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L. Timmel Duchamp
Posted on Friday, November 12, 2004 - 03:25 pm:   

It's too late, obviously, for me to post a log, given that the October Tour is now fast receding into the past & my real-time journal coverage is too spotty to pass as one. What I can do, though, is consult my journal entries & quote from them (where appropriate) & offer a few reflections on the experience.

At the time Eileen & I were setting up the tour I didn't give much thought to what the sheer length of the trip might entail beyond worrying that I might suffer prolonged sleep-deprivation. (Late October/early November & late May/early June are the two times of year I'm most susceptible to this; in the past, two instances of prolonged sleep-deprivation during these seasons generated extreme mental states that in the case that lasted twelve days led to my rushing to the ER to get my left hand stitched up following a mishap with corkscrew & a wine cork sealed with wax rather than cover with foil; in fact, the accident was so improbable that the ER people questioned me repeatedly, perhaps because I neglected to fill them in on my sleep-deprivation.) Looking back over the notes I took during the tour, I'm struck not only by the expected difference in perception between that informed by hindsight from that occurring in real-time, but more particularly by how many different kinds of narratives we were up against & how they did or did not shape, reflect, or intersect with our actual experiences. There are plenty of narratives, for instance, about road trips & promotional tours. But they aren't ever about middle-aged women who are science fiction writers.* If I had to sum up the greatest departures from expectations, I'd say that the three aspects of our tour that came as the biggest surprise were (a) the impact the weather had on us; (b) the evolution of events from ones in which three (or four) individuals read to those of group performance; & (c) the difference age can make to such endeavors.

Of course the weather dogged us from the start. It was raining the night Gwyneth arrived. It rained the next day & evening, when we did our first event in Bothell at Third Place Books; & afterwards, when we drove to Old Bothell for dinner, the rain slammed down on us in buckets. It let up briefly the next day, then started again. It was raining when we picked up the rental car at the Hilton. It was raining as we drove to Portland & straight to Wrigley-Cross, where we arrived with ten minutes to spare. But the next morning we woke to sunlight: & sat basking in it in Molly's dining room, drinking coffee & eating toast with delicious preserves & reading the newspaper about how the voter registrations of Democrats had been deliberately destroyed, surrounded by windows & glorious, energizing light. It felt as though the darkness had been beaten back. I felt good that morning; our tour was off to a fine start, & as soon as Gwyneth could begin sleeply soundly, the world would be our oyster. So then down we drove into the city, to have sushi with UKL. Gwyneth, who is not fond of raw fish & so ordered the "California" roll, which features avocado rather than fish, took a photo of us sitting at a table in a room lit by natural light. What a treat, being able to see by daylight in the daytime! Strolling the streets of Portland, we had no need for umbrellas. Oh the wonder of it!

I like rain, myself. I especially like it in fall, following the dry summers we so often have in Seattle. But this rain was different. It started before our tour & followed us down the coast. & it wasn't the usual gentle mist-to-drizzle rain typical of Seattle, but heavy, unrelenting sheets of water that are more appropriate to places like Louisiana than the Pacific Northwest. Such a species of rain, after awhile, begins to strike one as a climatic invader, comparable to the English Ivy that has invaded the ecology of Seattle. We uproot the latter, the way we uproot weeds, whenever we find it in our gardens, parks, & woods. But weather just doesn't work that way. It can't be uprooted or sent away, anymore than the wind or sun or moon can.

Our respite from the rain was short-lived, & the clouds resumed dumping on us. When we woke Thursday morning, Leslie began scouring the internet & even made some phone calls to find out what the condition of the pass over the Siskiyous would be like later in the day. They'd had snowfall there the previous day, she said. While regaling us with delicious granola, she talked in the grim language of chains. She gave us packets of Vitamin C she instructed us to mix with water every morning, to bolster our immune systems while she allowed us to check our email on her laptop. She even tried to find out where the nearest National Car Rental outlet was, with the idea of getting them to give us chains. Finally, she insisted we take two coats she said she had been going to give to Goodwill-- one a knee-length plaid wool coat (which fit Gwyneth quite well), the other a black leather jacket Eileen described as "Suburban Goth." We thanked Leslie & jammed these into the near-to-bursting trunk. Leslie then got into her car & led us through the pouring rain to her Credit Union, which lavishes hospitality on its patrons in the form of coffee, candy, & cookies, & where she got the teller to cash Gwyneth's travelers checks (left over from a previous trip to the US). & then we went to the super-market sized organic food store to purchase sandwiches & juice so that we wouldn't have to stop for lunch. At last, a few minutes before noon, we headed for the highway.

