‘shit’. Then, speaking softly, she said in a slight whisper, “That little boy won’t stop staring at me.”

The little boy’s mother spoke loudly. “It’s because you used a bad word that he doesn’t know. We don’t use words like that.”

Carrie apologized and they left a few minutes later.

“Sometimes I can’t help but hate people,” Carrie said.

I had a million questions.

“If he doesn’t know the word shit how did he know it was a bad word?” “Was he staring at Carrie because he is an innocent child and had never seen a woman with one arm?” “Was it the mother’s own discomfit with Carrie’s appearance and her inability to explain the situation to her son that set off her anger?”

We all agreed this woman missed a teaching moment and instead lashed out with anger instead of empathy.

PEOPLE.

“Don’t worry about it,” I told Carrie. “It says more about her, than you.”

A single woman sitting in a booth across from us spoke up.

“You’re exactly right,” she said. “I watched that whole exchange. The woman and her husband or boyfriend or whoever he was never stopped playing with their phones. The kid was bored and fascinated with you. He’s just a kid.”

We invited her over to our booth and started a lively conversation. She is also a writer and took one of my promotional bookmarks. Her son came out of the kitchen and gave her his paycheck. She does his banking because he’s busy with school and work.

“He’s a good kid,” she said. “A hard worker, too.”

PEOPLE.

The use of this expression can mean many things. There are all sorts of people. Every one of us agreed there is a lot of anger in the world right now. Some people think they can say whatever they want. They are used to hiding behind email and Facebook/Twitter comments. But now anger is creeping into our daily dialogue. Our President leads the way. This weekend he called football players sons of bitches for exercising their 1st amendment rights.

From Ipswich I drove to Exeter, New Hampshire. My former Reverse Commute. I was staying with my good friend Liz who helped me put together a Hometown Book Pop-Up in my old hometown. When I texted her on Saturday she told me to call after two in the afternoon. From noon until two she was driving the tractor that was pulling the Democrats’ float in the Brentwood Home Days parade.

Exeter River

Exeter River – Exeter, NH

Liz ran for local office, and lost to a Republican. She volunteers for numerous charitable organizations. She is tireless, fearless, and dedicated.

PEOPLE.

She now belongs to the Woke Book Club. It was started by a New Hampshire woman who had never been politically active before the 2016 election. Liz invited me to come along and she’d introduce me to the group. It ended up being a Pop-In on my end. They asked me to join their discussion of Dark Money by Jane Mayer. It is about the Koch Brothers and other billionaires and the rise of the radical right.

For almost two hours, we had an earnest intelligent conversation. Some of the readers didn’t quite finish the book, it was too frightening and upsetting. Everyone took turns speaking; the moderator let us sometimes ramble. It was an amazing afternoon and good to see concerned Americans engaged in trying to affect change during troubled times. I even sold several books after the meeting and can’t wait to get some feedback from this intelligent, friendly, caring group of men and women.

PEOPLE.

John Rice's Farm Srand

My friend’s farm stand in Stratham, NH

We also stopped by to visit an old neighbor of mine. When we sold our house and moved to Florida he was planning on getting off the grid and becoming more self-sufficient. I would say he is well on his way. His front yard is now an apple orchard. He also grows and sells vegetables, garlic, honey, and maple syrup from his sugar shack. Chickens roamed the yard. He heats with wood and uses candles for lighting at night. He gave us some delicious apples, giant juicy tomatoes, and garlic to take home. We also sampled candied pears he was drying in a toaster like thing in the garage.

PEOPLE.

MLK lawn sign Stratham NH

Another former neighbor’s lawn sign Stratham, NH

I spent the weekend at Liz’s lake house in the Belgrade Lakes region of Maine where we met up with our husbands who went fishing on Saturday. Liz and I drove to Augusta to look for a protest. We were angry and exhausted by the continuing onslaught of Republican attempts at repealing healthcare. We wanted to find Susan Collins, the Republican Senator from Maine. All we found was a small, quiet American city on a muggy Saturday afternoon.

Big Hearts Open Minds Mount Vernon ME

Mount Vernon, Maine

Liz told me about a mural that was removed from the State House and relocated to the Maine State Museum. It was lovely and I was troubled by the fact Republican Governor Paul LePage did this. All I can say regarding this is: History Matters.

