What I Learned On The Road

After spending most of 2006 crossing the country promoting a book, I have some deep insights on hotels and airports and painting your bedroom. For example, I knew the San Francisco hotel we stayed in was a good one because there were two separate bottles for shampoo and conditioner. Any hotel that cheaps out by trying to tell you that shampoo/conditioner in one bottle is a viable option is not a Good Hotel. I have many tips like this, which I hope will never be useful to me again.

Because all that is behind me now. I’m so glad to be home that, two months later, I’m still kissing the floor. When I can find it. I was making headway on getting back to normal, unpacking, doing laundry, walking from the office to the kitchen without an American Express card, and then I decided that after a year of somebody chanting, “Living the Dream!” in my ear, I needed to Zen out, which meant my bedroom had to become a retreat. It had been painted in a blue called “Cloudscape,” and decorated in violet and gold, lots of beads and tassels, flowers, candles, mirrors, which had made it pretty much your basic Ohio seraglio, definitely not serene. So I dragged everything out and bought new paint, soothing greens this time, for my bedstead, the walls and the ceiling. Om. Because the best thing to do after a stressful year on the road is to move everything in your bedroom out into the hall and open a lot of paint cans.

Paint colors. I don’t want to get on an airplane again any time soon, but I miss the shopping in airports, especially here in Cincy because Cincy has Toto and I love Toto. Coming home the last time, I saw this serene gray-green angel figure and bought her. I should mention, I’m not an angel person. I routinely spit on sparkly unicorns. If I see a tiny pink fairy winking at me on the path, I kick her into the underbrush. But this angel looked so calm, and I’d been so not, so I bought her and she’s what I based the gray-greens for the bedroom on. I saw her in a catalog the other day. She looked serene there, too. It was only when I got her home that she turned on me with the colors.
I wanted an elegant iron bedstead, but money was an object, so I started with an old blond wood bed I had in the attic that was so eighties that every time I looked at it I heard “99 Luftballoons.” I picked out this fabulous earthy metallic dark green, gorgeous paint chip, which I chose to coordinate with the wall and ceiling color that matched the airport angel, just a Zen symphony, HGTV would be proud. Well, maybe not a symphony, a string quartet. Or one hand playing, I don’t know, I’m still getting the hang of the Zen thing.

The great thing about painting is, it gives you time to think. And I began to get really philosophical about all that time on the road. Well, it was over, so I could. And truthfully, there were many, many good things about it. Like the people in airports. A woman sat down beside me at LaGuardia talking on her cell phone. “I want to be closer,” she whined to whoever was on the other end, “but she’s just not a warm, loving person.” I thought, Boy, do I know you, lady, and sent all my sympathy to the non-warm-loving-person who was probably holding this wench off with a cattle prod. You can do a lot of character research in airports if you listen.

And of course I was traveling with my writing partner. He used to find the free newspaper for that community and read the personals to me. I remember one he read in Madison, the guy was looking for a woman. That was it. “Open-minded,” Bob said. “Good.” He has this theory that in any city’s personal column you’ll find some guy looking for some woman to do something strange, detailed and perverse, and at the end of the ad it will say, “No smokers.” Bob says, “Somewhere in that town is a woman who will do those things. But she smokes.” Yes, these are the highlights, folks.
What with all the remembering and some additional thinking–I was trying to figure out how to finish a book I’d started awhile ago–the first coat went on pretty smartly, and then I stood back and looked at it from a distance and realized I’d painted my bed Army green. That was not the serenity on the paint chip, so I went back to the can to see what the hell color it was. “Rough Terrain,” it said. I’d painted my Zen bed “Rough Terrain.” You know, I’m sure somewhere in Montana, there’s a survivalist who’s saying, “Hey, Fred, here’s the perfect color for the rec room, ‘Rough Terrain,’ now all we need is a nice area rug and a lifetime supply of MREs,” but aside from him, exactly who were the paint-color-namers hoping to attract with “Rough Terrain?” Morons. I put three coats of a silver glaze called “Sparkling Stone” over it and now it’s . . . interesting. Yes, fine, go over there in the corner and snicker about how my Zen bed is painted in Rough Terrain. I don’t care. I am at One with the Universe. Damn it.

