Tag Archives: road trips

The Day Before The First Day

A bit of background: Jack and Wendy are hosting Oliver and Barbara, dear friends from Scotland. Jack and Barbara are old singing pals, and Oliver is a TV Producer. They’ve always wanted to see some of America’s West, so we are on a road trip until July 25, headed out through Kentucky, Indiana, Illinois, Missouri, Iowa, Wisconsin, South Dakota, North Dakota, Wyoming, Montana, and possibly a bit of Kansas. We’ve been planning this trip for a year now, starting July 9. Read along from an armchair where the sunburn and skinned knees won’t hurt quite so much as our plucky band of woefully unfit Brits and their bemused, disorganized token American take this road trip.

Spirits are high, and so are temperatures. Our Barbara got off the plane carrying more than her enormous red suitcase; she’d picked up a fellow traveler that stole her voice and brought the hacking, coughing, ear-clogging, cotton-wool head of “that thing going around.”sick-on-vacation-1

We all still love Barbara, but she was better on Friday, and I was down with it. Whatever it is, it strikes fast. As I was stewing in my bed of misery (Okay, upstairs on the chaise lounge in the classic room, covered in foster kittens) OIiver came by and said, “Have you got anything for a sore throat?”

Third victim claimed.

Jack, of course, never gets these things, because he smokes, drinks, and doesn’t eat vegetables. He’s a genetic anomaly, and he is cheerfully watching the rest of us hack up small pieces of lung and down Sudafed, emitting sympathetic noises and downing doctored cokes. Maybe I should drink more whisky.

Still and all, we were so excited to begin this road trip that we piled one recovering, two hacking, and one pickled passenger into the little Nissan van—we gave my parents the Prius in return for the loan of this larger vehicle—and headed off to Frankfort, KY right after Barbara’s last concert Sunday. Old friends Charles and Mary had agreed to bed and breakfast us overnight, being sweet people. I was very much looking forward to catching up with them as well. As storytellers on the early road, Mary and I were used to artists asking for a crash pass.

All this I explained driving up the road. At the end, Oliver commented, “Yes, I’m sure your old friends will be delighted with our in-chorus coughing.” Well, yes. I still wasn’t ready to admit we were sick, despite the fact our voices were so low, we were covering Statler brothers tunes in the car.

C’est la vie, and we did try to avoid touching anything much at Mary’s, and put our laundry in the washer. The most magnificent breakfast was laid out on their glorious screened-in back porch, including “Eggs a la Charles,” a mixture of all that is good in the kitchen world.

Thoughtfully, Charles and Mary had arranged a racoon visitor from their nearby woodland. He’d clearly been out all night partying and was working his way home when he passed by. Jack offered him a whisky.

And so we start out on Day One with spirits high, fevers somewhat abated, and more Sudafed. Hi ho for a life on the open road.


Filed under humor, Life reflections, Little Bookstore of Big Stone Gap, small town USA, Uncategorized, Wendy Welch

Anna, I’ve a Feeling We’re Not in Kansas Anymore….

DSCN0406Last Saturday as I returned from the Farmers Market, two young women walked up and asked if the shop were open. I affirmed it was.
“Great. We just want to look around.” The pair seemed … subdued, but also exuberant. An odd combination. Also, the more I thought about it, the more alike the girls looked.
Besides, it’s rude to leave browsers alone unless you know that’s what they want, so I ambled into the shop and asked if they wanted help finding anything. The taller of the two said, “We read your book, and we drove from Kansas yesterday just to visit your shop.”
“How long did that take you?” I asked, blinking.
“About 13 hours. We stayed in the hotel here last night,” said the one who would later identify herself as Leslie.
“Oh, what a pity we didn’t know you were here! We had a murder mystery. You could have joined in the fun.”
“We might not have been good company last night,” said Anna, back to me, voice tight. “We came down that Black Mountain Road.”
OMG. Jack and I were in Kansas last year for book publicity, and we remember the 75-mph speed limit, perfectly feasible because you can see for-bleedin’-ever down those long, straight roads. Black Mountain is not so much hairpin curves as a series of interlocking mobius strips. There are places where you drive a two-lane road against a rock cliff, a 90-foot drop down the mountain on the other side.
I couldn’t think fast enough to cover my response.
“You come from a state where ant colonies are designated hill country, and you drove through Benham, Kentucky?” My voice squeaked. “You could have been killed!”
Leslie rolled her eyes. “That’s what Anna said. Several times.”
Anna, investigating the history section, snorted.
Leslie had read Little Bookstore some six months ago, and told her family about her intention to road trip to see the place as soon as the weather let up. (Think snow on a surface so flat, you can see for three days’ walk in any direction, and you’ll understand her sensible urge to wait.)
Her dad was succinct. “Whyya wanna drive two days to see a bookstore?”
Undeterred, Leslie, an accountant by trade (“But I have a personality!”) invited her twin sister along. Anna works for the Immigration section of Homeland Security. We joked that she probably processed Jack’s citizenship claim.
Picture it: two happy-go-lucky career girls, out on a long weekend, headed for some wild and wooly times visiting a bookstore, careening around curves that make truckers wake screaming in the night.
“We looked at the map, and that seemed shorter than going around by the highway. So we figured, what’s the difference?” This from Anna, whose hands only stopped shaking after a second cup of tea. “And then my cell phone lost reception, and we had to kind of guess which way.”
There are places along Black Mountain where you not only don’t get cell reception, but they never find the bodies.
I shook my head. “I’m flattered,” I said. “And grateful you two are alive. Would you like to see some of the town before we map you a different route home?”
So my friend Elizabeth and I took Leslie for a nice relaxing walk on the town’s Greenbelt, where all the curves are gentle. We traded small town anecdotes and poison ivy remedies, and on returning to the bookshop showed them how to go back via the expressway. Anna still looked dubious, but we elicited promises that they would text when they reached safety, and waved goodbye.
We’ve heard from the twins since their return to Kansas, so we know they made it home. And for anyone else from the flatlands planning a visit to our curve in the neck of these woods, please call first. We’ll be happy to advise you on routes.



