09 Aug Home at Last

I got back home this week after a two-month book tour to promote my novel, “Missile Paradise.” It was a DIY tour, meaning I traveled in my camper van, logging 9450 miles. Cleo, my aged basset hound, kept me company. I thought the hard travel might kill the old girl but she stayed tough. In fact, by the end, she was driving me crazy with her demands. She wanted to be in the front seat–in my lap, actually. Like all hounds, she’s a copious drooler. I’d have to put down a towel on the console between the seats to keep things dry as she propped herself up to keep an eye on me.


Two months may sound like a long time to be on the road, and it is, but it’s not enough time to travel leisurely. I was almost always racing to the next destination, averaging 7 hours of driving each day. The ideal would be to travel no more than 200 miles a day, with no destination in mind. That’s about 4 hours of driving. With no firm destination in mind, you could follow your whim. I’d take those far West dirt roads that traverse a hundred miles of prairie and lead to some forgotten crossroads town.


Although I like the American West, with its blinding bright open skies and end-of-the-world horizons, I can’t stay too long without feeling a tug from the East. The East may seem to be all about hustle and bustle but, actually, it’s about a certain kind of quiet and restraint too. Compared to the Rockies, the Appalachians are modest. Compared to the Pacific coast, the Atlantic coast is understated. The landscape of the West is all about reds and browns. The landscape of the East is all about greens and blues.


When I return to the East, I find comfort in its crowd of trees, its too-green abundance, its roof-rattling thunderstorms, its gentle winking fireflies at dusk (no fireflies out West!). That said, I recall fondly the wilderness campsites Cleo and I found out West, one of which was 5,000 feet above the Mojave desert, little more than dirt tent sites a half mile off the two-lane highway that climbed the mountain pass. That night, Cleo and I watched the misty star clouds of the Milky Way and I wouldn’t let her sleep outside for fear of mountain lions.


Golden Boy Pizza, San Francisco

I ate a lot of home-cooked (van-cooked) popcorn on the road. And I mostly stayed away from bakeries, my downfall during the last trip, when I came home 20 pounds overweight.


The weirdest thing I overhead on my trip was a guy telling another guy, “These huge snakes started eating all the other snakes.”



A got an ant infestation at a Walmart parking lot–thousands of ants in the van. In the deep South, ants will swarm a vehicle that has food in it if the vehicle sits still long enough, kind of the way ants would swarm the corpse of an elephant heaped in the middle of a dusty road. Fortunately, I visited my brother the next day and he loaned me his ozonater, which got rid of them. (Haven’t heard of an ozonater? They are amazing for pest control.)


In case you’re curious about finding the cheapest gas in America, it’s right here in Maryland.


Best pulled pork barbecue, ever, is at Bib’s in Winston Salem, North Carolina. I confess, I ate a year’s worth of pork BBQ on this trip.


Agricultural canal in California’s orange country

I stopped in Exeter, CA, and got a private tour of a fruit-packing house that processes oranges. They obliged me because I told them my grandmother used to work the line in a local packing house. She did this until she was 72.


I had to put the van in the shop three times for repairs but, happily, I was never delayed or broken down, though the van did stall and wouldn’t start for several minutes in a five-lane traffic jam in Las Cruces, NM, one hot, hot afternoon–I had visions of standing on the highway’s shoulder with Cleo panting in my arms, my broken van backing up traffic for miles.



My air conditioner broke in California and I had to drive through Arizona and New Mexico and clear across Texas with no AC, which I couldn’t get fixed until Alabama.


The worst traffic was a 30-mile two-lanes of bumper-to-bumper, headed for Las Vegas on the fourth of July. Fortunately, I was driving in the opposite direction.


I’ve been so many places in so short a time, I didn’t quite know where I was when I first returned. At my gym yesterday, I was watching the TV screen and saw a news segment about the Ravens. I said to myself, “Why the Ravens? Shouldn’t they be doing a story about the local team? Then I remembered: “Oh, yeah, I’m home!”