Once we were back on the road, I booted my laptop & started writing notes. I'll quote some of them here:

21 October, 2004
Thursday noon
Somewhere on I-5, south of Eugene

I'm sitting in the backseat; Eileen's driving, Gwyneth's riding shot-gun, & Michael Hurley is playing on the stereo. It's pouring rain, but I can still make out a mountain ridge to the East. Before leaving Eugene, we checked conditions for the pass we need to cross today, & Leslie pressed on us a black leather jacket & a long wool coat she says she was intending to give to Goodwill & that we can therefore leave behind when they've served their purpose. We hope, of course, that there will be no purpose for said coats to serve, for freezing temperatures & blankets of snow is a threat we know full well we're not prepared to cope with (despite Leslie's best efforts). Have I suddenly become an optimist? Neither I nor Eileen nor Gwyneth expect to have to buy chains & put them on our tires. Hmm. I smell woodsmoke. Maybe someone's burning slag somewhere? There's surely no forest gone to fire in this weather. Lovely scenery in the mist & rain. Hills & buttes thrusting up here & there. Just passed a lovely slab of sediimented gray rock, shiny with the rain running down it. & now the smell of woodsmoke is gone. (As I type, the scenery just whips by.) Gwyneth & I were struck, reading Leslie's morning paper (called something like the Register Guard), by the language used in the weather forecast: "Dreary weather" is not what anyone would call scientifically precise lanugage.

This is the first bit of time I've had to write anything about the tour; I suppose that's why Gwyneth's arrival last Friday night seems a long time ago. Waiting for her at SeaTac, I oscillated between confidence that I'd have no trouble recognizing her and fear that she'd walk right past me & would wonder whether I'd remembered to pick her up. I kept eyeing a driver who was holding up a sign for a passenger he was meeting & wondering if I should have made a sign to hold up to flag Gwyneth. But I knew her the instant I saw her. While we were waiting at the carousel for her baggage, she said she'd been traveling for about 24 hours & was dazed. She'd flown to Phoenix first, where US security people photographed & fingerprinted her. All the security people, she said, were excited by having seen a famous golfer who was in the line just ahead of her. As a consequence, they took little interest in her.

Our first event was Saturday. Gwyneth got no sleep but said that lying quietly with her eyes closed helped. -- ah. I see we've left the highway & are driving down the main street of a small town called Oakland that Eileen has identified as a tourist trap. I haven't been paying attention, but I suspect we're here because at least one of us is interested in a rest room break. Lots of political signs, both Kerry-Edwards & Bush-Cheney. It's no longer raining, & there's a brightness behind an area of the clouds. Eileen has been searching for a library & now has found it. "It's very very quiet," Gwyneth says. There are mainly antique stores, that we can see. Surely the antique-store trade can't be the town's major source of income...

We're parked now beside a public building that houses the library. Eileen & Gwyneth have gone down, & when they return Gwyneth will take over the driving seat, with Eileen riding shot-gun, prepared to remind G., as necessary, to drive on the right side of the road.

To go back to last weekend: Gwyneth, Tom, & I drove to the mall near Bothell for our reading at Third Place Books. We took with us copies of Life, With Her Body Changeling, & The Grand Conversation. As well as a poster, bookmarks, & Aqueduct Press brochures.

I paused here & put the laptop into sleep mode, then resumed the entry later, when we got back on I-5.

I put the laptop into sleep mode when Gwyneth & Eileen returned from the library, since we decided to eat lunch here. Before leaving Eugene, we picked up sandwiches & drinks & Tim's potato chips in an organic market Leslie recommended. Neither Gwyneth nor I had remembered to bring our reading glasses into the store, so Gwyneth ended up choosing a bottled drink the ingredients of which were a mystery. (We assumed from the color that it would be some kind of berry.) But when Gwyneth opened it just now to drink with lunch, she discovered it was the consistency of mud. "Acai" it's called (with a sedilla on the "c" & an accent mark over the "i"). It was undrinkable, & when Gwyneth, wearing her reading glasses read the ingredients, she found it contained chiefly evaporated cane juice & white grape juice. Now, as I write, Gwyneth is practicing driving the car around the block before returning us to the highway. Just about every house in this town has a political sign of some kind or other in its yard. Eileen is providing such gentle, easy-going advice about driving in the right-hand lane that I suspect she'd make a good driving teacher. & now it's starting to rain again. But Gwyneth has decided she needs a bit more practice, so Eileen''s taking over since we've got a lot of driving to get done today.

