Tales from the road

My brother and I have just returned from another speaking engagement, this one at the University of Colorado in Boulder. I’d like to thank Nik, Jessa, and the rest of the program folks for being such wonderful hosts. And I’d like to thank all of you who came out to see us.

I do most speaking engagements alone, so the ones with my brother are kind of a refreshing change. Somehow, the audience changes when we're both there. People whose brothers are Aspergians ask me questions. People whose brothers are herion addicts ask him questions. Other people ask us both questions. And then there are those who hoot and yell without asking any questions. Finally, there are the literary people. Folks ask my brother literary questions. For some reason, no one asks me literary questions. Perhaps I'm too logical. If I were at a Star Trek convention, I wouldn't ask Mister Spock literary questions, either.

And then we signed books, for 45 minutes. I always wish we could go faster, but it just doesn't seem to happen. I feel bad for those people waiting all the way to the end, but they always seem jolly so I guess it's OK.

I’ll be speaking next week, too. Monday I’m at the Lighthouse School in Groton Ct, and Friday I’m at the Flutie Foundation conference west of Boston. Saturday, I have a library program right here in South Hadley. Look to the schedule on the right sidebar > > for details.

While in Boulder, I had dinner with Doreen Orion (author of Queen of the Road;) Kristin Nelson (literary agent;) Kim Reid (author of No Place Safe;) and Bella Stander (publicity consultant.)

Here’s Kim’s book: http://www.amazon.com/No-Place-Safe-Kim-Reid/dp/0758220529/ref=pd_bbs_sr_1?ie=UTF8&s=books&qid=1206014263&sr=1-1

Doreen is anxiously awaiting the release of her new book: http://www.amazon.com/Queen-Road-States-Poodle-Husband/dp/0767928539/ref=pd_bbs_sr_1?ie=UTF8&s=books&qid=1206014365&sr=1-1

At dinner, Kristin mentioned the snake story in my book, and Kim piped up with snake stories of her own. She too grew up around Atlanta, near water, and near snakes. We killed them with hoes, she said. And she proceeded to tell us of the time a water moccasin popped out of a hanging planter while her mom was watering the plant.

I don’t know what it was, but her comment took me back 45 years, to my Grandmother and Dandy out in the farm’s garden with those hoes. They’d work the garden, and without missing a beat, chop the head of any poisonous snakes they met. Then, they’d keep hoeing. I remember how Dandy would sharpen the hoes on a grinder so the edges were like cleaver blades, just for that reason.

I have a hoe up here, but I have never needed it. Personally, I lack Kim’s confidence in them. My grandmother (and presumably Kim) was always quick, but I remember Gerald. He wasn’t quick enough, and an angry snake climbed up his hoe handle quick as lightning, and bit him good. That was after Dandy died, and the hoes had gotten dull.

And that is why I used a gun, not a hoe, to deal with water moccasins on the farm.

You never know what strange things people will say. There are no snake stories in Kim’s book, but I recommend it anyway. Her mother worked in the District Attorney’s during the years of the Wayne Williams serial killings. At the time, we were both living in Atlanta – Kim with her parents, me with my grandparents. Who’d have guessed we’d meet up thirty years later in Boulder?

We stopped briefly in Washington DC on the way to Colorado. And that was where it happened. My luggage went one way, and I went another. And thanks to that chance event, I got to meet the United Airlines Lost Baggage staff, all the way across the world in India.

They were not one bit of help, but they were very polite. Everyone I spoke to was quick to reassure me, as in this particularly noteworthy passage:

Yes, sir, I understand. You are unhappy. You are there, and I am here. You are cold, and I am warm. And you wish it were spring. Yes. I am sorry for you too. That fellow made me wonder if Dr. Seuss had really grown up in India.

And that pretty much summed it up. I called six times, and never once got a straight answer about my luggage.

I am sorry sir, the airport does not answer the telephone. Perhaps they are busy delivering your bag. Yes, perhaps your baggage is out with a delivery service right this minute. Perhaps you should call us back in three hours, and all will be better.

And when that didn’t work,

I am so sorry sir, but instead of your bag, may I offer you a gift? I would like to send you a certificate for twenty five dollars, good on your next United flight. That would make you so happy? Yes, sir!

Needless to say, that did not make me happy. Luckily, I was able to recover my luggage from the baggage office at the Denver airport in time to fly home with it. At least it all turned out well. The Untited staff at the airport were also polite, but unlike the call center staff in India, they got results.

And now I am home again.


ssas said…
Did you borrow a shirt from your bro? That's what I would've done. I have two, and they're huge, but luggageless beggars cannot be choosers.

