I’ve spent a lot of time in England – really I have – and I have friends and family there. It doesn’t feel exotic; it feels more homey than anything else. I know London well. And yet I cannot go to England and not instinctively think everybody sounds like butlers. They could be selling gum, but more often it’s the ones who are giving directions. The guys at the airport. As them where the baggage carousel is, and it’s like you’re the King of Siam. “Right around the corner there, sir, and make a left. Did you come in from Ireland?” I tell them I did. “Your baggage will be on carousel one or two, then.” How can you not love this country? And why aren’t we all talking like this? I felt like I was about to board a steamer.
The book tour has taken me far and wide over the last weeks, including a trip to Minnesota. Even in early March, the small town I visited was a new kind of cold – a remote cold, a blustery cold. I was hurrying from my rented car into a hotel, chin tucked against my chest against the icy wind, and wondering what would happen if I suddenly twisted my ankle. What if I went down, right there? How long before I froze to death? Minutes? Seconds? Are the doormen looking out for this kind of thing? I imagined Luke Skywalker, freezing to death, in the snows of Hoth, seeing Han Solo riding up to save him on a Tan-Tan. Would they pick me up and throw me over some kind of pack horse, or just drag me and my bags into the lobby?
For one of the six years I lived in Prague, my brother Pete lived there too. Pete’s about eleven years older than me and had come out on a kind of break. He had been based in San Francisco for many years, which accounted for the fact that he thought he needed to buy a car in Prague. “You don’t need a car. Why would you need a car?” “Dates, man! How do you take women out if you don’t have a car?” he said. People in San Francisco drive. You’d never even think to drive to pick up a woman for a date in New York City, but in San Francisco, I suppose it makes sense. Which is why, perhaps, it should have come as no surprise that my publisher rented me a car to get around the Bay Area for my three days there last week. I rented from Hertz and the problem with Hertz – as you may already know – is that their GPS is some kind of strange in-house proprietary software that seems to be updated one per Age. The graphics on it are like the very first Texas Instruments that we worked on when we were kids and computers were brand new. The TI Turtle. If you are old like me – that is, mid-30’s – you know and love the TI Turtle, unless I made it up, which would be pretty embarrassing and also weird.
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.
I was in Seattle last week, and let me tell you something about Seattle: Nobody jay walks. Did you know that? What’s the story there? Is jay walking just a New York City thing? The idea that in NYC you would stand patiently on a street corner while no cars were coming, regardless of the color of the traffic light, is almost inconceivable. In Seattle, this is what they do. I didn’t realize this, of course. I just went ahead and strolled across the road at a red light. People stared, not meanly, because Seattle people aren’t mean, but more in wonder, as if I had just set fire to a dumpster and casually strolled away.