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Saturday, December 6, 2014

Route 66 in our '67 -- End of the Line!

Starting time: 7:15 AM MST, Flagstaff, AZ
Starting mileage: 59382
Yesterday's mileage: 617

Whether due to the change in time, an unusual amount of traffic noise, or just anticipation, we were up and out early this morning for our last leg of the seven-day trip.

Some more history: Chris bought the Duchess sight unseen, off eBay, where it was listed through a dealer on behalf of a client. The gentleman had owned the car for 25 years. About 14 years ago, he had shipped her from his home in Northern California to his summer home in Nova Scotia, where she became the "summer driver," until the gentleman grew too old to drive and reluctantly decided to sell her.

No garage, so the Duchess gets a blankie for the night
Chris and he spoke for hours over the phone prior to the conclusion of the sale, and one of the funniest moments was when, at Chris's instruction, the old gentleman and his daughter, armed with an iPhone with Facetime, gave Chris a virtual test drive. ("Okay, now start the car. Zoom in to the oil gauge. I make that about 42, is that right?...Okay, now give her some gas...")

The mountains towering over Flagstaff, first thing in the morning
The Jaguar was shipped from Nova Scotia to Boston, where the dealer was located, and Chris traveled there to bring her home to Southampton. She had about 55,000 original niles on the odometer at the time and came with a suitcase full of pedigree, including original bill of sale and all mechanical records, the original toolkit including a quaint grease gun, and a box the size of an undercounter refrigerator full of spare parts. Chris pored through all the records like an archaeologist, using them to compile his own list of questions for our mechanic in Southampton prior to our journey.

One of the things he found was that when she was made, she was shipped directly to a luxury car dealership in Beverly Hills. The keys were attached to the original leather keyfob with their logo on it, and that dealership is named on the license plate surrounds still on the car.

So, like me, the Duchess is going home. And I swear she knows it. Each day it seems she purrs a little more contentedly, and her ride becomes that much smoother. She is heading back to the sun and warmth where she "grew up" to become our winter driver. I swear her performance increased 1.5 MPG once we hit the state line.

I am a California native and very proud of it, but I have to say, of the entire journey coast to coast, the final approach through the Mojave Desert is the ugliest of all. Okay, you either love the desert or you don't, and I don't; even banked by majestic foothills and mountains, the floor of the desert is flat and featureless, with sand and rocks and scrub and Russian Thistle (tumbleweeds to you). We laughed because when we encountered the California Welcome Center, it was 150 miles from the state line, not the two to five miles that was customary in every other state we'd passed through. I figure that's because until you get to Barstow, CA (and, in my not so humble opinion, not even there), there is certainly nothing welcoming about the landscape.

Except that you can open the wind wings and enjoy the breeze, even in December.

Cresting the long grade of the Cajon Pass on the west side of Victorville, heading into San Bernadino the Duchess took in stride, despite the rotten roadway (Caltrans had apparently added another lane to the existing road while imperfectly scrubbing out the previous lanes). Nine months of the year, I drive in the tiny Hamptons, so my first few days (weeks?) of California driving are an exercise in recovering my nerve, and going over the pass was a bit of a white knuckler. Cars and trucks sped by us on both sides on the 6% downgrade even with the choppy, weather-beaten roadway.
I don't want to live on this street either.

Some observations en route:

-- Descending from the mountains in Flagstaff, we encountered the first instance of skunk as roadkill. This is common out west, but I have never seen or smelled a skunk out east. Maybe they don't grow there?

--Similarly, until we hit the Arizona state line we had not had even a single bug killed on the windscreen. Maybe bugs hibernate in cold climates.


--Sign advertising what food was available off the next exit: "Roadkill 66 Cafe." (Really!!!)

--The smell of eucalyptus as we approached Laguna Canyon!!

And we made it!!!
Safe and sound. Unpacking at our winter home!
Arrival time: 2:35 PM PST (3:35 MST), Laguna Beach, CA
Ending mileage: 59844
Today's mileage: 482

Thanks for coming along for the ride!

Friday, December 5, 2014

On Route 66 in our '67: The Classic Experience

Starting time: 7:45 AM CST, Amarillo, TX
Starting mileage: 58744
Yesterday's mileage: 571

The mesas of Arizona
These are the long days, on long, mostly straight intertates with few outposts of civilization. The hours en route are artifically shortened by the fact that we are gaining time as we head west.

Amarillo was shrouded in cowshit-scented fog as we pulled out onto the westbound highway this morning before 8 AM seeking a place for breakfast and coffee. Except that we hadn't realized we were staying on the western edge of town, and within a mile we were once again on the open road with not even a truck stop in sight. Thankfully, almost as soon as we cleared the city limits the dense fog lifted, exposing unpopulated prairie as far as the eye could see, broken only occasionally by things like a small windfarm or a stockyard. I am VERY cranky when I don't have coffee and some food in the morning, so between that and the fog, the fifteen or so miles to tiny Vega, TX, where we filled both the Duchess's tanks and our own were pretty tense indeed.

Sign on the road: "Don't Mess up Texas! $400 fine for littering."

