Breaking my own rules of vagabonding — Book tour stop #3: San Francisco, January 29

Today was the day when, at no real choice of my own, I was forced to break one of the most basic rules of vagabonding. It was also the day that I learned (or at least was reminded of) one of the most basic tools of travel: talk to everyone, even if you’re a bit shy by nature.

As for the bit about breaking the rules of vagabonding, this was something I saw coming long ago. As I mentioned in an earlier installment of this diary, part of the point of this book tour is to convince people to slow down, take their time, and travel deliberately — but of course my tour itinerary is packed so tightly that I’m often not able to put my own travel advice into practice. Today was one of those days.

The day started with a 6:30 a.m. wakeup, so I could have breakfast and get to the KATU-TV station in time to appear on Portland’s “AM Northwest” show. This was my first television appearance of the book tour, and — if I recall correctly — the first time I’ve appeared on air since a one-week stint on the children’s show “Romper Room” in 1976. I’d interned for various local television stations before, however — and this was enough to instill me with a sense of dread at how my interaction with the presumably chipper morning TV hosts (“Paul-n-Cathy”, according to my tour schedule) would pan out. Ushered into the KATU green room, I took a seat and settled in for the 40 minute wait until my turn in the studio came up.

Aside from Torrey and Rob (old college friends who drove me to the TV station), I shared the green room with a personal fitness guru and three insurance experts, all of who were awaiting their turn in front of the studio cameras. I forget exactly why, but I started talking to these other guests, and when they found out I’d written a travel book, we ended up chatting about global travel for the next 30 minutes. At one point, an assistant producer walked in and chipped in with stories about her recent trip to Zimbabwe (it was safe and everyone was friendly, she assured us, despite the bad media reputation Zimbabwe has fostered in recent months). This made the green room feel kind of like a travelers’ cafe and by the time I was due to go on-air, I had forgotten that I was supposed to be nervous.

And, as it turned out, Paul and Kathy were great on-air hosts who immediately put me at ease and asked intelligent questions. They let me tell a few travel tales (about walking across Israel, or happening into a transvestite cabaret show in a Burmese monastery), and my six-minute segment went as smoothly as I could have asked for.

Five minutes after the segment ended, however, I was in Torrey’s car, hoping not to miss my late-morning flight to California. Somehow, in the course of one afternoon, I was supposed to land in Oakland, rent a car (the first time I’d ever done this, believe it or not), drive to San Francisco for a newspaper interview, speed up to Marin county for a magazine interview, then rally for a reading at Book Passage in Corte Madera. It was an afternoon I’d been dreading for some time.

But, since my extroversion in the KATU green room had been such a hit, I decided to make this break-neck day more appealing by talking to everyone I came into contact with. And, just like it does on the vagabonding road, this strategy worked. My Alaska Air seatmate, as it turned out, had once lived in Ecuador, and gave me all kinds of pointers for travel in South America. The car-rental shuttle-bus driver was a blue-eyed, crew cut, middle-aged Bosnian Muslim refugee who looked exactly like my high school gym coach. In his limited English (a cadence I’ve become used to — it made me feel like I was back overseas), he told me what it was like to live through the siege of Sarajevo, and how he is thankful each day to savor the taste of peace. He handed off a rental car, and I took the Bay Bridge to downtown San Francisco and wowed the Egyptian-American parking lot attendant with my conversational Arabic fluency (all three phrases of it) before meeting with Millie Mayfield of the San Francisco Enquirer for an interview (that, at one point, involved me standing in the middle of Market Street traffic while a staff photographer snapped pictures). Then, as the evening approached, I dashed off across the Golden Gate Bridge to Marin County.

I was very much worn out (and unfortunately, still suffering from throat sickness) by the time I arrived at the bookstore for my reading. Thankfully, Book Passage is a class act, and they fed me dinner and let me use one of their offices to catch up on email. As I sat in the office, a crowd of about 80 people began to assemble in the reading area (a turnout bolstered, no doubt, by Gretchen Giles’s story about me in the North Bay Bohemian).

If you’ve been reading this tour diary for the past two days, you’ll know that my Seattle and Portland presentations both got off to somewhat shaky starts. Not wanting to flub another intro, I decided to cut back on the jitters by utilizing the same tool that had already made my day interesting: I talked to everyone I saw. In doing so, I was pleased that several of the folks who turned up had been following my travel tales since my Salon days. By the time I was introduced and took the stage, I already felt comfortable with the audience — and for the first time since I started my book tour, my presentation with smoothly from beginning to end.

When the Q&A rolled around, I threw out this piece of advice:

“Want to know an easy way to make your day more interesting as you travel? Strike up a conversation whenever you get the opportunity. Ask lots of questions, and — most of all — be a good listener.”

This was, after all, a lesson I’d been reminded of all day long.

I convoyed back across the Golden Gate with my old Jerusalem travel pal Gabriel, and — contrary to my advice — crashed out cold on his couch before conversation ever became an option.

Posted by | Comments (1)  | April 24, 2003
Category: Book Release and Tour Diary

One Response to “Breaking my own rules of vagabonding — Book tour stop #3: San Francisco, January 29”

  1. Jen Leo Says:

    Rolf, I’m glad BP went swimmingly and I’m sorry I couldn’t go to that one too. For your next tour, know that there are author drivers (I forget their professional name) that take you from gig to gig. SF being so literary I’m sure there are a few to choose from, and I’d know who to call to get you one. I’m sure it could’ve fallen under your RH budget. But yes, great advice on how to ease the nerves. I can’t wait to read your next segments.