Filed under Big Stone Gap, bookstore management, humor, Life reflections, out of things to read, publishing, reading, small town USA, Uncategorized, VA, writing

What type of Type is your Type?

The other day I walked through the bookstore carrying–of all things–a book, and Jack said, “That looks your sort of thing.”

“Eh?”  I responded, blinking.

“That’s your type of book. I saw it when it came in and figured you’d find it before long.”

Gentle reader, I have never before considered that I have a “type of book,” believing myself more the cereal box variety of bibliophile. Granted, I avoid horror, romance and paperbacks bedecked with sword-wielding bikini-clad blonds, but that doesn’t mean I have a “type.” Of type.

Does it?

In the warm light of Jack’s “Sometimes the person on the other side of the bed sees things you don’t” smile, I assessed my reading habits. Gosh darn it, he’s right. Here are five things guaranteed to make me like a book:

1) It features a road trip. I don’t care where they’re going or what they do when they get there; if  the protagonists are driving, flying, walking, or boating across a big space, I’m in. Queen of the Road, The Great Typo Hunt, A Walk Across America, A Walk in the Woods, even The Long Walk (an escape book from the Gulag years). Heck, one of my all-time favorite pieces of music is Brendan’s Voyage, in which Shawn Davey scored the adventures of two modern guys replicating a monk’s coracle voyage from Ireland to Newfoundland. If the main characters are moving, it’s good enough for me.

2) It’s a fictitious story of a child growing up without recognizing what’s going on around her. I love stories that involve children’s innocence protecting them. Trezza Azzopardi’s Remember Me. The Murderer’s Daughters. Girlchild (a bit less innocent, perhaps). But it has to be fiction; A Child Called It left me cold. Sure, a psychiatrist could help me understand why, but I’ll stick with enjoying the never-ending stream of fiction traffic clogging dysfunction junction.

3) It’s a true story of simple living told with humor. Sweaterwise: My Year of Knitting Dangerously. The $64 Tomato. Farewell, My Subaru.  How Many Hills to Hillsboro. Mud Season. Heart in the Right Place. American Shaolin (although that’s maybe not so simple; the guy moved to Asia and enrolled in a monastery). One can get tired of yuppies run amok among the greener grasses on the fence’s other side, total life changes, or even strange gimmicky publicity stunts akin to reality television for the memoir market. (How low can one go to get a book deal? Don’t answer that.) The “at home” memoirs still delight me.

4) Any book with that gilt foil paint stuff on its cover. The Rose of Sebastopol wasn’t a favorite, but I read it because of its gilt flower frame. The Reluctant Fundamentalist sported foil letters. I even enjoy The Royal Diaries series for girls. Put gold on the cover, and you had me at hello.

This makes me shallow, right? I accept that.

5) Historic fiction with strong female leads. Yes, Philippa Gregory has a lot to answer for; I don’t even like the way Robin Maxwell writes; but if it’s about an ordinary woman caught in extraordinary times (Tudor dynasty, Spanish Diaspora, Druidic and Christian worldviews clashing) color me there. Caveat: the books in this camp range from brain bubblegum to intensely well-researched dissertations-as-narrative; choose wisely. I did once throw Katie Hickman across the room in exasperation.

So now you know: left to my own devices, these are the books I gravitate toward. What’s your type of type?


Filed under book reviews, bookstore management, humor, Life reflections, publishing, Scotland, writing

Holding Pattern…

I’m getting ready to head to SIBA 2012 (Southern Independent Booksellers Association). It’s all very exciting because this is my first time attending SIBA. Friday around 11 I’m on a panel of “Booksellers who Write Books” and Saturday I get to run around the Expo looking at stuff and talking to other bookslingers.

As an added bonus, I get to see three old and dear friends: Cami, who is flying in from Seattle tonight to make the road trip with me; Debbie, who lives in South Carolina and is also going to SIBA with her friend Rockelle, so we’re all meeting up at Debbie’s Hilton Head home; and Sherry, a high school chum I reconnected with a few years ago when she adopted a dog from my rescue (so I get to see little Diogi as well as Sherry).

It will be great fun, but it doesn’t leave much time for blogging, so please consider this a holding pattern and enter caption contest VI. I’m reposting the picture to be captioned here, but scroll down to August 29 and you’ll find the entries already made. Please leave yours as well. St. Martin’s Press is sponsoring the caption contests, so first prize is a free copy of my book; Jack sometimes hands out the “Jack Beck Discretionary Award” if he disagrees with the judges (who are past winners). There are seven contests in all, most involving adorable kittens in the bookshop, so feel free to scroll through previous weeks to see the others.

And look for some fun posts from the Road Trip to SIBA as well as the event itself. Be blogging you! (BTW if you’re interested in the shop-sitter position scroll down through the past three posts to see specifications for the job. And don’t forget that Big Stone Celtic is Sept. 22!)

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Filed under Big Stone Gap, folklore and ethnography, humor, small town USA