HOMETOWN BOOK POP-UPS: AUGUSTA, ME The Maine Workers' Mural that was removed from the state capital because a Republican governor thought it represented socialist/communist ideas. The 1st panel represents Child Labor when children as young as 8 years old worked in factories as recently as 100 years ago. The 2nd mural represents Women Textile Workers holding white handkerchiefs as a symbol of the impure air conditions created from lint. Other panels depict the enactment of The Secret Ballot to protect workers from intimidation from employers and the 1937 Shoe Strike when workers walked out of shoe mills seeking fair wages and shorter hours. Despite federal laws legalizing the right to organize workers were beaten and jailed for marching and speaking up. Don't think this can't happen again. #payattention #resist #workersrights #speakup #historymatters #murals #publicart #visitamuseum

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And PEOPLE. As in POLITICIAN PEOPLE.

As I travel to different parts of the country on my Hometown Book Tour I will be sharing a series of photos – signs I find on front lawns throughout America. I’m calling this series Messages From America and I’m sharing them on Instagram. I considered whether or not I should share all of the messages I find along my route and decided it is a positive message I want to send. If I find some negativity, which I’m sure I will because I saw those Confederate flags and other messages when I traveled South last spring, I’ll mention them but I don’t think I’ll photograph them. There are plenty of good people in all parts of America, even ones with differing opinions. Those are the stories I’m sharing.

“I alone cannot change the world, but I can cast a stone across the waters to create many ripples” ~ Mother Theresa.

After all, how many train wrecks do we need to see?

*** If you’ve been enjoying the stories I’ve shared here during the past five years, please buy the book. It’s available here:

http://bit.ly/buyunderthesamesun

From The Road: Flying Coast to Coast

“A journey is a person in itself; no two are alike. And all plans, safeguarding, policing, and coercion are fruitless. We find that after years of struggle that we do not take a trip; a trip takes us” ~ John Steinbeck

In Flight

I met Pat in the Los Angeles airport but I forgot to share the story. It wasn’t that I didn’t think about it often. I think about it almost every day, especially when I’m listening to music and suddenly get the urge to tap dance.

While waiting for my delayed flight to Detroit I bought coffee and a blueberry muffin at Starbucks, then luckily found an empty seat in the crowded terminal full of irate travelers. LAX was in the midst of a major construction project repairing runways and most flights leaving the airport had been delayed. Little did I know this was about to set off a domino effect that would ripple across the country.

Pat was sitting next to me. She looked to be about my age, petite with shoulder length shiny silver hair. We wasted no time striking up a conversation. I told her about my flight out of Reno and the frenzy here in L.A. to get another flight after I was bumped from standby on my scheduled flight to Charlotte, North Carolina.

Pat had been visiting her son in LA so this was her first flight of the day. Her son is a struggling screenwriter married to a dancer. She was flying home to Tiverton, RI via Detroit then on to the Providence airport, which is really in Warwick. That was also the route I was now traveling.

We talked about our kids and our work. Pat owns a dance studio in Tiverton, RI. She plans to work for a few more years before she retires. She also has a daughter who is moving from L.A. to Maine. Pat’s retirement plan is to sell her old house in Rhode Island and spend summers in Maine with her daughter and winters in California with her son, although her kids don’t know this yet.

“They’ll be on board with it,” she said.

Then she told me the loveliest story. Years ago an older man called and asked if she offered individual tap dance classes. He was in his late seventies and told her he had just one problem. He couldn’t get around without his walker.

“I need to hold on to something when I’m tapping,” he said.

“I have a ballet barre,” she told him. “I think we could make that work.”

The tap dancer is now in his eighties. He spends winters on the Gulf Coast of Florida and  summers in Rhode Island where he still tap dances with Pat several times a week. Each winter he flies her to Florida and puts her up in his guest house where every day for two weeks they tap dance together.

There was something about Pat’s story and our time together on an otherwise difficult day of travel,  a day that would most likely stress and piss off most people, that made the airport anxiety disappear for the both of us.

An hour later, when we finally boarded the plane, we were quite sure we were going to miss our connection in Detroit so we made plans to share a drink.

Sometime around 10:30 p.m. we landed in the Motor City, and yes, we did miss our flight. Delta provided us with a free night at a hotel. The airport was quiet; the bars were all closed. Pat and I decided we would check in and then go out for a drink. We were hoping our hotel had a bar. Pat got a room at the Sheraton. I got a room at the Days Inn. Both disappointed, we made plans to meet in the morning.

In the Days Inn van, fifteen tired travelers bonded in anger and frustration. A young man was supposed to be at a funeral at ten the next morning in Brattleboro, Vermont.

“I’m driving through Brattleboro tomorrow. I can give you a ride,” I told him. It was one of those days and one of those situations when generosity rises to the occasion. Unfortunately, the funeral was at ten a.m. and he was flying to Hartford and I was flying to Providence. Everyone in the van tried to work out the logistics. Could he change his flight to Providence?