I will forever regret not being able to come meet you again. :(
John Robison said…
I ended up going to the Army store on Pearl St and buying some new clothes. My brother went back the day before.
Doreen Orion said…
It was great meeting you, John. Glad to know the luggage story had an eventual happy ending.
Doreen Orion said…

Forgot to mention, I blogged about our meeting as well (www.queenoftheroadthebook.com/blog) and posted a couple of pictures.

(And, I do understand why you didn't comment on my shoes - it's a guy thing, isn't it?)
kim reid said…
I had a great time talking memoir and snakes with you. Next time, we'll have to trade Atlanta stories.

I'm glad they found your luggage.

Trish Ryan said…
I love the way you dissect the questions fielded by you and your brother...funny stuff. And you're right, there's probably no point in asking Spock literary questions when there are so many other topics on which he can speak with great authority :)
I loved Kim's book. Hated to turn the final page. Like yours, the best non-fiction reads like fiction. I highly recommend No Safe Place.

Glad you had a good trip - sorry about the luggage fiasco. At your size you could hardly borrow from Augusten. What a hassle!
ssas said…
I love that store!! Good for you.
Chris Eldin said…
Wish I was there!! Sounds like a good time was had by all, for the most part!
Sandra Cormier said…
What a great dinner that must have been! I read Doreen's account earlier.

I have a snake story in my WIP right now. A spitting cobra in a fellow's garage let loose with its 'spit' and got him right across the forehead. Good thing it didn't get him in the eyes.
Michelle O'Neil said…
Do any of the people who hoot and yell "Woof?"
John Robison said…
Michelle, people do woof at me, but they are not the same ones that hoot and yell at these joint events.

You cann tell 'em apart because the hooters and yellers often have pint flasks sticking out of pockets.
Lisa said…
I had all the notice in the world, but it didn't prevent a work situation from ruining my plans. I am really sorry I was unable to drive up to Boulder.

United misplaced my bag a week ago on an overnight trip to San Antonio. Actually, it just didn't make it on the same flight I did. Unfortunately, I had to wait up until after midnight to find out if it would make it and they'd get it to my room or not. They did, so it all ended well.

I read about your dinner on Bella's blog and it sounds like you had a great time. Maybe next time I'm back east I'll make an event. I am confident it's going to happen one of these times.
Polly Kahl said…
Glad you had a good time John, and it sounds like you guys gave a great presentation, as usual. And what a great group for dinner. Talk about illustrious.
Cornelia Read said…
John, your story about the Indian luggage consultants reminds me of one of my favorite travel anecdotes ever...

A great pal of mine spent a year wandering around India, having saved up her earnings as an English teacher in Japan the previous year.

She'd studied theater education as a grad student, and started checking out local stage productions during her travels--meeting more and more people involved with theatrical stuff at each stop. Finally, someone asked her if she'd be interested in attending a theater festival, due to be held several weeks later and halfway across the country. Thinking that sounded like great fun, she readily agreed.

Some weeks hence--rolling into the festival town at the end of a multi-stop 14-hour rural bus trip--she was amazed to discover that banners emblazoned with her name had been stretched across the main street... banners with things like "WELCOME, INTERNATIONAL EXPERT ON THE DRAMATIC ARTS" also emblazoned therein.

She was tired, and dusty, and badly in need of some sugary cold drinks as sustenance, preferably followed by a long nap, but a committee of local dignitaries had been sent to meet her bus and escort her to lodgings in the local government-run guest house.

The dignitaries swept her into her room there, seating themselves on the bed and the desk and all available chairs but one, placed for her in the room's very center. They then produced numerous bottles of whisky and bags of candy, and with tremendous enthusiasm began to pepper her with questions about her experiences as an International Dramatic Arts Expert, etc.

After four hours of this, she meekly said that while greatly honored by their kind attentions, she would be humbly grateful if the august committee might permit her to lie down and attempt to get a bit of sleep.

The committee chairman, who was seated with several colleagues along the length of her bed, looked up in shock and said, "But Madam... we are trying to MINGLE you."
Funny, John, I was just at that same United baggage office here in Denver the other day, picking up a garment bag that had been abandoned by us in our hurry to get everyone home and to bed at the end of our spring break trip. You're right; they're very friendly and helpful there. Can't say I'd ever want that job, though!

So glad you had a great trip to Boulder and got to dine with so many local literary ladies. They're all wonderful, aren't they? I can just picture Kim hacking at a snake in her mother's yard. Her book is fantastic! Karen
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