One of the metal sculptures along I-40 in New Mexico
Shortly after you cross the state line into New Mexico, the landscape changes, with the famed colored sandstone mesas rising in the desert. Overpass bridges are cast in colored concrete and decorated with bas-relief Native American symbols. Large sculptures in copper, bronze, stainless steel appear every so often along the sides of the highway, especially near larger towns like Albuquerque and Gallop. Albuquerque's interstate highway junctions, cast in shades of salmon and sky blue, are works of art in themselves. We laughed to see a tumbleweed snowman perched on the side of the road.

The bizarre vending options in a truck stop in New Mexico

But between the far-flung towns, scenery is pretty monotonous on the road. Which makes the stops for gas and snacks an event that the truck stop retailers have learned to capitalize upon. At one such stop, called Clive's Corner (no corner at all. It was the only thing off the offramp, at an intersection of I-40 and a road that led north to Santa Fe and south to Roswell), the building contained a Subway, a convenience store, and a souvenir and gift shop the size of a supermarket. The merchandise included every form of tacky souvenir and "Indian" crafts mostly made in Mexico or China.

"Indian Village," near the AZ/NM border
Whereas New Mexico seemed to want to emphasize the artistic, Arizona's interstate commerce seemed determined to invoke the classic era of the Route 66 road trip, with (intentionally?) kitchy Navaho trading posts (advertised for ten miles on either side with dozens of billboards), or stylized forts, or crumbling circa 1950's camper/RV parks. Anything to draw the family with a backseat full of bored children to a stop. (I know. We were those children 40 years ago.)

All the highways we have thus far travelled are part of the Eisenhower Interstate System, created as a result of the Federal Aid Highway Act of 1956. US Highways MapAs you can see by the map, this is a vast system of roadways, almost all of them kept in great shape. (New Mexico has periodic signs informing you what a stretch of roadwork is costing, and when it is slated to be completed.) And no wonder. It is said that every item we buy has been on the interstate system at some point. Eisenhower considered the act one of the greatest accomplishments of his two terms in office, and historians agree.

On a related subject, one of the sights common along Rte 66 are the freight trains that seem to always be heading east. Often these trains are several MILES long, and the cars each contain a double stack of shipping containers, pulled by four engines. Less frequently, we'll see a train loaded with coal or perhaps other minerals. Again, these trains can be two hundred cars long. It is mind boggling, impressive, and very humbling to see what must be unimaginable quantities of goods being transported over this vast nation.

The long days' travel across plains and desert does not prepare you for the fact that you are actually the time we were partway across Arizona the elevation was 5000 above sea level. And then, most surprisingly, you rise from the desert into a forest which surrounds Flagstaff, AZ, a pine-covered outpost 7000 ft above sea level.

That's our stop tonight.


Arrival time: 6:15 PM MST (7:15 CST)

Thursday, December 4, 2014

On Route 66 in our '67!

Starting time: 8:40 AM CST, Topeka, KS
Starting mileage: 58173
Yesterday's mileage: 325 miles

MADE IT!  Now on to California!!!
 I have a confession. Semi trucks give me panic attacks.

Yes, Doctor Freud, I can trace this back to my younger days. I was in my first year in college, driving the second-to-fast lane on the 57 Freeway from Cal State Fullerton to my job at a restaurant in Tustin, CA on a rainy day in November. A double-trailered semi truck in the slow lane of the six-lane highway hit his brakes and they locked up, and on the slippery road he lost all traction. He careened across the six lanes of traffic, hit the cement center divider, and slid back across the freeway. His second trailer fishtailed into the front quarter panel of my 1966 Mustang GT, sending me spinning into traffic. My car stopped spinning facing north on the southbound freeway, and I said a quick prayer that all those cars heading straight at me would stop and...they did. Shaking, I drove off the freeway. Indented into the driver's door and front quarter panel was a perfect mold of a semi's large dual wheel. The frame of my Mustang was buckled, the driver's side now only 2/3 of the width of the passenger side.

But I didn't have a scratch on me.

Thirty years later, I still feel my heart race in instances where I am sandwiched between a semi truck and a concrete divider on a highway. This is especially true when driving through large cities, where the big rigs seem oversized and out of place amidst the spaghetti junctions. When traffic is feeding from many directions and the roads are curving in a way that the trucks seem likely to either topple or merge into me, or when I'm driving through constricted areas of road construction, I start to feel short of breath. It's a challenge that still confronts me during a road trip.

Chris, Ron & Betsy and the Duchess, bathed and
well rested  after her garage accommodations
Anyway. So this morning at eight AM, before we left the safety of my cousins' house in Topeka, Chris took the Duchess to a mechanic to check the oil leak situation.

"Sure," the guy said, "I can look at that for you right now," and he put the old girl up on the lift. Diagnosis? Yes, there is a little leak. Prognosis? No, it isn't a threat, or something we need to address before we reach our final destination. Watch her, he advised, check her at gasoline fill ups, add oil when needed, and enjoy your trip.

No charge. I love Midwesterners.
What is "Red Dyed Diesel??"