So I quit for awhile and watched a DVD to return myself to a meditative state. Here’s what I learned about movies on the road: Stick to animation. Animation rarely makes you want to kill yourself. I am helplessly in love with the bunnies in the BunVac6000 in Curse of the Were-Rabbit. If you get the DVD, stick around for the end credits because they have floating bunnies. Floating bunnies are Zen to the max. I kept referring to Curse all the way through The Unfortunate Miss Fortunes, and they kept telling me I had to explain the allusions. “You mean everybody doesn’t know about the Anti-Pesto logo? Well, they should.” Yes, I know if I were an intellectual it would have been Von Trier or at least Wes Anderson, but Nick Park does it for me. Best quote: “The bounce has gone out of his bungee.”

After some Bun Vac therapy and some sleep in my Zen Bed which was now sitting alone in the middle of my echoing bedroom, I opened the paint for the walls and checked the color in the sunlight. Gorgeous. Nothing military about it. Very peaceable. So I rolled it on the walls while I went back to thinking about the book I was working on, and just as I finished the first coat, I looked around and realized it was hideous. Zen it might have been in the can, but on the wall, it was avocado green, if the avocado had been with us for a while. I tried to give myself a pep talk—“No, really it’s lovely, very calming”–but it looked like a refrigerator my mother had had during my more unfortunate years. So I checked the can to see what color I’d bought this time. “Withered Moss.” No, honest to God, “Withered Moss,” just the color every fifty-seven-old woman wants in her bedroom. Or as my sophisticated New York agent put it when I told her, “Old lady’s hoo-ha.” (For those of you who are saying, “She’s making this up,” I swear to you, it’s a Lowe’s Signature Color.)

And I started to think about the morons who name these colors and I could imagine them, probably the same jerks I went to art school with in the seventies, sitting around some cubicle, blowing the same dope they had back then, going, “Oh, crap, another green, what’re we gonna name this one?” “I don’t know, how about ‘Old Lady’s Hoo-ha?” (Snort. Snort.) “Nah, we’ll never get away with that. How about, hey, I know, ‘Withered Moss!’” (Snort. Snort. SNORT.) “GOOD one!” (Phone rings. Picks up.) “Dave’s not here!” (Hangs up. Snort. Snort. Snort. Snort. SNORT. Hyperventilation followed by death.)

No, I’m not bitter. Why do you ask?

At that point, I quit to clean off my laptop, and I found a folder with about a dozen e-mails in it marked “Blog.” I thought, “Oh, good, I’ve salvaged something insightful from last year.” Turns out Bob had e-mailed me to tell me that Disneyland was fifty years old and I’d e-mailed back, “I’m older than Disneyland? Jeez.” He e-mailed, “Well the Parthenon is older.” I told him it was really better when he didn’t try to help. So he wrote back, “Then there’s the Coliseum.” Followed by another e-mail that said, “The statues on Easter Island. The Sphinx. The Great Pyramid,” and then another that said, “The Great Wall of China, Vlad the Impaler.” I wrote back, “Vlad is dead,” and he answered, “The Rolling Stones are older than you.” That was the last one. I guess when you get to “Vlad the Impaler and the Rolling Stones are older than you,” the conversation is over. Why I saved these e-mails, I’m not sure, but they’re a testament to what a tragedy it is that I lost the rest of them from last year. Clearly, deep thinking was happening, 24/7.

