West From Home

At Larkin & Turk

(At Larkin and Turk streets, San Francisco, 2005)

So tomorrow I fly out to Austin to start the Wilder Life paperback book tour, and from there I go on to San Francisco, Oakland, Seattle, and Portland. I’ve never been to Austin before (no, not even to that SXSW thing), but it turns out my great-great-grandparents lived there for a while, right across from the Capitol in a big white house, and are now buried in Oakwood Cemetery, so I’ll have to pay them a brief visit before I read at BookPeople.

As for the West Coast events, I’ll be at two of the same bookstores I visited in 2005 when I’m Not the New Me came out, in Seattle and Portland. That trip was my very first taste of book tour life, seven years ago this month, and there are all these things that I want to remember about it before I go out there and experience it all again. First there was the launch reading in Chicago, where afterwards I’d gone out to the Double Door and met some guy named Chris. We’d started exchanging emails the next day, and we probably would have gone on a first date that same week if I hadn’t been going out of town.

The trip wasn’t a full-fledged book tour, just a few bookstore and media appearances that my publisher wrangled after I let them know I’d be in Seattle for a work conference (in other words, the flight and hotel were already taken care of). I had a day or two to myself after the conference and I spent it hanging around the city—one day I figured out the bus system so I could go get a haircut up in Capitol Hill, another day I went to Pike Place Market and bought a copy of The San Francisco Chronicle at a newsstand because I’d been told the paper was covering my book. I sat in a bakery at the market and ate breakfast and read the review written by this woman named Jami, who would later be my friend Jami.

The publisher sent a town car one morning to take me to do a local TV morning show appearance, and on the way back to my hotel the driver stopped at a cafe so I could run in and get coffee. People in the cafe kept looking out the window at the big black car waiting outside, and at me as I waited in line. “Are you… someone?” the girl at the counter asked, really tentatively. No, I told her.

The next day the car took me out to Third Place Books, where I was relieved to find that most of the chairs they’d set out for the event were filled. The booksellers (one of them also named Wendy I think) told me that Jane Fonda had done an event there earlier that week, and that the big unopened bottle of extra-nice Fiji water waiting for me on the podium had been Jane’s water, specially requested, but she hadn’t touched it. Of course I was thrilled, and then I guess a few sips of the Jane Fonda water must have emboldened me, because suddenly, right there in front of the audience, I decided to call this Chris guy that I’d met back in Chicago. Well, prank-call him, that is. I called him on my cell phone and when he answered I asked him if his refrigerator was running. He said yes, and I held out the phone to the audience, who yelled, THEN GO CATCH IT! Then I hung up as fast as I could and turned the phone off.

After the reading at Third Place, the big black car drove through the night to Portland because I had morning TV there the next day to promote my event at Powell’s. I met my media escort at 6am in the lobby of the hotel where I’d barely slept. The escort told me the TV show was live with a studio audience, so I sat in the green room feeling anxious and a little sick. But as I watched the show on the monitor, a segment came on about some new kind of cellulite treatment, and the news crew was visiting some spa and filming a woman in a leotard lying face down on a spa table while spa technicians were using these crazy rolling pins on the backs of her thighs. She was being interviewed as she lay there, the camera panning from her backside up to her face and then back again, and I thought, well, whatever happens to me on live TV, at least I’m not Roller Butt Lady. Then I went out to do my segment, and the studio audience turned out to be just a set of bleachers and a very sweet Cub Scout troop, and that was even better.

A couple months after that I flew back out west for two events in California, traveling mostly on my own dime. First I read in LA, where only about three people showed up, and then when I arrived in San Francisco I discovered I’d shown up the day before Pride Weekend, and the courtyard of the cool little hotel I’d picked was taken over by a massive private party hosted by drag queens. Again I had a few days to myself before my book event; at night I’d have long I-miss-you phone calls with Chris, who by now was my boyfriend Chris, and during the days I’d wander around seeing the city, and meeting with folks like Kevin and the women at Bitch magazine helped ward off the homesickness. Finally I did my event at the now-sadly defunct A Clean Well-Lighted Place for Books, and it was so much fun I didn’t even mind when the folding podium collapsed. By then I’d done a dozen events, and over twenty radio interviews by phone, and I was getting used to all of it, being slightly rumpled, and drinking other people’s water, and smiling graciously when people mistake you for someone.

So now I’m doing so much of it again—the Bay Area (two new places for me, Bookshop West Portal and A Great Good Place for Books), the drive through the night from Seattle to Portland, the incredibly short hotel stay (this time in Seattle), Third Place, Powell’s, the morning TV sutff.  I’ll see Jami in Austin because it turns out she’s there right now, too, and her new book, which you will hear about, is coming out soon. And then Chris is flying out Tuesday to join me for the rest of the trip, and we’ll get to see everything I was telling him about during those first few months seven years ago, everything that I wanted to show him back then. And we’ll see you, too.


  1. Jen Longo says

    So happy you’re coming back out West. What a magical way to meet your husband…hope more magic happens this time, and a lot of butter churning. And P.S., in West Portal El Toreador has wonderful burritos, while Squat and Gobble is crepe wonderland, both are mere feet from the bookshop…that whole neighborhood is restaurant heaven! The bookshop is great, can’t wait for your reading.