So, Chris added one quart of oil late this afternoon, and we inflated the tire pressure to 36 psi (which we should have done in the first place, as this is recommended pressure for touring while fully loaded). Immediately noticed a much smoother ride as we headed south on I-35 towards Wichita, then west through Oklahoma to Texas, through miles and miles of open prarie or farmland.

Lots of cows. Lots and lots of hawks. Sort of surprised to pass a field in Oklahoma with cotton boles still on the leafless rust-colored stalks. I didn't realize cotton grew this far west.

It was a long but exhillerating day of driving. We made it over 500 miles, stopping only for gas and coffee, with Lucas Davenport keeping us company on our audiobook.

The final hour was hair-raising, as we journeyed through northern Texas in pea-soup fog, unbroken by any lights of towns.

And here's when the semi trucks redeemed themselves for me. Unable to see more than 300 feet ahead, we were eventually passed by a big rig. Tucking in behind him, Chris sped along in his slip stream, mimicking anything he did. And I felt safer, surrounded by the big rigs. Fog or no, that lead trucker kept on at 75 MPH (!!!) and Chris gritted his teeth and followed him with blind trust until the mist lifted as we reached Amarillo.

It was a white knuckle ride. We really needed a glass of wine tonight!

Arrival: 7:13 PM, Amarillo, TX

Wednesday, December 3, 2014

Destination: Route 66 in our '67: Life in the Slow Lane

Starting time: 8:45 AM CST – St. Louis, MO
Starting mileage: 57843
Yesterday’s mileage: 470
Average MPG: 15.9 MPG

We stayed last night at Embassy Suites Downtown St. Louis, in a phenomenal old building that had been built in the mid 1800s as a department store, After several iterations, it was most recently a Dillard’s, which closed in the 1980s. The ceilings in our room were twelve feet high (and you really appreciated that height when you looked at the floor-to-ceiling curtains; what do you suppose was the yardage required per room...?) Complimentary happy hour and breakfast were served in what they called the Atrium which was, remarkably, NOT on the first floor, but rather on the fourth floor (of five). This is a picture of it, which fails utterly to capture the magnificence of scale.

And of course, one of the attractions of the Embassy Suites was the fact that it offered valet parking for the Duchess. The head valet, who stated "There hasn't be a car in forty years that I couldn't drive," needed instructions how to start her (it's a push button start). The valets this morning were so taken with her they were taking selfies in her front seat, hahaha.

While the selfie photoshoot and morning checkup was taking place in front of the hotel, I went across the street to get lattes at Starbucks. A serviceman in camo came in behind me,

"I want to get his drink for him," I said to the clerk, offering my card.

"That's okay, I've got it," she answered.

I love it - arguing over who gets to comp our military a cup of coffee. Just warms my heart.

Today's comparison of newer technology vs. old:

Pro: The Duchess has a vent that, when activated, a little door pops up right outside the windscreen to suck in air. Perfect for when you want a little freh air without the noise of an open window or even that of the wind wings (which for some reason sucks in the smell of gasoline).

Con:The Subaru has a feature that beeps at the two-hour mark when you've been driving, presumably to prevent driver fatigue. This has always been our signal to pull off, get a coffee, change drivers. But of course, the Duchess doesn't have this, so unless it's time for petrol, I have to practically wrench the steering wheel out of Chris's hands, LOL.

And when I's life in the slow lane. Everyone who knows me knows that I talk fast, walk fast, drive fast. I honestly cannot remember the last time I observed the speed limit, especially on a highway. Usually when it's my turn to drive, we're doing 80 MPH. On this trip, I rarely crest 70 MPH. Cars and even semi trucks are passing us all day long. This is literally a letting go for me. Even without music or a book on tape to listen to, even with just the sound of the engine purring, it is a lesson to me in letting go of the anxiety that we have to be somewhere on a certain schedule...a lesson I have struggled all my life to learn.

Today is a short day, as we drove only to Topeka (just short of six hours, as opposed to eight hours plus), where my cousins live. Really wanted to stop in and see our friends Shawn and Chris in Liberty, MO for lunch, but as per the above, I am still finding it difficult to estimate the time vis-a-vis the slower pace. My cousins Betsy and Ron have kindly cleared their garage for the Duchess's comfort tonight, and not only did Chris take the opportunity to give her a thorough once-over ("what IS that odd noise that sounds like the compressor is on...?"), he immediately borrowed bucket and water and gave her a quick bath. Cue the eyeroll...

Noted on today's drive:

--In the bathroom in a truck stop in Missouri: After passing through aisles thick with junk food (Funyons, pork crackling, fifteen flavors of beef jerky, jumbo bags of candy) I find a SCALE in the restroom that will give you your weight and horoscope. I wonder how often it gets used.

--Advertising for Progressive Auto Insurance (that annoying Flo!) in a Kansas tollbooth, directly over the ticket dispenser: "Slow down for Savings!" WTF!? Is there ANYTHING that doesn't have an ad on it nowadays!?!?

--Another place I don't want to put on my return address labels:

Gotta run -- lots of catching up to do with family before we crash for the night!