Then I went back and looked at the bedroom again. The Old Lady’s Hoo-Ha was definitely clashing with the Rough Terrain, so I painted the walls again, this time with many coats of Sparkling Stone, all by hand because it turns out you can’t roll that stuff on evenly, but the good news is that silver glaze will fix about anything. So I moved on to the ceiling. Cautiously. I opened the can. Beautiful, pale, creamy green. I checked the name of the color: Fennel Splash. Not Zen, but not Withered Terrain, either. I poured it out into the pan. Still beautiful. I rolled it onto the ceiling above the angel, where it looked like the dirty cloud that gathered over the penthouse in Ghostbusters, right before Sigourny Weaver says to Rick Moranis, “Are you the Keymaster?” It’s lovely pale green in the pan, Cloud of the Keymaster on the ceiling.

At this point, I gave up. I could not face putting six coats of Sparkling Stone on the ceiling by hand. Into each life, some Fennel must Splash, and mine was hovering over my Zen bedroom. My bungee completely bounceless, I went to take a bath with peanut butter cups. Hey, you find Zen your way, I’ll find it my way.

One thing traveling did do was convince me of the need for a Great Bathroom. Hotels in general are wising up to this. Well, I’m finding that a lot of hotels are wising up in general. Like the Hampton Inn next to the convention center in Columbia, South Carolina. Great beds, Jacuzzi tubs, hot chocolate chip cookies in the lobby which you can then take INTO the Jacuzzi tub with you, and the nicest staff you could want to meet (NOT into the Jacuzzi tub). Only drawback: the weird wallpaper in the bathroom that looks like it has giant beetles on it if you squint. Not a place to be drunk in. Not that I was, it was chocolate chip cookies all the way. But the front door had “Hello” etched on it, so much friendlier than “Welcome,” although why, I do not know, and the rug inside said, “We’re glad you’re here.” I forgive them for the wallpaper. Also they had separate shampoo and conditioner and we all know what that means.

But the best hotel was the Hotel Metro in Milwaukee (which Bob says is an old Indian word for “Land without Road Signs” but he was just bitter because there were no road signs). It’s an old art deco hotel that’s been restored and it’s absolutely stunning and comfortable and the room service was amazing and there were separate bottles of shampoo and conditioner in a bathroom that was ohmygod gorgeous. You’d think after weeks on the road, any hotel with clean sheets, a comfortable mattress, and a lock on the door would be fine, but you get so tired of hotels that when one turns out to be a work of art, you pretty much roll in it. The Hotel Metro. I might get on a plane again some day if I can stay there.

Where was I? Right in the tub with my peanut butter cups in my Great Bathroom, which I put myself in debt forever to remodel because I was seduced by hotel bathrooms. Except I haven’t quite got the hang of bubble bath and air tubs yet, so I put too much bubble stuff in the air tub and the bubbles foamed up over the edge and buried me and the peanut butter cup I had sitting there. But I think that’s pretty much the definition of “high class problem” and also, while it was frustrating, it was also pretty damn funny, so I took a picture of it and sent it to my friend Krissie who was looking for a laugh about then. Always a Sparkling Stone lining, that’s what I say.
I ate the peanut butter cup anyway, but I was still feeling put upon. My Zen angel had steered me wrong and now even my bubble bath turned on me. And then I remembered. I wasn’t on the road any more. I was home. Cheered me right up.

Which is when I also remembered that I’m one of the luckiest women in the universe, and that if I didn’t stop bitching about the little stuff, Karma was going to kick my ass, and if the worst that ever happened to me was a Withered Hooha and a Roughly Paved bed, I could count my blessings in my bubbles. And then the next day I found curtains in Sparkling Stone with gold dots the size of silver dollars, and when the furniture was back in and the quilt was on the bed and the lamps were in, the bedroom looked . . . well, I’ve still got Cloud of the Keymaster on the ceiling, but I don’t look up that much, except, you know, when I’m in bed, and the walls gleam quietly with Sparkling Stone, and best of all, I’m home where the shampoo and conditioner are always in two different bottles.

It’s very Zen.

