- The Prius needs an oil change. I've done about 6,000 miles in it and the 'Maint Reqd' light is on. Arrange with Hertz to get it done at nearby Firestone facility, here in Houston.
- While I'm waiting for the work to be done, I wonder about going over to the Harley Davidson dealer across the street and taking a look at the machines.
- The street has 10 lanes.
- I look around for a zebra crossing, but there's no sign of one. The only way to go across the street is to drive.
- Stop at print shop to order more Unimagined business cards -- I am running out.
- Head for Austin in the afternoon -- a 2.5 our drive. Austin is much more pedestrian friendly. Park at the venue and walk to a nearby Starbucks.
- My event has been widely advertised, including being a 'recommended event' in The Austin Chronicle. It is very well-attended.
- Head back to Houston late at night.
Tuesday 14 April
- A day off!
- Do e-mails all day and advance planning all day.
- Sleep for the fourth night in the same bed!
Wednesday 15 April
- Collect 1000 more Unimagined busines cards.
- Say goodbye to uncle and family and head for Dallas.
- Arrive at church, which is in a very attractive and pleasant neighborhood, and do e-mail sitting in the walled garden.
- Ask about a nearby Starbucks and walk there. This is a miracle: something I need in Texas which I can walk to!
- Event was listed in The Dallas Morning News and has a good crowd. It seems to go well.
Early-comers in Dallas
- An enthusiastic woman says that she's going to have her book club read Unimagined. I offer to attend the discussion meeting by video-Skype. She seems thrilled.
- Use internet connection in church to find a hotel near a Whole Foods.
- Sleep well.
Thursday 16 April
- Stop by Whole Foods to buy more chocolate and nuts. Love the chocolate-covered ginger pieces!
- Hit the road to Oklahoma City.
- Nothing to report.
- Arrive at church. Many posters up around the place, and two newspaper articles taped to notice board, about this event.
- The event is well-attended and goes well -- what else can I say?
- Depart in direction of Kansas City.
- Somewhere along the way, when I feel tired, check into a Super 8.
- Yes, in the hierarchy of the cheapest hotels, Super 8 is now my favourite. (When I had a corporate job, I was Platinum at Sheraton ... sigh ...)
Friday 17 April
- Depart for Kansas City.
- Nothing to report.
Did I take a wrong turn?
- Arrive at Shawnee Mission Church in the late afternoon.
- Leave my smart clothes in the office.
- Go to rendezvous at Chinese restaurant with fellow-writer Maril Crabtree (we have corresponded for years, but have never actually met).
- Event goes well and is well-attended.
With Maril Crabtree
- Say goodbye to Maril and head in direction of Denver (600 miles).
- Force myself to do at least 100 miles, before checking into a Super 8 in the early hours.
- At the front desk, she laughs. "Denver is buried in a snowstorm. They are having one inch an hour. You ain't getting to Denver."
- Troubled sleep.
Saturday 18 April
- Just a few hours later, put on long trousers (as opposed to shorts worn previous day) and come down to breakfast in the lobby. She is watching the Weather channel.
- Impressive (and troublesome) scenes of Denver buried in snow.
- Should I abandon Denver and proceed to Phoenix? Internet shows that snow will end by noon. Go back to bed for two more hours.
- Head for Denver.
- It is sunny and clear most of the way, until I cross into Colorado.
- Evidence of recent snow, but the roads are clear.
- Various signs say that I must use snow chains on my tyres if the lights are flashing. "Illegal to proceed without proper equipment." Please lights, don't flash.
- Arrive in Golden CO with 90 minutes to spare.
- Quick meal in modest Chinese restaurant.
- The event is well-attended and goes well.
- Now, depart on the longest single drive of my life: Denver to Phoenix -- 820 miles.
- Cover 100 miles, before checking into a Super 8, somewhere in Colorado.
Sunday 19 April
- Sunny and beautiful day; snow on the mountains.
- Drive all day: Colorado, New Mexico, Arizona. The terrain slowly changes.
- Take a break to drive along Meteor Crater Road. The site is closed (it's after 6 pm) and the crater is completely fenced off, but the road is uncannily silent and the terrain makes me think of Mars for some reason. This is where they'll film the fake manned human landing on Mars.
Landed my shuttlecraft on Mars
- Arrive in Scottsdale and proceed to home of Mike(friend from GE)'s mother's friend's house.
- Spend all day in Starbucks doing e-mails and this damn blog.
- My event at Clearwater goes well. People seem very pleased with it.
- Early night.
Tuesday 7 April
- Awake very early and depart before 6 am on 530 mile drive to Fairhope, Alabama.
- Florida seems a familiar and friendly place (from being a tourist so many times) but I've never been to Alabama. Drive at precisely the speed limit.