Arrival: 3:10 PM, CST, Topeka, KS

Tuesday, December 2, 2014

Destination: Route 66 in our '67 -- via Route 64

Starting time: 9:00 AM, EST, Huntington, WV
Starting mileage: 57368
Yesterday's mileage: 436
Yesterday's average gasoline MPG: 15.4

Chris would write this blog using the four lines above, period, no commentary.  Well. I always say that the reason I write novels as opposed to short stories is that I can't even introduce myself in 500 words.

Something that differs this year from our previous trips: As we approach the end of the driving day and need to arrange accommodations for the night, Chris gets on the phone to ask the various hotels if they have secure covered parking available. This definitely separates the men from the boys, so to speak, in the hotel world. All the classic motor hotels--out. After about the third call, he's asking the clerks if they know who in town DOES have covered parking. With last night's endeavours we ended up at a Holiday Inn Suites (suites!? what a misnomer that was), but it was in a fun part of town due to Marshall Univeristy's student population, and we found a great restaurant right down the block called Le Bistro.

Incidentally, I should say that as bed and breakfast owners, our road trip travel style is exactly opposite that of our clientele. We don't plan ahead more than 2 hours, and more often than not select a chain hotel that offers a clean room and a king-sized bed and free WiFi. If they offer a free breakfast, that's a bonus, except that it's almost always so marginal we wonder why we bother.

Anyway, so pre-take off this morning, Chris gives the Duchess her morning once-over, and she needs oil. Quite a bit of it, in fact. Out of the boot he pulls three quarts of oil (you didn't think we traveled without it, right?) and she takes all of that plus another quart when we stop for gas and one more this afternoon. There's no evidence of blue smoke, no change in oil pressure and she's running great, but there is a tiny leak that he can see, so we'll keep giving her the good stuff and count ourselves lucky. Hey, maybe it's her equivalent of wine.

Took off into an overcast morning on the Ohio River, and following Siri's instructions (Chris has a British-accented Siri) crossed the river into Ohio for exactly eight minutes, re-crossing into West Virginia and picking up I-64 W towards Louisville. Siri thinks we'll make St. Louis in 6 hours, 4 minutes. We'll see.

Scattered showers during the morning as we entered Kentucky. The eastern approach from I-64 is a poor indication of the state, as we passed a large oil refinery belching smoke and fumes into the foggy morning air. Eventully, this gave way to Kentucky's storied gentle rolling hills covered with winter yellowed bluegrass pastures of cattle, and pristine white horse barns trimmed in black. We passed the Kentucky Market which offers a venue for handcrafted merchandise (good thing we don't have any room in the Duchess's boot). Where the road cut into those rolling hills we found dark rock which sprouted periodic natural waterfalls. Signs advertised the Kentucky Bourbon Trail, including Four Roses, Wild Turkey, and Woodford Reserve. The latter I have toured in a previous trip with was sublime.

The Bose's battery died about three PM, leaving us to explore local radio or meditate to road sounds for the balance of the trip.

Pro: The old car smell of leather,the burled walnut dash and trim. (Which I keep knocking every time I see a car broken down on the side of the road.)

Con: No cruise control. You don't miss it until you don't have it, but I find that several hours of pushing the accelerator down manifests as a pain in your mid back, so changing drivers every tank of gas is manditory. (Long distance haulers must have cruise control. Or really good chiropractic plans.)

Noted en route:

--I don't want to live here:

--On a posted downgrade, in the rain, a highway worker is sauntering SLOWLY across the two lane highway, some form of laser tool in hand. Seriously? Is he trying out for the Darwin awards?

--The Freedom Biker Church, Huntington, WV. "Let's Ride!"

--a pair of brass balls on a white Kia Spectra. (That we passed. Haha!)

--Kentucky license plates say "In God We Trust." Which goes along with all the Bible and Jesus radio stations we've been finding the last three days. Yes, this is the Bible Belt!

This will be our most prolific X'ing off of states traversed in a single day --six, including that eight minute jog into Ohio: West Virginia, Ohio, Kentucky, Indiana, Illinois, Missouri,

Siri, however,was way too optimistic...our actual travel time was eight and a half hours, stopping only for gas and coffee. (No Denny's for us. We carry munchies in the car; a throwback to my memories of my family's roadtrips in my childhood.)

Arrival: 4:30 CST (5:30 EST), St. Louis, MO

Monday, December 1, 2014

Destination: Route 66 in our '67: Almost heaven?

Starting time: 8:40 AM EST, Baltimore, MD
Starting mileage: 56922
Yesterday's mileage: 282 miles
Yesterday's average gas mileage: 13.2 MPG
Chris and Andrew just before today's blast off

Growing up, my family seldom ate out. Mom cooked dinner every night (don't get me started on that). So on a road trip to visit the extended family, it was a great treat to stop for meals in Denny's restaurants, where the paper placemats showed a map of the USA with little stars representing the chain restaurant's widespread presence. I used to use a crayon to X off the states we'd journeyed through.