Rerun from He Wrote She Wrote: The B&B That Hates Us, October 12, 2006

So last night we stayed in a B&B, which was lovely, but a B&B is probably not the best place to put us because, not unnaturally, the proprietors want to know when we’ll arrive and when we’ll eat breakfast, and writers on tour don’t know those things. There’s a reason we’re booked into hotels with twenty-four hour room service. Planes arrive when they want to, traffic goes bad, and we work strange hours. We get there when we get there, we wake up when we wake up, and we eat when we’re hungry and we can find food. So the B&B experience, while fabulous for vacationers who love history, is not for writers who are on the tenth month of Living the Dream and are, as a result, a little testy. Well, one of us is. As Bob said last night when we got out of the car, “You be charming.”

We were standing in front of the Victorian B&B, and Bob looked up and down the deserted street—it was seven o’clock on a Wednesday night and there wasn’t a soul anywhere—and said, “My Cousin Vinnie.”

I said, “Oh, yeah, you blend.”

Then we went up to the doors which were beautiful, tiny square panes of glass in massive gorgeous wood, and met the proprietress, who said she hadn’t known when we’d be getting in and so she’d just run out to the grocery and then run back—she was breathless—and her husband had just gotten on the treadmill—we could hear the treadmill—because she hadn’t known when we were arriving, and then she looked at me as if I was supposed to explain (hotels never ask you to explain, they just say, “Give me your credit card, thank you”) and I said, “I’m sorry, we didn’t know, either,” because there was the plane and then I was supposed to pick up my new car which did not come in, which was made even more annoying because Bob had said in New York, “It won’t come in, they never come in when they say they will,” and I’d said, “But the salesman swore to me it would be in for this trip” and Bob had looked at me like “You poor, trusting dimwit,” and then it didn’t come in, and of course he didn’t say a word, but he didn’t have to, plus it’s a five hour drive from Cincinnati to Cleveland but Bob drove it in three, so even if I’d told her when, it would have been wrong . . .

Where was I?

Right. I did not need to hear, “We didn’t know when you’d be in,” on top of the new car debacle, so when she said she needed to know what time we wanted breakfast, I said, “Oh, don’t bother, we’ll just go to Denny’s whenever we wake up.”

Okay, wrong answer, I realize that now, she had probably run out to the store for breakfast stuff, but you know, I didn’t know when we’d be up and if she wanted people who were going to eat on a schedule, she shouldn’t have said, “Sure, send in the writers.” So she sort of gasped, and I would have said I was sorry but I was in so deep by then, that I just smiled apologetically. Well, what are you going to do?

Then she took us upstairs and showed Bob his room at the front of the hall, and there was a Roy Rogers bedspread and a teddy bear on the bed. I looked at Bob’s face and bit my lip. You should have been there. Then she took me to the back of the hall and said, “This is your room,” and she looked back at Bob, standing innocently at the other end, and pulled out a screen with lace panels and put it across the hall and said, “And this will keep him out.” Bob looked at the screen and it fell over. I said, “Really, he’s a perfect gentleman,” and she picked up the screen and set it up, and said, “I’ll have my husband bolt it to the wall.” It must have been the way he looked at the bear. Bob shook his head, and the screen fell over again, and I opened the door to my room and saw a huge white stuffed rabbit sitting on the bed and thought about saying, “I really don’t need the screen, if I put the stuffed rabbit in front of the door, he’ll run away screaming into the night,” but I’d already been so rude about breakfast, that I just shut up because I could tell she was already fed up with both of us. Well, I would have been, too. It’s a hellish job running a B&B, and then you get two jerks like us in there who just want a bed and wireless internet and have no interest in history or stuffed animals or breakfast, and it probably just makes you want to weep. But the important thing was that Kym aka romancyclist had already been there and left a HUGE bag of M&M peanuts on the bed next to the rabbit, so I got my M&Ms, closer be damned.