“I’ll still miss the funeral, ” he said.

A few people mentioned he might be able to attend the reception afterward.

“I’m just going to get on another plane and fly home. What a waste of time and money,” he said, dejected. We all encouraged him to try to get a reimbursement for the flight.

Another man had asked for a free rental car in exchange for the night at a hotel in Detroit. His son was graduating from Howard University in DC the next morning. He said he could drive all night and make it in time for the ceremony. Delta said no. No car.

Now the van was getting rowdy. Everyone was swearing about the airlines. “They treat us like shit,” someone said.

Again we all encouraged the upset Dad to get a refund, although everyone understood that would be a poor substitute for missing a graduation and a funeral.

The Days Inn lounge was supposed to stay open until midnight but it had closed at 11:30.  I went to bed and fell fast asleep.

The next morning the flight out of Detroit went smoothly. It was a brand new day with no delays or hassles.  Pat had told me a friend was picking her up at the airport and they could give me a ride to my daughter’s apartment in Providence. He was waiting for us in the terminal and warned me his car had a strong doggie odor. I pulled out my phone and showed him a picture of my daughter and her dog.

“Don’t worry about it. I was traveling for a week, from Lake Tahoe to Colorado, with Athena, the boxer,” I said.

He took my overnight travel bag and put it in the trunk.  “You managed to travel a whole week with this little bag?” he asked.

“I travel light,” I said. “It’s all in how you fold and roll.”

I literally felt as light as my bag when I hopped in the back seat of the old car with two new friends I barely knew. I had been on the road for almost a month. This nomadic existence created a sense of living in the present that I enjoyed. Aware of the moments of my life as I lived them, it was a case of here and now.

Driving through traffic, we laughed as we told Pat’s friend about our airport hassles. We made it sound like a grand adventure, and in a way it was. We also compared notes on the Providence restaurant scene, the serenity of Vermont, and the Rhode Island beaches. I told them about the cop in Battle Mountain, Nevada and my two days traveling alone across the deserts of Utah and Nevada to return the rental car to Reno because I didn’t want to pay the surcharge for dropping the car off in Denver.

The ride went much too fast but I have Pat’s phone number and I plan to meet up with her soon. As I hugged the two of them on the sidewalk outside my daughter’s apartment, I felt like the world was good and kind, despite the daily news.

I felt like I was twenty-five not sixty. I felt alive. I felt like I could do anything, knowing that whatever happened, whatever hassles and problems I came across on the road of life, I could manage, on my own, keeping my wits about me, making friends, and rolling along with the endless numbered days ahead.

No one was home at the apartment. My daughter and her boyfriend were gone for the day, but I had a key and let myself in. I gathered the things I had left in the guest bedroom. I found ice coffee in the fridge and helped myself to a tall cold glass.

I opened my lap top and found Fred Astaire on You Tube then moved to the almost empty room between the kitchen and the living room where I pushed the yoga mats aside, and tap danced before heading home to Vermont.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Mother’s Day ~ Imperfection: Stories from Higley Hill

Mother’s Day: Part Two

We are all imperfect. We make mistakes, we are unsure of our choices. We live with regrets. Sometimes on social media I feel lost in a sea of perfection. Beautiful children, healthy food, gorgeous scenery.

I’m sometimes guilty of posting those photos, too.

However, I often try to balance it with the nitty and the gritty. I can’t ignore the difficult places and the hard stories. Especially these days when it seems so very inappropriate to ignore what’s happening to our country. I don’t understand how people go about selling their jewelry, their books, their clothing line, their sobriety, and their yogi lifestyles as if all is normal. They were appalled days after the inauguration but they’ve quieted down now. It’s back to business as usual.

Bar in Battle Mountain

The Barr in Battle Mountain, Nevada

But then again I am guilty of working in references to my books when it seems to fit the story.

We are all a series of contradictions and we all need to make a living.

So, here we are on Mother’s Day. The perfect Hallmark holiday. There have been a few posts on Instagram that I liked about people who had difficult Moms and I appreciate the honesty although I don’t see too many people pointing the finger at themselves.

I once had a group of friends in New Hampshire who would meet for wine emergencies. These were days when everything went wrong. Days we questioned our skills as mothers. Days we needed friends who were honest, self-deprecating, and sympathetic.

I have just returned from an unplanned road trip with my oldest daughter. She had some recent upheaval in her life. A breakup with a boyfriend, a broken hand from a snowboarding fall, a broken car, and a dog in tow. Her lease was up, temporary housing didn’t work out, and she was moving on but she needed some help getting from here to there.