- Fairhope is a beautiful place, by the Gulf of Mexico.
- Arrive at church and learn that I've gained an hour!
- The Rev's wife shows me to a delightful, luxury guest townhouse which they are giving me for the night. If only I was staying here longer!
- I have a couple of hours to spare.
- Buy gas from a gas station with old fashioned pumps with mechanical meters.
- Go to sea food restaurant and eat delicious sea food gumbo. Have the tuna steak put in a takeaway box.
- 7:20 pm -- there are only three cars in the car park for my 7:30 pm event.
- They all arrive in a surge at the last moment, and some a few minutes late. It's quite a big crowd.
- Return to townhouse and sleep soundly.
Wednesday 8 April
- Awake at leisure. Eat tuna steak for breakfast.
- Spend a little time at the water, before leaving Fairhope.
- Head for New Orleans.
- There is something upbeat about New Orleans, although you can see signs of the flood. The road surfaces are awful. Some of the houses have been restored or re-built, others are just shells.
- Eat seafood gumbo in a seafood restaurant. Have the crawfish etouffee packed to go.
- The church has been demolished -- they bought the house next door and are operating out of that.
- The Rev takes me for a drive around the neighborhood. He shows me where the levees broke, just a few hundred yards away. They did not have adequate metal spike reinforcement.
- The little house church is packed for my session, which goes well. People are very nice.
- Afterwards, I head for Baton Rouge, reconnoiter location of radio studio for morning NPR interview, and check-in to hotel.
- Eat the crayfish etouffee and save the sweet potatoes for breakfast.
Thursday 9 April
- Eat the sweet potatoes for breakfast.
- Check out and go to WRKF studio for NPR interview with Jim Engster. He is a very gracious host.
- Hit the road to Memphis for my evening event.
- Drive through Mississippi.
- Suddenly realize I need a restroom very urgently (crayfish etouffee?). The 'town' of Enid in Mississippi has one little privately-owned gas station, with a rest room with a dirt floor and no wash basin. Nonetheless, I am very grateful for this. I have wet wipes with me.
- Get to Memphis and settle down in Starbucks near the library.
- Cindy Sakaan, the Director of Religious Education at the local church, joins me and takes me to the venue: Memphis Central Library. This is a very impressive building.
- Event goes well.
- After the event, she invites me to dinner at her sister-in-law's place: Raffe's Deli & Beer Garden. The Middle Eastern food is absolutely delicious, as is the non-alcoholic beer I try. (Regular beer is also available.) This place is wonderful.
- Raffe's husband is a Baptist-born American doctor who, as an intern, worked on Elvis's resuscitation team.
- Cindy tells me that, as Director of Religious Education, she arranged for the children to visit different places of worship. One local Baptist minister, in his sermon, said: 'There are three groups of people going straight to Hell: 1. Gays; 2. Murderers; 3. Muzzzlems'
- Retire to bed at Knights Inn, near the airport. I love the sound of aircraft on final approach.
Friday 10 April
- Eat baklava for breakfast.
- Check out of Knights Inn and head for National Civil Rights Museum. It's converted from the Lorraine Motel, where Martin Luther King was shot. 'You can kill the dreamer, but you can't kill the dream.'
- This place brings tears to my eyes. What these people went through is heartbreaking, including the black teenagers determined to walk into that white school to be enrolled. What incredible courage!
- The progress which has been made in just half-a-lifetime makes me proud to be American. Oh wait ... I'm not. Darn.
- Head for Little Rock. As soon as I Ieave the museum, I cross a metal bridge and I'm in Arkansaw.
- Stop at KFC all-you-can-eat buffet. Some of these customers really should not be in an all-you-can-eat establishment, for their own good.
- Little Rock has some interesting hills. The church has a beautiful wooded garden.
- I'm being hosted here, by a delightful, intelligent, informed, articulate couple. They are vegetarians and will be cycling 59 miles tomorrow to a campsite, and then cycling back 59 miles the next day. I'm so pleased to be having a dialogue with typical Americans.
- Event goes well. Return to the house and retire to bed.
Saturday 11 April
- Depart at 7:30 am towards Baton Rouge, a distance of 370 miles. My hosts are heading out on their bikes at 8 am.
- Start listening to audiobook enroute: 'Eat, Pray, Love'.
- Stop at a McDonalds drive-thru.
- All I say is: 'Do you have decaff?'
- The electronic display indicates that I just ordered a Bacon Double Cheese Burger.
- This next part is too complicated for a skeleton blog.
- Finally proceed to last counter to collect coffee. She hands me the coffee. 'What kind of coffee is this?' 'It's a Regular.' Ye Gods!