Then she gave us keys and we went to dinner at the restaurant next door which was very good and our waitress was excellent, and we talked about the end of Agnes, and then we went back to our rooms and I powered up the laptop to go online because the B&B had wireless internet (see, it’s a very good B&B). Except I couldn’t get online. And I had this sudden vision of Bob with the bear in one hand and his Glock in the other, backing that poor proprietress into one of the needlepoint samplers on the wall, saying, “Wireless internet or the bear gets it,” so I went down to see, and the bastard had it in his room, so I got online in there. No, that is not a euphemism. Then I told him thank you very much and that I was going back to my room and to forget about trying anything later because I had my screen, and then I went back and worked on Agnes, and the room really was lovely and very peaceful, and I had an excellent night’s sleep.

The next morning, we went to Denny’s as planned and had breakfast and Bob had told me to take my key because we had to go back to the B&B to meet Kym there, so when we got back and found Kym, I took the key back in and scared the proprietress into fits because she thought we’d left and she’d already cleaned our rooms. I said, “No, no, it’s fine, I’m just bringing back the key, and I’m so sorry we’ve been so horrible, really, it’s all right, I swear, we’ll never come back.” Then I went out to the car to meet Bob and Kym.

Bob: Did you give her the key?

Jenny: Yes. And I apologized for how awful we were and I told her she didn’t have to worry because we were never coming back.

Bob: You told her WHAT?

Jenny: I told her we were never . . . oh. Probably the wrong thing to say, huh?

Bob: To somebody running a B&B, YES.

Jenny: I was trying to make her feel better.

Bob: Okay, for the rest of the day, I’LL be charming.

Jenny: What will I be?

Bob: Quiet.

Then we went to the Medina Country Club and met the nicest people at lunch, and Debbie introduced us for our talk and read my bio and all the way through it, Bob kept looking at me saying, “Really?” Really, you married your college sweetheart? Yes, Bob, I was married. Really, you have a masters in writing? Yes, Bob, in business and technical writing. Really, you have an MFA in Fiction? Yes, Bob, from Ohio State. Then Debbie read his bio and I knew all of it. He said, “See, I don’t keep any secrets from you.” I said, “She got it off my website, Bob.” And then we gave a talk that neither one of us can remember although of course we remember the things we did wrong, the post mortems are always fun, but the people were so lovely they applauded anyway. And then we did a cable TV interview with Tina who was terrific although I don’t remember much of the interview except for the part where Bob pushed me too far and I hit him with a copy of Don’t Look Down, so all of you in the Cleveland cable area, be sure to look for that one. Afterwards, Bob said, “You do that one more time, I’m going to hit you back,” which is fair, although I don’t think it would play well, so I’m going to stop smacking him. I suggested they cut that out of the final show, but somebody at the station said she thought it was charming, so evidently my charm has returned, although Bob and the lady at the B&B would probably like a vote on that call.

And my cold is better although I’m still blowing my nose at regular intervals, and we’re in Columbus where I gave Bob the wrong directions and landed us in rush hour traffic, and he never said a cross word to me which just goes to show you that he really is the perfect gentleman. Which is good because this hotel has no screens. But I did not tell the guy at the desk that we’re never coming back so, all in all, I think we’re ahead of the game.

Living the Dream, folks. It never ends.

2020 Note: More He Wrote She Wrote Reruns are here.

Rerun from He Wrote She Wrote: Bob Drives to Boston, April 5, 2006:

Wednesday, April 05, 2006



I am trapped on the highway in a rental car with an insane person. No internet last night because my apartment was in the basement, none this AM because we had to go see Meg again and then pick up the rental car, at which point my rational partner, Bob, went insane. I’m now safe in a Panera on Rt. 90, but sooner or later I’m gonna have to get back in that car, and I’m telling you, it’s Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Bob. Continue reading

Rerun: He Wrote She Wrote: On the Road with Bob and Moot, January 20, 2006

So you want to know how the drive to the Space Coast Writers Conference went? I think it’s best illustrated by an exchange we had close to the end. (As God is my witness, I made up none of the dialogue in this blog). Three hundred and fifty miles from Hilton Head, we were in Cocoa, and we saw a man walking along the intracoastal, muttering.