Fast forward to 1992, when Chris took a job in New York and we relocated. I envisaged that Denny's placemat map and thought, YEAH! Just think of all those little bitty New England states I'll be able to easily cross off my list! --Well, the joke is on me: Not only are those states not quite as little bitty as I envisaged them, but when you live on the end of Long Island, it takes two hours to get off the island in either direction (west towards New York City, or north by ferry to Connecticut). Still, the first time we drove eight hours to Maine I joyfully crossed five states off my mental Denny's map. Imagine! Five states in eight hours!

I've since learned that none of the states are as small as they might look on that relief map of the USA we created of flour, salt and water back in third grade. Pennysylvania, Chris and I know from experience, takes nearly a whole day to cross east to west. And today we found that Maryland, which I used to think of as a little state, only a little bigger than Delaware, has a long squiggly comet-like tail on the west side of Baltimore that goes on forever. (Though a really pretty forever, I might is the gorgeous rolling landscape of West Virginia.)

My brilliant navigating first thing this morning netted us a Starbuck's on the outskirts of Baltimore. Problem was, we lost an hour trying to find our way back to a place that had highway access. (Score -1 to Apple maps for failing to note where the onramps are, as opposed to where streets simply crossed the interstates.)

The last three years we have done this cross country trip in our 2009 Suburu Outback, loaded with all the fun options available to it. All of which I have grown used to taking for granted. Until this trip. Examples:

Pro: The Duchess has extra comfy seats...actually more comfortable than the Subaru, even taking into account the latter's lovely heated seats.

Pro: I actually like the fact that you hand crank the windows, This means when the other person is pumping the gasoline (two seven gallon tanks, one on each side) or visiting the loo at McDonald's (where you can count on clean bathrooms), the other can actually crank the car window down without the key and get fresh air.

Con: No cup holders. (Where are those Starbuck's lattes supposed to go?!?) Note our work around:

Con: No CD player, no auxillary audio jack to which I can attach my iPod and/or Audible books on tape. Work around:a travel Bose system perched on the suitcases in the back seat. (Very cool: the ability to aim a remote over your shoulder and change or increase the volume of the music.)

Today's particularly appropriate lyrics:

Sharing horizons that are new to us
Watching the signs along the way
Talking it over, just the two of us
Working together, day to day...

(Sidebar: A question to other iMatch users--do you think they add songs to your playlists that they think you might enjoy, like Pandora does??? No way, no how (!!) that Mariah Carey or Elvis appear in MY iTunes library.)

From the time we merged onto Interstate 68 from Interstate 70, the rain began, and stayed with us the remaining six hours or so of our driving day. Rain is only second to snow as regards the sheer miserableness of driving through it, but I have to say the Duchess came into her own in the precipitation. Yes, the windscreens fogged up somewhat and the tiny (11 inches!) windscreen wipers slogged valiantly through the relentless rain, but I felt entirely safe and grounded regardless of the slickness of the highways. She's a heavy car, made heavier by our trunk full of luggage, but she's got a low center of gravity and hugs the wet roads as though she was made for them. (Which, of course, she was. After all, she was built in England, no stranger to rain.)

Noted on the drive today:

--The woman in Baltimore bringing the pink Christmas tree to work (with her matching handbag).

--Cumberland, MD, where "Chick-fil-A" is a destination worthy of special signage from the offramp through the town.

--also in Cumberland, MD: finding premium gasoline for $2.93 a gallon.

--Cresting "mountains" where the summits merited state highway signage proclaiming "Elevation: 2780 feet [above sea level] and the Eastern Continental Divide." ROFL. The primary reason we are taking this route west is to avoid the summits of Vail Pass in Colorado (10,662 feet) and even the high deserts of Nevada and California (the aforementioned summit of Cajon Pass is 4190 feet).

--Amusing place names: Flintstone, MD and Nutter Fort, WV.

--Billboard: "PIE HOLE: Delicious pie-flavored Whiskey!"(West Virginia)

--Billboard advertising a gym: "Pay Diddly for your Squats!" (West Virginia)

In my ignorance, I'd hoped to make Lousiville, KY, tonight...another 200 miles beyond where we actually stopped. In the Subaru, it was probably doable. In the Duchess, not so much. Especially in the rain.

Arrival: 5:20 PM, Huntington, WV

Sunday, November 30, 2014

Destination: Route 66 in our '67 - the adventure begins

Starting time: 11:47 AM, EST, Southampton.
Starting mileage: 56640. 

I love road trips.

Packed and ready to go!
This dates to my childhood when our family vacations were always treks from our Southern California home back to the Midwest to visit our relatives. My mother and father, who had relocated to Southern California from Illinois and Kansas respectively, were the Western outposts of family that rarely traveled more than a few hundred miles. So every couple of years, we loaded up Dad's GMC truck with the jerry-rigged heating system into the camper shell, packed up the sleeping bags (for warmth) and munchies and prepared to set out. We always left at o'dark thirty in order to get over the Cajon Pass and through the high desert and Las Vegas before temperatures got too warm. None of us except Dad were morning people, but armed with a thermos of coffee for my parents and a box of warm freshly-made doughnuts as incentive for the rest of us, we pulled out of the driveway at about four AM and headed towards the rising sun.

