Traveling to strange new worlds or dimensions play a big part in that genre we call science fiction. In fact it’s one of my favorite themes. I’ve been traveling quite a bit lately, talking to schools and libraries across the country about the Fahrenheit 451 adaptation, and how graphic novels are created in general.
Traveling all these places, I assumed there would be many interesting events or adventures to write about. This turned out not to be the case. Don’t get me wrong, I’ve enjoyed all the wonderful people I’ve met and had a great time talking about my work, but everything is taken care of for me on these trips. That is, I’m flown around the country, put up in nice hotels and taken out to eat. All very embarrassing at times actually. It’s an uneasy feeling to have people cater to your needs so much.
My trips around the U.S. have been so strife-free, they would make for very boring blog entries. Hotel in Phoenix forgot my wake up call! The complementary breakfast in Santa Barbara, CA ran out of poppy seed bagels! The in-flight movie was Land of the Lost! That last one was actually the worst thing that happened on my tour. Really.
It was a different story when I traveled to Europe some fifteen years ago. I rode the trains and stayed at youth hostels, if I was lucky. I drank the free hot chocolate and ate the bread that the hostels sometimes served for breakfast, and then I ate a chocolate bar for dinner. If I could afford dinner. I carried all my belongings on my back and had no cell phone to use if any snafu should arise. The people I met were not people who had arranged to meet me, but rather people who I encountered by chance. In Denmark I shared my hostel room with a man who was not allowed back into the United States due to passport and/or drug issues. I met people on the train who tried stealing my belonging once I fell asleep, and of course I met friendly wonderful people from all around the globe. Well, mostly I met Australians as they have about nine months of vacation time, but that’s beside the point.
While backpacking in Paris I visited Jim Morrison’s famous grave, taking note of all the young people who appeared to live and drink there. It was here met a woman, Kathy, who toured much of Paris with me for the rest of that day. One humorous adventure we had involved stopping at an outdoor food kiosk that had one of those glass sneeze guards over food. Kathy pointed at a large tray of soup and started counting out French coins on the flat top of the sneeze guard. She was more experienced with the French currency than I, but she was still not sure how many francs added up to the correct price. She pushed the coins forward as the owner, without a smile, urged her to keep adding more money. As she crowded more coins on the glass top, one of them moved closer to the inside edge of the sneeze guard and eventually went, “ka-plunk” into the soup she had ordered. The owner’s stoic face remained unchanged as he looked at us for a few tense moments. He then scooped up a cup of soup and handing it to her without saying a word. We walked away briskly and eventually laughed about it like the ignorant Americans we were.
Before I traveled Europe on a train, I traveled around New York state and Pennsylvania on a bicycle. Carrying a tent and all my food in saddle bags, I camped and stayed in the very few youth hostels that exist in the U.S. In Allegany, NY there is a Native American reservation and in order to get where I was going I had to ride my bike on the highway, which is illegal, or ride on an old abandoned highway that went through the reservation. I decided the abandon highway sounded more adventurous.
It was just like one of those post-apocalyptic movies. Potholes and rocks littered the road preventing me from moving very fast. The sun was blocked out in some places by trees and over growth that turned the road into a vegetation tunnel. And it was quiet. I could hear nothing but the wind and the birds. When you tour on your bike in the summer you do notice all the things you miss in a car. You can stop and smell those flowers you always hear so much about, but you can also smell death. When riding a bike you smell dead animals about five minute before you ride by the carcass. This is the smell that hit me in the face after emerging from one of the vegetation tunnels. I thought this was odd, as obviously no cars had used the road for years. When I saw what I assumed was a possum by the road I didn’t pay it much notice. But as I got closer, I did a double take. It was not a small animal. It was a cow’s head, cleanly cut off. As I said, the condition of the road prevented me from going any faster. The bridge I crossed on that route was built in the 50s from the looks of it. Gaping holes showed the river rushing by below while on one of the girders was painted, “White man go home.” I never felt more like a trespasser.
A few weeks later on that same bike trip, a man in a car pulled up to me and wondered if I needed a place to camp. He told me his back yard was available. I politely turned him down. He could be harmless, but you never know. Later that same day, the same man pulled up to me again.
“Sure you don’t want to stay in my yard?” He asked again, a little too anxious to have my company. I turned him down again imagining he must have been following me. I made sure to ride out of town that day while keeping an eye out for his car.
Those were the days. No more strange deserted landscapes or not knowing if I’ll end up buried in some serial killer’s backyard for me though. At the wonderful Miami Book Fair, my latest book tour stop, I took my leave of the party with the free drinks and hors d’oeuvres, walked past the remnants of the Donald Trump party in the downstairs ballroom, and took the elevator to my climate-controlled room. Truth be told, I do like a nice bed to sleep in at night. I like eating food for dinner and not a bag of chips. But I realize my well-fed stomach sleeps comfortably at night in my hotel room, a little too safe from any interesting or strange adventures.