Bob: There’s a story there and we don’t want to know it.
(Short Silence)
Jenny: I might want to know it.
(Bob leans forward, fumbles with something on the dashboard.)
Bob: How do you turn this thing off?”
Jenny: What thing?
Bob: The passenger side airbag.

Okay, but up until then, we’d been doing pretty good. Right after we left Savannah, Meg called to say we had a deal with SMP for Agnes (a great deal) and Jen called to say how excited she was about Agnes (and we’re excited, too, although you can’t tell it by Bob’s face) and then we saw a big orange sign that said “Thirteen Foot Alligator, Souvenirs.”

Jenny: We have to see that! It’s Moot!
(We have a one-eyed alligator in DLD called Moot, about which more later).
Bob: What?
(Exit goes by.)
Jenny: Never mind.

About thirty miles down the road, there was the same sign: “Thirteen Foot Alligator, Souvenirs.”
Bob: It’s probably the same gator. They just truck it back and forth.
Jenny: Turn here. Turn here!
Bob: It’s really only an eight-foot gator. It’s trapped in the pen going, “I’m only eight foot!”
Jenny: Turn here! TURN HERE!
Bob: Except it’s a male gator so it’s okay with being called thirteen foot.
(Exit goes by.)
Jenny: Never mind.

Another thirty miles down tbe road, there was a sign: “Thirteen Foot Alligator, Souvenirs, Dog Track.”

Bob: There’s our exit.

So we pulled up and it was a gas station with the souvenir shop from hell, which is just my cup of tea. I LOVE souvenir shops. We got out and Bob started to fill the rental car with the gas.

Jenny: Where’s the gator?
Bob: Probably around in back. If I don’t see you again, it’s been great.
Jenny: I’ll check inside.

Inside was a dream. Big shell mobiles, a shelf of comic gators one of which was sitting under a palm tree with sunglasses and a coconut drink (of which more later), a shelf of mermaids (which is necessary because Meg collects mermaids and we owe her for negotiating the great contract), and a shelf of shell sculptures of clams playing poker.

Then I saw it. The thirteen foot gator.


I wanted to take its picture with Bob but he refused. I did, however find Alligator Bob’s Smoked Alligator Jerky. No, I’m not kidding:

So I bought the jerky for my dad and a mermaid for Meg and the alligator under the palm tree that looked like Moot (about which more later) and I really hesitated over the clams playing poker but Bob was looking at his watch so we paid and left.

About ten miles, down the road, I couldn’t stand it.

Jenny: Turn around and go back. I have to have those clams playing poker.
(Silence for a couple of miles.)
Jenny: It’s not going to happen, is it?
Bob: Nope.

Then Bob got sick from talking so much yesterday (he’ll write about that, I think he’s trying to forget the drive) and we stopped at a CVS in Cocoa where a great guy named Dwight helped me find the throat lozenges. And I took them out to Bob, who was suffering.

Jenny: I got honey lemon Cepacol, black cherry Sucrets, and some of those cherry strips you put on your tongue.
Bob: What?
Jenny: They’re thin sheets of medication and you put them on your tongue and they melt so you don’t choke on the lozenge.
Bob: What?
Jenny: You put them on your tongue.
Bob: What?
Jenny: They’re suppositories. Bend over.

But the big creative discovery of the day was the Moot-under-the-palm-tree I bought. I put him on the dashboard of the rental car and got the Great Idea:

Jenny: You know what we can do with this? We can take him with us everywhere and he can be like those gnomes that travel all over, we’ll take his picture wherever we are on the road, won’t that be great?
Bob: (Thinks: A million romance writers in the world and I had to pick her.) Great.

And now I have to go read the latest draft of Agnes because Bob has finally realized that I haven’t read anything he did last week. And he’s taking me to the airport on Sunday and I need that airbag.

But I shoulda bought the poker-playing clams.

Note: About two days after I got home to Ohio, I got the poker-playing clams in the mail from Bob.

2020 Note: More He Wrote She Wrote Reruns are here.