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The Long and Not-Winding Road

Did you ever arrive at an appointment with someone you’d never met before, and the second you saw his or her face, you knew they weren’t impressed?


Well, it happened to me in Kansas. But I’m getting ahead of myself.


After I left Denver, and my meetings in the two bookstores there, I spent a couple of days working on my new manuscript and hiking with a high-school friend, Barb McVicker Halvorson. Barb and I hadn’t spent more than five minutes together in the past 49 years since we graduated from Roland Story High (yes, we were both precocious five-year-old high-school graduates, in case you’re wondering). But we had no trouble filling the airspace with conversation as we relaxed in the beautiful, view-blessed home she and her husband, Gordon, bought and reconstructed in the foothills of the Rockies west of Denver.


The road up to their home was a winding, hairpin-infested challenge for the cargo van, but I came to miss its curves once I hit the highways east of Denver on my way to Nebraska. I fought drowsiness and impatience for hundreds of miles. Although I grew up in what so many people think of “flyover country”—and I am generally aggrieved at that moniker for the Midwest—hours into my drive, I was wishing I was flying over it. (I am expecting a few complaints about this comment.)


My destination was Lawrence, Kansas, the home of the University of Kansas, and a pretty, lively town just west of Kansas City. The downtown streets are cheerful, treed, and full of interesting shops. I was headed to Raven Books, owned by Danny Caine, famous among literary circles for his discussion about Amazon on NPR’s Fresh Air cultural program.

I think Danny may have been expecting someone more interesting than a gray-haired, white, straight woman, as he seemed a little less than thrilled to see me. (I can’t blame him. I'm not that interesting.) His was the chilliest reception I received from any bookstore on my trip. We spent about four minutes talking about indie publishers (it seemed that his enthusiasm for “indies” may be for bookstores and not for publishers), and he posed with me for a photo with his hands in his pockets. I bought a couple books (Matrix and All’s Well – both Big 5 publishers’ books which ironically dominate most indie bookstore shelves) and some postcards; left some booklights and bookmarks from Blackstone, my highly respected indie publisher; and hit the road for Iowa.


More straight (and straight into a northeast wind, not easy with a high-profile cargo van!) roads later, I crossed the Iowa border and stopped for a Maid-Rite and a cup of coffee to try to stay awake for the final two and half hours to my destination. Maid-Rite is an Iowa tradition since 1926. Its loose hamburger meat on a small bun used to be served only with mustard and pickles, but today, the chain’s franchisees serve pulled pork, pork tenderloin, and other sandwiches, and—founder Fred Angell must be turning in his grave—allow you to put catsup and onion on them, too. There’s some family lore that my mother was working at a Maid-Rite at the time she met my father, but like most my family’s stories, that’s probably apocryphal.


At any rate, the fortification was enough to power me through the next 125 miles to Story City, Iowa, my hometown and my next stop.


NEXT: The friendliest bookstore in the world

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