Chelsea and Athena

Arches National Park, Utah

I know. I just returned from a road trip. I promised an accounting of how Rich and I did it on limited resources. That blog is coming, I promise. For this trip I received a buddy pass on American Airlines from our friends in South Carolina.

My first night in Reno convinced me I was doing the right thing despite pulling the credit card out a few times. I do have my faults and inadequacies but I always show up and rise to the occasion.

From The Road: The Stories Mothers Write Last night just before dark I walked the streets of Reno, Nevada. I passed a young girl in hot pants and a midriff baring tube top. Her face was pale, her lips were fire engine red with two pierced silver earrings top and bottom. Tattoos covered her thin arms. On high heels that made her wobble she paced the sidewalk outside one of the nicer hotels. Her legs were as thin and delicate as a heron. A few blocks later I saw this mural on a parking garage and it broke my heart. I am here to help my daughter move after some unexpected upheaval in her life. I flew in yesterday and am driving to Tahoe this morning to pick her up. On a TV in the Phoenix airport yesterday I heard the news of America closing her heart to millions of Americans. The elderly, the addicted, the jobless, the self-employed, the pre-existing. I don't know who we are anymore. I don't understand the people who say they care and continue to go about their daily lives without speaking up. I don't have a lot of money. I will probably lose my health insurance. But what is important to me in this one life I have is to be there for the people I love while also trying to make the world a better place for them and everyone else. Yesterday America told us those are no longer our values. That girl on the street in Reno is somebody's daughter. Just because she's not my daughter doesn't mean she doesn't exist. Where is her Mom? Where is her support system? What is wrong with America? That girl is America's daughter. She deserves a good education, a decent job, an affordable place to live, health insurance, and a Mom who shows up when she needs her. We live In a nation where the wealthy and the well connected can thrive and it's about to get much worse. America is not showing up. #storiesfromtheroad #mothersanddaughters #speakup #saveaca #instagramwriters #instagramstories #wordsandpictures #streetart

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My daughter has been on her own since she was nineteen. She has lived in New York, Missoula, Steamboat Springs, and Lake Tahoe. She rarely asks for help, is strong and independent, and feisty. The teenage years were difficult at our house but as my mother-in-law always said, “the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree.”

The time we spent together on the road was wonderful. There’s something about hours spent in a car and miles and miles of road that had us sharing previously untold stories. We laughed and talked seriously. We complained about the bugs on the window that ruined our road photos and at the end of the day she was patient with my driver delirium when I took a wrong turn or got cranky.

 By the end of the trip, I was in love with her boxer, Athena. Now that I am home I miss the both of them. Athena would sit in the back seat, her head resting on the center console between us. If my daughter went in a gas station to get coffee or snacks or water, Athena stood up and stared out the window, quietly making sobbing sounds.

Sleepy Chelsea

The Motel 6 in Green River, Utah

On our last night together we unpacked her belongings, rearranged furniture, and hung pictures on the wall. Together we made chicken parmesan in the two pans I bought at the grocery store. She drank beer and I drank wine. And this leads to a story I did not share on Instagram for fear of being judged for my imperfections but it seems rather foolish as I was in the state of Nevada and doing nothing illegal.

Me & Athena

Me and Athena in her new home

It happened when we passed through Nevada. I traveled this road with my husband back in September when we came out to Tahoe in the fall and we ran out of gas. On this trip I was hyper-vigilant about filling the tank when it reached the half-way mark.

When we stopped in Battle Mountain for a refill I told my daughter I wanted to drive through the town. I had read Jeanette Walls memoir, The Glass Castle, years ago. I wanted to see the place she wrote about.

The Three Gossips - Arches

The Three Gossips at Arches National Park, Utah

Before we hit the road, she had taken a few tokes from her pipe. Marijuana is recreationally legal in California and Nevada and in case you don’t indulge, it is a tremendous stress reliever. I was driving and wasn’t stressed so I didn’t need relief. One of my great pleasures in life is driving the open highway. For me it works like Xanax.

Battle Mountain was a photographic gem. A rundown rural American town I love to capture. The forgotten places that led to the election of Donald Trump. The places it seems no one is interested in talking about but me. I was so excited to pull over and capture it all I drove right through a stop sign.

The Owl Family Dining Battle Mountain

The back of the Stop sign in Battle Mountain

“Whoop, whoop.” The siren on the police car behind me shouted.

“Shit, what did I do? Roll down the windows, I think the aroma is clinging to you,” I said, my heart pounding.