- The Baton Rouge church has an electronic display outside, advertising my event!
- The event is very well-attended.
- Afterwards, drive the 275 miles to my uncle's house in Houston. This is an ordeal, as I am exhausted. Twice I stop for a 2 minute nap.
- Arrive at 3 am and sleep soundly.
Sunday 12 April
- Sleep until noon, but it's okay -- I don't have to check out!
- Houston event is a virtual disaster. It's Easter Sunday and there doesn't seem to have been much publicity. There are only seven members of the audience I'm not related to. Still, they are receptive and I give them a good performance.
- Afterwards, my uncle and his wife take me to an Indian buffet restaurant for dinner.
- Buy Washington travel pass and take subway to Rosslyn. Meet a chap from Institute for Global Engagement: http://www.globalengage.org/ Go for a coffee with him and talk about peace and dialogue initiatives.
- Travel on subway to Federal Center SW; sit in Starbucks and do e-mail.
- Chap from Voice of America comes to meet me and takes me to the studio.
- Have an excellent television interview in a studio which looks like a library, with a pair of armchairs.
- Have a very engaging meeting with Pakistan/Afghanistan expert. Fascinating discussion on use of drone attack aircraft and civilian casualties.
- Walk to Union Station. Very impressive architecture. Very nice Chinese orange chicken in the food court.
- Subway back to DuPont Circle.
- Sit in Starbucks doing e-mail.
- I am so tired ... and I still have to do my talk this evening.
- Recover car from valet parking ($11 for entire day!) and drive to Washington Ethical Society.
- It's very busy and it goes well. They sell out of their copies of Unimagined.
- Drive back to Virginia in state of exhaustion/elation. What an amazing day!
- Out cold.
TUESDAY 31 MARCH
- My next event is on Wednesday evening in Charleston. I have two days to get there and this feels like a day off!
- This car is amazing. I last fueled in Connecticut, then drove to Richmond VA, Woodbridge VA, Washington central, Washington north, Woodbridge VA. The fuel gauge has 10 green bars, which begin to disappear as the fuel is consumed. When the last bar starts flashing, you have three gallons left -- in this car, that's 120 miles. Had driven to/from Washington DC with light flashing.
- Refuel the car and head south.
- Whole Foods in Richmond VA. Buy supplies of healthy food and water for car: fruit, nuts, vegetable chips.
- Go to favorite restaurant in Richmond from corporate days and eat favorite dish, the crispy flounder -- have to pay for it now!
- Forgot to buy chocolate in Whole Foods. You can't drive hundreds of miles without chocolate. Regular American chocolate is just awful -- so full of sugar. Return to Whole Foods and buy consignment of chocolate.
- Head south towards Charleston in the darkness.
- About halfway, pass Carolina Outlet Mall in North Carolina. This will do -- I need to buy some new Haggar trousers. Will go first thing in the morning.
- Pull into McDonalds car park, get internet access, book room in nearby Master's Inn, Selma.
- Sleep soundly.
WEDNESDAY 1 APRIL
- Eat leftover flounder for breakfast.
- Go to Haggar store in outlet mall and buy three pairs of Haggar trousers.
- Check e-mail in Starbucks; buy venti decaff latte; hit the road south.
- Have an idle thought. An old episode of 'Space 1999'. Paul and the Commander are about to take off in an Eagle space transporter. Paul says, 'I'm getting warning lights on four back-up systems. I think we should go on.' The Commander agrees. That reminds me of this car -- it's like a spacecraft.
- Idle thoughts are the most dangerous. Do not have idle thoughts!
- A few minutes later, the car starts to lose power. Warning lights begin to flash.
- I take the next exit, Holly Hill SC, hoping to make it to a gas station -- which would be a better place to wait for help than the freeway (rest rooms, food etc).
- Car is struggling.
- Reprogram GPS to take me to nearest gas station: 'Joe's Store'.
- Rural South Carolina: modest houses; tractors; pick-up trucks.
- Car completely fails. I barely manage to get it off the road, onto the grass verge. Multiple warning lights across the board: a red triangle with an exclamation mark; a picture of a red car (as opposed to a green car) with an exclamation mark; a picture of an engine with 'CHECK'; a written instruction 'MAINT REQD'; the last fuel bar is also flashing. All of these lights indicate a TOTAL SYSTEMS FAILURE.
- Two African-American men in a pick-up truck stop alongside and offer to help. I thank them, but say that I have a TOTAL SYSTEMS FAILURE and only Hertz can help me.
- Call Hertz emergency number. She takes details, then instructs me to drive to a gas station and put gas in the car. I explain that the car won't go anywhere and in, any case, it's not a gas problem -- I have a TOTAL SYSTEMS FAILURE. She asks me to walk away from the car (with the proximity key) and then try again. No luck. There are all the warning lights, and it won't move.
