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The Truth about Book Tour Pain

Road trips can be great. With no deadlines, plenty of flexibility, plenty of money, and a car that’s fun to drive, they can bring out a person’s spontaneity and sense of adventure. Is that, you may ask, how my book tour went?

Many friends have asked me about my experience since I returned. And as I’ve relayed my adventure, I’ve been as upbeat as possible. I went out knowing that it might be lonely and tiring at times, and that I would never earn back my investment in time or money. But I’ll be honest here as I wrap up my book tour blog posts: with little flexibility or money, and a vehicle that was anything but fun to drive, it was hard. Sometimes, really hard.

For much of my tour, I was on a fairly tight schedule, and with a few exceptions (the Surf Ballroom, for example), the amount of sight-seeing I could do was minimal. When I had to keep to a schedule, I didn’t feel the luxury of even stopping to read historical markers on the side of the road. So. it wasn’t a leisurely road trip.

The only car I could afford to rent for this trip (relieving my 23-year-old Explorer of the duty) was a cargo van from Hertz. It had no windows in the back, hence no rearview mirror. It had no cruise control; it rattled; it leaked in the rain, soaking everything on one side of the cargo space; and with its high profile, it swayed alarmingly in sidewinds and 18-wheeler drafts. I spent 111.5 hours in this vehicle, and while I got familiar enough with it to operate the dash controls without looking, I never grew fond of it.

One of my worst travel days was on my homebound trip from Taos, New Mexico, to Holbrook, Arizona—nearly seven hours in a downpour and a fierce headwind. As anyone who has traveled much on Interstate 40 across the West knows, there are at least twenty 18-wheelers per mile on the road. Passing those behemoths in the rain and wind is as frightening as driving in a white-out blizzard. Nearly topping that misery was the 100-mile slog from Mullen to Alliance in Nebraska, which could have been deadly. Not only was the scenery dull, but I was without radio, CD, or an auxiliary port. I fought drowsiness all the way with nary a rest area or roadside coffee shop to provide relief.

And food on a budget? Largely horrible, from a Mexican diner in New Mexico (how can that be?) to an Italian supper club in Arizona to “home-cooked food” in the Midwest. I made sandwiches for my midday stops at rest areas, but I tried to find better, lower carb meals at night. I was rarely successful. I’ve never seen so much iceberg lettuce in my life.

Because of my limited budget, I mostly stayed at chain-owned, cookie-cutter, by-the-highway hotels--rectangular blocks that look like Soviet-era housing except for the exterior paint schemes. The better ones had interior corridors, although they still resemble prison blocks. Put bars on those doors and you could fool me. They offer “free breakfast” of cereal and plastic-wrapped sweet rolls, none of which a person with celiac disease can eat. I would duck into the breakfast room for a cup of coffee (which, I guess, is how they can advertise a “hot breakfast”) to get me going until I could find a decent coffee shop down the road. Invariably, Newsmax and Fox News blared in the room. The trip would have been worse if not for the hospitality of friends and relatives, and my determination to not spend any more time in a motel room than I had to.

But enough already. You get the picture: By and large, this is no way to see America.

Nevertheless, it wasn’t all work or miserable. I hiked a bunch when I was in central Iowa with my hometown friend, Diane. And my friend Janet and I saw a lot of downtown Denver before I showed up for my bookstore events there. I stayed a couple of days with friends in Minneapolis at their incredible home when book events fell through and learned a new card game to boot. I spent some time with two of my nieces and my sister, met some incredibly wonderful bookstore owners, and made new friends. Almost everyone was nice to me. And I only gained three pounds.

Truth is, I love traveling. I dream of one day owning a luxury Sprinter van outfitted with a full bed, a nice little kitchen, a functional bathroom, and a good desk for writing. I’m not talking about “Nomadland” kind of asceticism. It would be high-end all the way. I’d throw in my golf clubs, my bike, and my dog (of course I’d have a dog), and I would travel slowly and calmly, knowing if I couldn’t find a campground or a friend’s driveway for the night, I could just park somewhere safe and get a good night’s sleep. I’d stop at every historical marker, play as many 9-hole municipal golf courses as I could find along the way, and stay in a civilized, downtown luxury hotel in a big city every few days.

If I ever do a self-financed book tour again, it will happen because I’ve come up with a Sprinter van and a dog.

All of this bitching can legitimately be classified as First-World complaining. So, to balance it out, I will finish my book tour blog posts next week with one about the First-World advantages that I enjoy and that made this trip possible.

Next: First-World Rewards

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