I pulled into a little park. The police officer followed right behind me, got out of his car, and peered into my open window. He pointed to the very large stop sign on the corner across the street.

“You didn’t see that stop sign?” he asked.

No I did not and yes, it was rather large. But it was on the sidewalk in front of the building I was so captivated by. I started babbling about the long ride from Tahoe, how I flew in from Rhode Island the day before.

“Aaah, that explains the accent,” he said.

I told him I was so busy looking at the scenery I missed the sign.

“Really? All these beautiful places you’re traveling from and to and you stop here in Ugly to take a picture?”

Battle Mountain ugly

Battle Mountain, Nevada

I mentioned Jeanette Walls and her book and how I wanted to see the town for myself.

He peered in the back seat. Athena was panting, her tongue hanging out, her tail wagging.

“Where you headed again?”

“Colorado.” I told him about the move.

He looked at my daughter. “Ski bum, aren’t ya? Well, I’ll tell you something. My Mom would never have done anything like this for me.”

He stepped aside for a moment and spoke to someone on his radio. My heart was still pounding.

When he came back to the car he said, “You know that Walls woman, she got a lot of things wrong about this town. First of all we don’t have tortoises. I don’t know if she really lived here or not but people swear she graduated from the high school.”

“Really?” I smiled. “Well, you know there’s a lot of memoirs out there now and I guess people elaborate or make things up to fit the story.”

“Yeah,” he said, waving his hand around the town. “You can take a picture of the little monument we got over there.” He pointed to the sign we saw coming into town. Welcome to Battle Mountain. It had a few pieces of rusted farm equipment on the dirt in front of it.

Battle Mountain

“I’m not gonna give you a ticket but I do need to run your license.”

I could feel my breathing slow down. I got my license out of my pocketbook and handed it to him. He went back to his car.

After he returned my license my daughter took Athena for a walk and I leaned my head back on the seat and took deep breathes. When I opened my eyes I saw him talking to her.

She returned to the car. After we pulled out of town, I asked her what the cop was talking to her about.

“He said, ‘You know the places you’re driving through on this trip?’” she said. “Then he held up his hand and lifted one finger at a time and said, ‘Legal, legal, illegal, legal. You know what I’m talking about?’ Then I nodded.”

“You didn’t say anything?” I asked.

“I said. Yes. I know what you’re talking about. And then he said, ’In Utah it’s a felony. If you get pulled over in Utah your mom is going to jail. So make sure you don’t have it in the car when you cross the border.”

“Oh my God,” I said. “You have to clean that pipe. I knew he was smelling something. You don’t have any left, do you?”

“No, that was the last of it.”

That night in Park City we told our friend Steve the story. He told us in Utah it’s a felony to even drive across the border with liquor from another state!! We started talking about Jeff Sessions and how he’s encouraging the legal communities to throw the book at criminal defendants and push for the toughest penalties possible. I told Steve about the 60 Minutes episode I saw about Governor Bob McDonnell of Virginia who was found guilty of corruption and bribery but when his case reached the Supreme Court, SCOTUS overturned his conviction. He was vindicated, his felony charge was dropped, and his legal license reinstated.

I guess it depends on who you are in America. Who you know. How much money you have. What kind of legal defense you can assemble. As a Mom I worry about these things. Income inequality, the environment, the future for my daughters, the loss of democracy for all.

In Tahoe the rents are so high kids squeeze into condos or rent little houses that were once sheds. I  picked my daughter up at this house where her friends live:

Little house

Rental House in Kings Beach, CA

I realize there are people out there who will judge me. I can take the heat. My first novel, The Reverse Commute, helped me develop thick skin. There was nothing illegal going on here. The police officer was a decent, kind man who knew and respected the laws of Nevada.

Welcome to Utah

Nevada/Utah border

After we left Utah and entered the safe haven of Colorado we shared a few tokes. Across the street from our Super 8 motel there was a legal dispensary. My daughter purchased some special blend marijuana formulated for soothing the nerves. There was no smoking of any kind allowed in the hotel. Several people were out in the parking lot partaking and chilling out after a long day on the road.

I have many friends who do the same thing now that their kids are adults. Over the past month as I traveled across eighteen states I have seen the hypocrisy of the self-righteous.

I was never very good at discipline. I am no angel and I have made my share of mistakes. During the more difficult, tumultuous times for our family, my daughter told me she thought I was a very tolerant person. I took this as one of the highest compliments she could give me.

The series on Instagram is titled Stories Mothers Write. Mothers are not perfect people. We make mistakes. But with love, honesty, tolerance, and open hearts we do the best we can.

Happy Mother’s Day!