- She asks me where I am. I give the address from the GPS and the mailbox number of the nearest house.
- We spend a long time figuring out what is to be done. She says that local garages and Hertz locations are now closing. I tell her of my speaking engagement in Charleston at 8 pm. Eventually she says that they will have a taxi pick me up and take me to Charleston. 'What is your nearest town?' I tell her I'm in Holly Hill, SC. She struggles to find a taxi firm which will come here.
- Eventually, she locates a taxi firm in Summerville SC, but they do not know where my location is, despite me giving them a full address (House number, Old County Road, Holly Hill SC). Hertz arranges a conference call with the taxi firm -- I am supposed to explain to them where I am.
- I take cell phone to nearby house and ring door bell. Apologize to retired-looking white couple who answer the door, and ask him to explain to taxi firm where we are. His conversation on the phone with them is comical. He expresses low confidence that the taxi firm will be able to find me.
- I have nice conversation with them; tell them what I'm doing. 'Are you a Muzzzlem?'
- Start to collect together my stuff in the car, which had been like one giant suitcase.
- African-American man in pick-up truck stops and offers help. I thank him, but I have a TOTAL SYSTEMS FAILURE and Hertz are taking care of it.
- Bob from house comes out, offers me the rest room (I already went in the neighboring field) and has a nice chat with me. I feel compelled to give him and his wife a signed copy of my book.
- Abandon the car with the keys in it. Taxi arrives after one hour and takes me to Charleston Airport with all my stuff, including bags of food from Whole Foods. I look like a 'bag lady'. Hertz give me a Mazda 6 -- it's a very conventional car.
- In my hotel room, on the internet, research warning light problems with Toyota Prius. Apparently, a computer re-boot would have cleared the problems ('hold down the Power button for 45 seconds').
- I want my Prius back!
- Call Hertz and explain. She says that the Prius would have been taken to the nearest main location -- probably Charleston Airport, and gives me the office number.
THURSDAY 2 APRIL
- Eat Red Lobster pizza leftovers for breakfast.
- Call Hertz and speak to the manager, Scott. He says he'll see what he can do.
- Scott calls back. 'We recovered the car. It's here.' Pause. 'It was out of gas.'
- I explain to Scott that I'm not an idiot. I never got any warning that it was out of gas. Plus, what about all those other lights, indicating a TOTAL SYSTEMS FAILURE.
- Scott says that I can have the Prius back.
- Go to Hertz at airport.
- Explain to desk that I am not an idiot.
- Explain to Hertz man in car lot that I am not an idiot.
- Get Prius back and head for Georgia.
- Very happy to get my Prius back.
- Long drive to Marietta area, near Atlanta. Am being hosted. Arrive at host's house, shower, change and get taken to Thai restaurant for dinner with a few folks.
- At Marietta Unitarian church, the place is packed and the session goes very well.
'No hard feelings over Guantanamo, Dick. How are you enoying retirement?'
- Return to host's house and sleep soundly.
FRIDAY 3 APRIL
- Have delightful breakfast conversation with host's husband -- a former US Army Major, and now a consultant.
- Depart on short drive to Atlanta.
- Buy a few things from Target, eat leftover Thai food in car, sit in Barnes & Noble on Cumberland Parkway (I used to come here all the time, when in Atlanta on business) and do e-mail.
- Head for former GE colleague's house at 2:30 pm. He is working from home today.
- Nap on their sofa, then get ready for event.
- Event goes well.
- Afterwards, go to his friend's house for dinner party.
- They ask me to do a 'short version' of my talk for all the guests. I am drained, but comply.
- Sleep soundly.
SATURDAY 4 APRIL
- Awake earlyish and get all my stuff together for Florida departure.
- Put on shorts and T-shirt in anticipation. I associate Florida with vacation.
- Drive to Clearwater, to home of former colleague.
- Dinner in Red Lobster, then I borrow internet connection and place myself in Super 8 motel.
- I booked a no-smoking room, but they have only smoking available. Never mind -- it's late and I'm tired.
SUNDAY 5 APRIL
- They have wholemeal bagels available in the continental breakfast (along with the usual sugar doughnuts etc, which I won't eat). Excellent.
- Dress smartly, with tie, and drive to Saint Petersburg church. I am listed as giving the 'sermon'.
- They are all so casually dressed, I discard the tie.
- Give a very short version of my talk, as the 'sermon'.
- Stay for lunch.
- My next event is not until Monday night. I feel as if I'm on vacation.
- Lie down for a few minutes in the hotel room. Sleep for three hours.
- So to St Pete's Beach and swim in the sea. This feels great!