Flying to Atlanta last week meant I didn’t have to fly American Airlines. That was pretty cool. As much as I love American Airlines, what with its airplanes with ashtrays stuffed with decades worth of hardened gum, I find that there are many alternative airlines out there that don’t make you feel like you’re sitting in your parent’s den in 1979.
Not that I’m complaining. Air travel is miraculous. My family and I used to drive down to Florida every year for Christmas, so I know exactly how long it takes to get to Atlanta by car: Crazy long. My brother Dave would drive through the night. That was his forte. Dave is a character – he’s far and away the most intelligent person I know not to have graduated college – but more than that, his skill set extends from building databases to cookery and he excels at them all.
The thing is, Dave thinks he is an amazing driver. And maybe he is, if the metrics used are the same employed by the Secret Service to measure how they might drive if, for example, they found themselves forced to navigate the President through downtown Sarajevo, circa 1992. Dave ranks very high in speediness and swerviness, though less high on patienceness and turning-the-other-cheek-at-being-cut-off-iness, which, again, might serve him well in sniper alley but perhaps less so on Interstate 95 at about 11:30 p.m.
So, that’s my baseline for getting to Atlanta. And that’s why American Airlines, with its smooth talking Captain and seats that recline a few degrees (just enough so that your head doesn’t come crashing forward when you fall asleep) will always be a noble substitute to the Dave-piloted station wagon.
The funny thing about a book tour, and I wonder if other authors feel this way (can I call myself that? An author?), is that I’m never quite sure why I’m going to a place, or where I’m going, or what I’m doing there.
Which is why the good folks at HarperCollins are my lifeline. They provide me with a clean, detailed schedule that I keep with me. Whatever the schedule tells me to do, that’s what I do. I think for that reason alone I’d do very well in the military. I follow orders like nobody’s business. Maybe not so much the lifting things or shooting at stuff, but when somebody tells me to do something, like stand over on that side of the room? I’m there, baby. I’m there.
On my schedule for day one in Atlanta was meeting up with somebody in the lobby of my hotel to go over to the Marriott Marquis to attend First Year Experience. FYE, as they call it, is a pretty awesome annual event in which college and university representatives get together with book people and learn about what’s out there and what might make a good common read for first year students.
You can imagine what these books look like, right? The book Zeitoun, by Dave Eggers, is a great one – the story of Hurricane Katrina, beautifully and simply told, through the eyes of a Syrian man who stays behind to help and ends up being mistaken for a terrorist. That’s a great one for FYE. Less so, perhaps, the Justin Beiber autobiography, whatever the name of that is – something clever, no doubt. Beibs and Carrots – something like that. Don’t Stop Beibing. Leave It to Beiber. (Am I getting close? I honestly don’t know the title…little help?)
Harper sent me down there to talk about Little Princes, and it was an honor to do so, as one of the main reasons I wrote the book in the first place is to try to encourage people to volunteer by showing them, in detail, how you need no skill set or even passion, but just the willingness – regardless of motivation – to take the first step and do it, learn about a people or a culture or a situation outside your own.
I was looking forward to it, and as usual I was running a few minutes late. The schedule said 9:45 a.m. to be downstairs, and at 9:45 I was just finishing up showering. I heard the phone ringing and I quickly shut the shower off, grabbed a hand towel, and answered the phone to tell the person I was meeting that I’d be down in five minutes.
“Hey, Conor – I’m glad we caught you, we’ve been trying for a while,” the guy on the other end said.
“Oh – sorry about that, just running a bit late…” I started, when he cut me off.
“So are you ready to go live?”
I paused. “Am I ready to go live?”
He named his radio station, which hailed from West Virginia. He ended with, “I’m handing you over to Susan now!”
Which was how I found myself, dripping, hand towel in one hand, soaked phone in the other, giving a half-hour live interview to a West Virginia radio station. My initial “Thanks for having me!” was a little squeakier than usual, I think, an over-compensation. I realized I had printed out an old schedule, and was now paying the penalty.
So I tapped out with one finger a message to every HarperCollins person I knew to tell them to tell whomever was waiting for me downstairs that I was going to be late, and then I took a seat, soaking that, and told stories of Little Princes, letting my g’s drop from the end of my verbs to match the interviewer, and as always in these interviews, finding myself transported back to that place and time where a hot shower would have been so luxurious, where there were no phones to speak of, and where the very idea that somebody on the other side of the world would ever care what was happening in this tiny mountain kingdom was nothing short of absurd.