Thursday, February 2, 2012

Terror on the Road to – San Francisco

This is the second in a sporadic series of posts based on my admonition that you should "make personal legends out of horrid experiences." It's all part of creating the mythic persona you want to project as you go out to sell your writing – and yourself. Sometimes bad things happen, but if you're lucky at least the bad things can make a good story if you tell them right.

Or as I said in last year's post, there
is an upside to the "Abject Poverty Book Tour." It can be funny, once you get home and get some perspective. As I said, "Ask us about Modesto, or San Francisco, or Yachats." And a friend challenged me t tell the stories.

The first "business trip" Mark and I took was told last year in the Yachats story. While Yachats didn't go perfectly, it was a picnic beside the trip to San Francisco about a year later.

This is the story of our very first ever book signing event.

It came about shortly after Mark and I (Cap'n Sappy and Ol' Chumbucket, in our pirate guises) had self-published Well Blow Me Down. We had arranged to have our first reading at a shop called 826 Valencia in S.F. Long story short, it's actually a reading program that turns kids who can barely read into really good writers. It operates citywide out of a storefront at that address, 826 Valencia, in downtown San Francisco. In a pirate themed store, oddly enough. A pretty cool one.

Mark and I drove down on a Saturday for the Sunday event. The plan was to get to the Bay area, then stop at a hotel just before crossing the Bay Bridge into S.F. It was a good plan. But we were making such great time we didn't want to stop. Mark was at the wheel as we drove through Berkeley and Oakland, no problem, so we decided to drive on into the city and find a hotel room there. We got onto the Bay Bridge – and traffic stopped dead.

I mean, I've been in parking spaces where the traffic moved faster. It was solid, unmoving, lane after lane of no motion. Every now and then cars would creep a few feet forward and stop again. It took almost two hours to cross that bridge.

As we crawled down the slope of the bridge into the city, we could see that things ahead of us were even worse. There was just this huge mass of humanity – some in cars and some on foot – and the whole mass seemed to be: a) directly in front of us, blocking our way, and b) happy to be right where they were and not even slightly interested in moving.

I got out the cell phone and called Tori back home in Albany. This was the early days of cell phone and we had bought the thing specifically for this trip, thinking it might come in handy. We had been right.

I explained the situation to Tori, who went on line to check things out. When she came back, she had an explanation.

It was Gay Pride Day.

Yes, we had unknowingly driven into San Francisco on Gay Pride Day, the biggest urban festival on the city's calendar. One of the biggest urban festivals anywhere, and certainly one of the most boisterous and colorful. By Tori's reckoning, the big parade had just ended. The hundreds of thousands of people thronging the streets in front of us were all trying to find their cars and drive. On the best of days S.F. is almost impossible to drive in. On Gay Pride Day? We were screwed.

My first thought was just to get us out of the traffic mess. Mark is a good driver, but he wasn't handling the absolute chaos of the moment well. This is when I learned that Mark does not react well to stressful traffic.

The impassable traffic seemed to run north-south but not very far west. If we could get across one or two streets we'd be clear of most of it. So I urged him forward – straight ahead. Somehow we got across the first intersection. The next was much easier. By now Mark was driving in a kind of horrified fury and swearing a lot. I'd never seen him like this. We weren't sure exactly where we were and had no idea where we were going, but at least we were going. If we kept going west we'd hit the ocean eventually. So that's what I kept telling him. He mostly answered with a series of snarls and oaths, and repeatedly vowed we would never return to 'Frisco. Ever.

At least that's how I remember it. He may have a different recollection, but this is my blog.

Meanwhile, Tori had been busy online She called back and told us she had a hotel reservation for us near the S.F. airport. It was not only the last room at that particular hotel – it was the last available room in San Francisco. All we had to do was find it.

We made it to the city's west coast and turned south trying to reach the airport. I won't relate the whole brutal ordeal. It took another two hours and a pretty serious "we're lost" moment before we finally got there. Towards the end I remember we could see the hotel, maybe half a mile away, but the road we were on did not go there and didn't connect to any road that did.

When we finally got there the hotel bar was closed, which was inexcusable. But after we got something to eat across the street and a six pack of beer from the convenience store our spirits started to rise. After all, the next day we'd have a reading. With fans. Buying our book!

But the Gay Pride traffic was only the beginning of a memorable trip. The next day had its own amazing moments. And I've written enough already, so I'll save the rest of the tale for another post.


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