To go back to Saturday's event. Many of the people attending came from Seattle for the event-- for instance, Nisi Shawl, Victoria Garcia, Brad Matter, Jerry Kauffman. Eileen read first, from "Coming to Terms," I read second (a passage from "The Apprenticeship of Isabetta di Pietro Cavazzi"), & Gwyneth read two passages from Life, including one featuring a conversation between Anna Senoz & the AI, Suri & the other showing Ramone picking up a dyke in the gym & then going home & having a brutal fight with "Tex" which included his killing Bill, Ramone's bird. After we read, the three of us sat at the table placed at the front of the space & answered questions from the audience, including one about whether any of us find one kind of writing easier than other kinds. I happily answered questions about Aqueduct Press's Conversation Pieces series-- & learned that I should not be calling them "chapbooks" because they're perfect bound & have square spines. (In fact, when I mentioned Aqueduct's "chapbooks" on the phone to Judith Chandler at Third Place, she said that Third Place didn't stock chapbooks, though I could bring them along to be sold on consignment. But when she saw them, she bought a few copies of each for Third Place.)

After the event, a group of us drove to "Old Bothell"-- a couple of blocks of stores & restaurants--- to eat at a Thai restaurant. (Eileen & John Berry, Gwyneth, me, Tom, Jerry Kauffman & Suzle, & Brad Matter.) We were so caught up in conversation that we forgot to specify how spicy we wanted the food, & the server, oddly enough, didn't ask us. & so we ended up with bland Thai food (which sounds to me like a contradiction in terms) that was otherwise well-prepared.

Sunday's event at the University Bookstore in Seattle was scheduled to start at 2:30. Gwyneth & I, chatting over coffee with perrin bread, cheese, & pears in the kitchen, almost forgot to go. Fortunately, I did notice the time about two minutes before we had to leave, called up the stairs to Tom & snatched the poster, bookmarks, & brochures & carried them out to the car. (I'd already hand-delivered copies of the chapbooks on Thursday & knew they had ample supplies of Life & Love's Body, so had no need to take books with me.) We arrived at the bookstore in time to put up the poster & arrange the bookmarks & brochures with the stacks of our books on display (including of a few of the anthologies in which we have stories). When Nicola & Eileen arrived, the four of us appropriated a book aisle as our green room & decided the order of our readings & who would introduce whom. Our original order put Nicola first, followed by Eileen, Gwyneth, then me.

That particular entry breaks off at this point because my battery was nearly exhausted & I'd thoughtlessly left the spare in a bag buried under mounds of luggage in the trunk. We did get over the pass that afternoon. (The snow that had fallen the previous day, happily for us, had melted.) I took digital photos from the back of the car, & at one point we parked at a look-out so that Gwyneth & I could get out & take more pictures. By this point we began to wonder where we should stop for the night. Nina had suggested a place, but we wanted to get further than that in the day's progress. At just about the time Shasta came into view, we recalled, while studying the map looking for likely stopping-places, Leslie's off-hand remark about Dunsmuire. She had said that back in the '60s she & her teenaged friends used to fantasize getting pregnant & onto welfare & moving to Dunsmuire to live. (Obviously that's not the kind of fantasy any teenager could have these days...) We were, frankly, intrigued. & so when we came to Dunsmuire, we pulled off the highway & cruised down the hill onto Dunsmuire's main drag. After looking over the scanty off-season offerings, we settled on a place at the edge of town called "Cave Springs." It supposedly featured hot springs & "soda springs," but we never saw these. (It was, of course, raining.) Although Gwyneth still had not achieved a normal sleep cycle, wanting to economize, we booked one room for all three of us. Once checked in, we quickly unpacked the car, strolled to the edge of the grounds, admired what we could see of the mountains, & duly took photographs of same. & then we headed back to town.

First we walked up & down the main street, casing out the restaurants that were open. The liveliest place was a sports bar, which was doing a roaring business. Gwyneth made a point of suggesting that this seemed to be the in-place to go. Our first stop, though, was a bar attached to a restaurant with a French-inflected Vietnamese menu. While we sipped beer, we looked more closely at the menu than we had while strolling the street. Eileen, who said she couldn't taste anything because of the cold she'd had the week before, opined that the prices were exorbitant, especially for such a small town. (They were about comparable to Wild Ginger, which is a first-rate restaurant in Seattle.) So we did not order food. Instead we chatted, mostly, as I recall, about what is involved in becoming a professional musician. Somewhere along the way I was asked a question that elicited bits of the story of why I left music.

