Wednesday, 4/25/01 - Welcome to Texas, Houston, That Is
The weather got hotter and the road got bumpier on the way into Texas. Stopped off at the Visitor's Center when I crossed the state line as usual, and this time, they loaded me down with maps, brochures, pamphlets and booklets. "Don't Mess With Texas," the road signs said along the way.
Because my book signing was in the afternoon, I drove straight to the bookstore. I'd have to say, out of all the stores where they sit me right by the front door and have me strike up a conversation with customers, my books piled around me, Houston was by far the friendliest city.
Everyone stopped by to talk, including an anesthesiologist who wanted to fix me up with his friend in Austin, an attractive woman in her early 40s who was not online at all but was inspired and bought my book, another woman who did computer training who offered to teach the first woman how to use Excel, and a big man who circled back around after making small talk to talk to me more extensively about a book he is writing.
Now I've found that the typical thing that happens as an author of a book sitting in a bookstore surrounded by her books is that aspiring writers are more interested in how you got a book deal or how you wrote a whole book rather than in the book you've written. I've fielded numerous questions about the publishing industry and the delicate art of writing. One woman in Newport News had read about me in her local paper and showed up at the bookstore with the sole purpose of learning how to get her book published. I'm always happy to help.
This guy was different. He actually had a massive manuscript with a fascinating premise - his life as he perceived it after becoming a Buddhist, then a cop in Fresno, then a Buddhist priest - in that order. He was into martial arts but also spirituality, and he eminated a calm, strong presence. I encouraged him to email me with additional questions because I thought his book sounded amazing. He didn't have email but thought his daughter could email for him.
As I was leaving the store after my signing, I remembered that my friend Suzanne, who I had met in New York City, had emailed that she was moving back to Texas and would stop by to see me at the Houston signing. As I returned to the store, shaking my head at my road-induced forgetfulness, I ran into Suzanne walking into the store.
We sat in the bookstore cafe for a while, catching up. Suzanne is a young breast cancer survivor - in her early thirties - and she told me about a new organization she is getting involved with called the Young Survivors Coalition. I've been looking for a cause to get behind and breast cancer was one I was involved with when I had my Internet company. The thought of women my age with breast cancer seems so unbelievable, but that is a major reason why education and awareness is key. I'll have to get in touch with them and get them to send me some brochures so I can publicize them on my tour.
Leaving the bookstore parking lot around 5:30pm, I decided to try to make it to Austin which was about a three and a half hour drive. That would mean driving in the dark at nightfall, but I was determined to get as close as possible.
The drive between Houston and Austin was essentially flat, but not as I've been told I'll find in West Texas. The day's heat cooled down to a pleasant evening temperature, and I slowly watched the sun sink ahead of me, right beyond my reach. Right at dusk, I noticed a sign for Bastrop State Park.
My feelings about State Parks has been mixed, mostly driven by my ultra-safety conscious mind. The one and only one I tried to stay at on my way to Florida a few months back left an impression that only men traveling alone stayed there. I had pulled into my site, then looked around at the other rigs. Men of all ages, but only men in sight. I loaded the Berts back into the Apache and left.
But now I have discovered that my first impression wasn't accurate. When I visited Joan from Roadwaves.com at the State Park in Myaaka, Florida, I only saw families at the other sites.
So I pulled into Bastrop and paid the $12 fee to camp, putting it in the little Honor Envelope and picking my site from a laminated map. Then I drove and drove and drove deep into a forest of tall pines. I later learned from my Austin friend Gary that I had found the only section of Texas with these enormous trees.
The night was quiet at first, and then I noticed that I was able to hear the trucks on the highway. After all that driving into the depths of the forest, I was actually right next to the highway. Ah, nature!
Thursday, 4/26/01 - Getting to Austin
The next morning, I headed for Gary's house, located in Hill Country, the part of Texas that actually has grassy, tree-covered hills, something else I've been told isn't common. He has a house near Lake Travis, a house that he has built himself, literally.
The Berts got acquainted with Gary's dog Mojo, a dog more than twice their size combined. Mojo had a very sweet disposition and didn't know what to make of Chewie the Chomper who barked non-stop and kept trying to bite a hunk out of Mojo's shoulder. When Chewie cornered Mojo, the big dog struck out and flipped Chewie onto his back.
Like the tough guy he is, Chewie got back on his feet and went back to barking and biting. Mojo flipped him again and Chewie was up and at him. He would not give up. Finally, we separated them for a while, and for the first time, Chewie had blood on him. I was hoping his first real rough and tumble scrape-up would wisen him up to the perils of his aggressive behavior. One can only hope.
That evening, Gary and I went into Austin for my book signing, then had dinner and saw a local musician performing outdoors at the restaurant. Right away, I got the feeling that music plays a major part in the appeal of Austin. They don't call it the "Live Music Capital of the World" for nothing.
But I also noticed how enormous Austin was. For some reason, I thought it was a small, quiet town. But nearly 500,000 people make it more sizable.
Friday, 4/27/01 - Monday, 4/30/01 - Time in Austin
The next several days in Austin were spent taking long morning walks to the Lake with the Berts becoming Wilderness Dogs, a breezy ride in the lake in Gary's boat, a stop at a camping goods store to buy a tent and sleeping bag, and a night out in Gary's backyard in my new tent. I had never slept in a tent before in my entire life, and I thought it was the greatest thing.
I also met up with Spike Gillespie, the Austin writer who has built a following on the Internet since the early days. I've subscribed to her semi-regular newsletter which is basically essays about her life for years, and she interviewed me once for it. The Berts and I drove to her house and met her and her son.
Then she and I talked about the work of freelance writing, and I left there with a long contact list of editors she recommended I approach for assignments. Meeting her was great on many levels - I have always admired her ballsy writing, it was inspiring to hang out with another REAL writer, and I felt like she was a kindred spirit in a way.
The more I saw of Austin, particularly the huge highway interchanges backed up with traffic, I realized that my vision of Austin as a place to live and the reality of it were two separate things.