Today, Chris and I left shortly after our full house of guests checked out at the far more civilized hour of noon, hoping to beat the traffic heading home fromThanksgiving weekend at Grandma's house. The Duchess has been packed since yesterday.We've been tracking ten-day weather forecasts overlaid on interstate highway maps (I love the Internet!) for days now. We're definitely heading more south than we've traveled in previous years.

The weather was a glorious 50 degrees as we cruised Sunrise Highway, then Southern State Parkway towards Manhattan. A contingent five hundred Harleys (a Rolling Thunder excursion?) complete with police escort passed us in Sayville, heading east. I tried to look it up on the iPad; no luck.

The leaping cat leads us westward!
Our goal today was Baltimore, and theoretically it would be a journey of about five hours. Uh-huh. Note to self: don't travel on the Sunday after Thanksgiving. And especially don't travel south on I-95. What was I thinking?! We didn't pass the New Jersey state line until well after four PM. All those Thanksgiving travelers were headed home after the holidays, and we were stuck in the crush with them.

The Duchess performed brilliantly in her first full day of touring, purring along at 70 MPH in the slow lane without the slightest rise in oil pressure or temperature as impatient drivers swerved aound us. We plugged old music mix tapes into the cassette deck and sang along with Heart and Prince and Pink Floyd and Juice Newton. We checked the traffic situation on the map function of the iPad, plugged in through a cigarette-lighter gadget bought at Radio Shack that allows two USBs to charge while driving. The contrast between modern and late 1960s design and technology is extensive and amusing. I love the wind wings windows but wonder at the design flaw that places their handles right where you need to see past them to the wing mirrors. Huh?

So...a long day, not too long a distance. So glad to reach our friend Andrew's house and enjoy catching up over a great meal at City Cafe. And now to bed.

Arrival: 7:41 PM, Baltimore

Friday, November 21, 2014

Will we get kicked on Route 66 in our '67? -- the backstory

Our original Duchess, East Hampton, circa 1995
A little background: In California shortly after we were married, we needed a second car. Almost as a lark, we called on a Pennysaver ad for a 1967 Jaguar 420 sedan.

Jaguar built the 420 model for only two years -- 1967 and 1968 -- and of that run, only a very small percentage were built for the American (e.g., left hand drive) market. The owner had backed the car into the garage so that the first thing we saw as the garage door rolled open was the car's Rolls Royce-like grille. One look, and we were hooked. We bought the car, named her the Duchess and three years later when we relocated to the end of Long Island, we shipped her out to join us.

For the first four years, we drove the Duchess during the temperate months and garaged her all winter with Chris's employers. Then Chris switched jobs and we lost the winter storage facility. Build a garage at our East Hampton house, or sell the car? Chris's vote, of course, was to build a garage, but neither that nor paying for storage was in the budget. So with great reluctance, we sold the car, assuring each other than someday we'd be in a position to own another classic Jag. (Like when we had a garage.)

Chris has mourned the loss of that car for almost twenty years. And for at least fifteen of them, he's been plugged into search engines, watching to see when other Jag 420s came on the market and tracking sales. Twice, he's been excited enough about a listing to visit a car in person, but found they needed too much work or were mechanically unsound.

And then, in September, he found it...and I knew I would lose any argument against purchasing the car. Because while we still don't have a garage, we do have a winter retreat. And we need a car while there.
Our "new" Dutchess, before her new vanity plates

Enter the Duchess, redux.

She's painted a curious color called Alpine Green (I call it Lederhosen), her cream interior is original and in excellent shape. As is the rest of her. She has only 56,000 original miles on her.

She's about to get 3,000 miles more, because we are driving her cross country to California, where she'll never suffer road salt damage and where we have family who have garages where we can store her when we're not around.

To say Chris is nervous as a cat about driving his baby across the country would understate it.

But I think it will be an adventure, one I plan to blog about as we make our weeklong journey from East Coast to West Coast, watching the weather closely and planning our route accordingly. (This, alas, will NOT be the year we stop for Starbucks in Vail.)

Will we make it intact, without calling AAA or, worse, having to rent a UHaul and tow a flagging Duchess behind?

Watch this space for news....

Monday, October 27, 2014

Killing your darlings...or killing the editor?

From NPR Books:
Whoops, My Dear Watson: Anthony Horowitz, the man behind an upcoming James Bond novel, has a few issues to sort out with Sherlock Holmes first. Sarah Lyall reports in the New York Times that advance reading copies of Horowitz's Sherlock novel Moriarty contain some not-so-subtle clues to his writing process. Notes to his copy editor have been mistakenly left in, littering the text in all-caps — including this frank assessment: "I'M NOT CHANGING THIS."

Knowing how pusillanimously I've proofread the galley copies of each of my books en route to publication, I cringed at the idea of copyediting notes making it to the ARCs when I read NPR Books' recent bulletin. But I laughed out loud at this last line. As a writer, whether you've been published traditionally, used the services of a professional editor, sent your ms to beta readers, been a member of a writer's group or all of the above, you've run up against this declaration. I know I have.