When we finished our beer we paid our tab, walked a few doors down the street, & foolishly entered the River Cafe. The menu posted outside sounded good, & the prices were reasonable. We should have been tipped off by the fact that there was only one couple inside-- & by the weird flourscent-lit decor of the place. Gwyneth again noted that there were a lot of people in the sports bar. But no, we ignored the signs that should have been obvious to us, we shied away from entering the sports bar, even though a passerby assured us there was no smoking inside. Instead, when the lone couple inside the River Cafe waved to us, beckoning us in, we allowed ourselves to be drawn in. & when we opened the door & stuck our heads inside, the couple raved about how good the food was. (Later, of coure, we could not help but wonder whether they were related to the owner or paid shills, only pretending to eat. Or even evil persons pretending to have enjoyed the food, only wanting company in misery.) So in we went & sat down at a table by the wall, a table festooned with plastic flowers & a card advertising the kind of beer I never drink if I can help it. An enormous television was on at the front of the restaurant (tuned to a station no one was watching). Under the flourescent lighting the decor was peculiar. My memory is already sketchy about the details: pictures of people fishing, IIRC. As far as we could tell, there was one person working in the restaurant. He eventually came out & brought Gwyneth & me beer & Eileen a glass of wine & took our food order. Gwyneth & I said that yes, we would like glasses in which to pour our bottled beer. The glasses were pint pickling jars-- including the glass for Eileen's wine.

One hour later, we still hadn't been served any food, but we were working happily on our second round of drinks there. Our conversation ranged all over the map (both metaphorically & literally speaking). At some point a second person came in & went past us, presumably to work in the kitchen. The happy couple that had so enjoyed their meal left. Some teenagers came in & left. & an adult man came in & sat down three tables away from us; for some reason he got food before we did. Finally, the server brought our orders. At the sight of my plate, my heart sank. But I was hungry. (Lunch in Oakland lay about seven hours in the past.) I picked up my fork & grimly conveyed a bite to my mouth. Oh god. It was horrible. I couldn't even tell what I was eating-- everything had been burned past identification through texture or flavor, beyond the pervasive presence of (burned) chili peppers & grease. The grease contaminated the rice, making it too disgusting to eat. & it was all stone cold. Gwyneth valiantly worked at her plate. If Eileen was able to eat more than one or two bites, I didn't see her do so. Without discussing our food, we finished our drinks & continued talking. When the server made one of his rare apperances in the room, we got him to bring the check. We then paid quickly & escaped.

Before returning to the motel, we made a circuit of the downtown, discovering the back street we hadn't noticed before. We dawdled, peering into windows, giggling about the wretchedness of the food served at the River Cafe & Eileen's theory that a menu-writer had passed through town, creating deceptive menus designed to snare unwary travelers just passing through. Gwyneth again noted that the sports bar was crowded. On the back street we discovered a gallery with cafe called the Brown Trout, which we decided to check out for breakfast.

Our our return to our room at Cave Springs, we finished off the Tim's potato chips left over from lunch & read the real estate ads that made up a fair portion of the local newspaper. I plugged in my laptop, my digital camera battery's charger, & my electric toothbrush all for recharging. We hadn't been able to discover the charm Dunsmuire had exercised on Leslie & her friends in the 1960s (a charm that a toxic spill resulting from a derailment in the 1980s may well have killed), but we had gotten over the pass without having to stop to put chains on the tires & had gone a fair chunk of the distance to our next destination. Tomorrow we would hit Davis. Soon, I fondly believed, I would be breaking out my tee-shirt & sandals & tucking my umbrella into the trunk for the duration.

Boy, was I deluded.

(To be continued...)
*At various times during the trip I imagined how Gwyneth, Eileen, & I would variously (& very differently) be likely to use material from our tour in our own particular fictional styles, as well as how such material would be likely to play out in other sorts of fictional narratives. When we were trapped (as it felt at the time) in LA, Eileen kept saying it felt just like Blade Runner. For me, it felt more apocalyptic than near-future dystopian, but the lost-in-the-girtty-details kind of apocalyptic so characteristic of my life-long recurring end-of-the-world dreams.
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Nancy Jane
Posted on Friday, November 12, 2004 - 04:57 pm:   

I doubt there are many road trip narratives about middle-aged women, period, much less middle-aged women who are SF writers. As a middle-aged woman who is partial to road trips both actual and fictional, I am enjoying the narrative and look forward to seeing bits and pieces of this trip turned into fiction.

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Amy Sedivy
Posted on Sunday, November 21, 2004 - 05:23 pm:   

Ah, you've whetted my appetite for more! I want to know about the LA leg of the trip and its Blade Runner, apolcalyptic essence. And San Diego and then Tempe. It's a hard task to turn notes into prose but your prose is so entertaining, I hope you take the time!

Amy (who shared a shuttle with you on the way to Phoenix airport from Tempe)
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L. Timmel Duchamp
Posted on Tuesday, November 23, 2004 - 09:42 pm:   

Hi, Amy! I meant to write another installment last week but got derailed. I'll see if I can manage one in the next day or two, though.


PS You will definitely be hearing from me about the subscription for Conversation Pieces. Getting that started is on my to do list (though not, admittedly, at the top).

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