Sure there's the adage, attributed to William Faulkner, to kill your darlings (that sentence you just love every time you reread it? Chances are it's way too precious or self-indulgent. For the greater good of your work, delete it). But sometimes, dammit, that sentence says just exactly what I mean to say and how I mean to say it. In which case, if you're going to tell me to change it, there better be a majority opinion.

This, for better or worse, is a far cry from where I started out. Before and during the writing of A Butler's Life, I was involved in a writer's group. These sage individuals took very seriously their charter to not let one badly-drafted paragraph pass their scrutiny. Each of us read weekly from our WIP, and then accepted the critiques: 

"The first sentence--too long." 
"Um...really, 'pusillanimous?' " 
"Maybe skip the description and just start with the dialogue?" 
"I dunno. I'm just not feeling it." 
And the ever-popular, "What did you say your genre was? Who are you writing for?"

Prior to my attempts to sell the book, I had a preface, an introduction, and three endlessly-picked over and rewritten chapters in hand when I polished my proposal and sent out the package to a handful of agents for comment only. (A Butler's Life is a memoir, and nonfiction is commonly sold on the strength of a proposal.) Freed from the pressure of having to actually accept and sell my book, each was forthright in telling me what wouldn't work, and what would be more readable or salable. 

Problem was, no two opinions were even remotely the same. What one agent liked, another thought superfluous. Yet each new critique I received, I trotted straight over to the computer, opened up a new copy of my manuscript and started pulling it apart. I was hopelessly lost when Chris (the book's subject, by the way) reminded me that the advice, as good as it might or might not be, was still only someone's opinion. The only way I could write and be true to myself was to finish the book as I envisaged it, and then let a professional tell me what should be changed, if anything.

I was listening to too many voices. Until I had my voice down on paper--the work completed to the best of my ability--it was too soon to enlist the help of others, however well meaning.

So I wrote the book I heard in my head, got my feedback, and learned when to say "thank you" and when to say "no." 

Don't misunderstand me; I am far from an expert. I am simply a scribbler who will only improve over time with practice, patience, and good advice. And one of the most valuable lessons I have learned over time is that when someone (especially multiple someones) questions something in your work, you haven't made it clear enough. And I strive to write for clarity, that what I mean is what my readers understand.

Which means, sometimes, having to kill your darlings. 

But occasionally, it also means saying "I AM NOT CHANGING THIS."

(True confession: I save all my dead darlings in a file to be resurrected in another work if warranted. What do you do?)

Sunday, September 28, 2014

The benefit of reading "actual books"

In the ongoing debate -- paper or ebook? -- a recent article caught my eye: Science has Great News for People Who Read Actual Books.  The gist of the article is that readers of "real" books engaged more fully with the text, had increased comprehension and could focus better on longer passages, and derived more relaxation while reading. That struck a chord.

I am a multi-book-at-a-time, multi-medium reader. At any one time, I have an Audible book on my iPhone, a book on CD in the car, a tower of paper books on my bedside stand, magazines in the bathroom, and several books queued up on my Kindle for anywhere I might go that might require even five minutes of waiting (car wash, dentist, car dealership, someone else's errand).

Before the Internet, the article says, people read in a linear fashion, using sensory details in order to remember where key information was by layout. I am definitely one of these readers who subconsciously remember page layout and relative percentage of book read in order to flip back to revisit a passage or point made. And this, I admit, is a shortcoming of my experience on my Kindle, because I don't see a two-page spread to help give the location context. Nor am I (yet?) cognizant of noting the location, measured in percentages, which appears at the bottom of each ebook screen. As a big reader of mysteries, I miss not being able to flip back to about "there," to check just who it was who entered the dining car on the Orient Express at the time in question.

On the other hand, I love the little tools that allow me to bookmark a particularly well-articulated passage or sentence, or to move a little cursor over a word in the text and voila! Instant dictionary!

In a way, this study puts me in mind of another change in the way we take in information in the Technology Age, and what is lost in the process: Satellite navigation systems. The first time Chris and I rented a car with a GPS in it, we were in Raleigh/Durham, NC and traveling throughout the state. Our Garmin system's supposedly female robot seemed all too human each time we deviated from her directions (e.g.,"HEY! There's a Starbucks!"), when her sighed "RE-di-RECT-ting," was said with an increasing amount of audible eye-roll. Nevertheless, she got us to wherever we were going without a problem...but once there, I had absolutely no visual picture of just where in the state of North Carolina we now were relative to where we'd come from. As someone who has always loved maps, this was a big hole for me. Even though we were there, I felt a little lost.

What's the best way? I suppose the answer is to find the areas where technology is most useful, edifying, illuminating, and brain-engaging and enjoy them, but in some places, keep our more old-school methods and tools intact. Make new friends, but keep the is silver and the other gold.

What say you, fellow multi-media readers? Do you agree with the study? Do you find one medium easier to read or easier to remember?

Monday, September 22, 2014

What I did on my summer vacation

Remember when we went back to grade school each fall and our first assignment was to write an essay titled "What I Did on My Summer Vacation?" Today is the first day of fall, and although our vacation doesn't happen until winter, I’ve finally got time to catch my breath and share what I did over the summer: For folks who don’t have a Kindle or prefer to hold a “real” book, I’m excited to announce that all of my novels are now available in print form.

(Aren’t they pretty!)

Click (actually, Ctrl+click) on any of the titles below to read more about each book, or to read a sample of it on Amazon.

BLOOD EXPOSURE Psychological suspense
Where blood ties run deep and often intertwine, some secrets are too destructive to reveal.
When Merris Alcott begins pulling the family skeletons from the closet, she finds her search for the truth has become the catalyst that threatens to destroy her entire family.

NET STALKER  Psychological suspense
When recently-orphaned Geordan Taylor turns to the Internet to decipher the truth behind her mother’s murky past, she finds more than she bargained for: a cyber-stalker who believes he can avenge a decades-old injustice only with Geordan’s death.
Order now: NET STALKER

CHOICE  Contemporary fiction
Jody Maclain’s daughter has never known she was the product of one humiliating sexual experience that drove her father out of the closet and her mother into a lifetime of self-recrimination. When Jody’s former love Keith dies unexpectedly, Jody is forced to reevaluate the choices she made from Kendall’s conception to whether to renege on her promise to tell her daughter of her true parentage. When the latter choice is made for her, the consequences threaten to destroy all that she loves.
Order now: CHOICE

You can order from your favorite indie bookseller, or from Amazon by clicking on the links above. Or ask me when next you visit -- I have copies here at A Butler’s Manor.

And once you’ve read them, won’t you please consider adding a review to Amazon’s site? Reviews make all the difference in perpetuating sales!

Many thanks, and I look forward to your comments!

Monday, September 15, 2014

I could tell you, but then I'd have to kill you

When our bed and breakfast guests discover that I am also a writer, they often ask when it is that I get any writing done. With a laugh, I tell them I rise every morning at 4 AM and write for an hour and a half, then take my hour-long walk before showering and beginning the preparations for breakfast. 

Yeah, right.

The truth is, I admit to them, that little outside of the jotting of ideas and the occasional blog happens while we're busy with A Butler's Manor. Pretty much all my writing gets done between Columbus Day and May Day. I've mentally beat myself up for this for years, until I realized something key the other day: The reason I don't write when it's like a racetrack around here isn't only because I'm too busy with my day job. It's because during our long season, I'm driving the wrong vehicle, the Extrovert SUV. And that is completely opposite the Introvert one-woman kayak I need to be in to write.

Guest relations are at the heart of our bed and breakfast business, so I spend a great deal of time interacting with people, sharing pieces of myself with guests as we trade stories and find points of commonality. This is marvelously enriching to the soul and it brings me a great deal of personal satisfaction (and lots of ideas for characters and potential stories). But writing, by contrast, requires me to go inside myself and not share, not talk...instead, to nurture the germ of an idea, listen to the developing voice of a character, find his or her story. It is the introvert side of my otherwise pretty solidly extrovert personality.

So balancing these two parts presents a conundrum when faced with the common question people ask of writers everywhere: "What are you working on? What's your new book about?"

The classic flip response (she said with a smile): "I'd tell you, but then I'd have to kill you."

See, I really can't tell you. If I try to articulate it, I will lose it. The tender shoot of the idea is so tenuous that I fear that to vocalize it will kill it. Certainly it will remove the impetus I need to get the words on paper to tell the story. If I verbalize or worse, brainstorm it, I've told the story, and I've lost the drive, the need to write it down.

People asking these innocent questions don't realize this, of course. They assume you can already encapsulate your story into that magical 25-word TV Guide blurb, the one that writers are told they must learn to develop to pitch their (completed) work. Speaking for myself, I have difficulty crafting that 25-word blurb even after I've finished writing the book, much less before I've even fully conceived one.

Not all writers feel the same. Some are energized by sharing their WIP (work in progress) and collecting early feedback. There are sites all over the web that enable them to do exactly this. And no one way is right. Kudos to those who can share their ideas and still bring enough passion into the project to complete the book. Alas, I am not of their number. With the exception of A Butler's Life, which I had sold to Frederic C. Beil Publishing and was on deadline to complete while active in a writer's group where we shared chapters of our works in progress, I learned that any project I spoke of -- or worse, offered for critique before I had a completed draft -- died the quiet death of ennui.

So for me, the adaptation of that great line should be," I'd tell you, but then I'd kill the story."

(By the way, ever wonder who first spoke those immortal words? Nope, not Jimmy Cagney or James Bond. It is found in Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's Sherlock Holmes novel "The Hound of the Baskervilles," published in 1901, to wit:

Sherlock Holmes: I didn't really ask, Dr. Frankland, but what exactly do you do here?

Dr. Frankland: Oh, Mr. Holmes, I'd love to tell you. But then of course, I'd have to kill you.

Sherlock Holmes:  That would be tremendously ambitious of you.)

Here's to tremendously ambitious stories, nurtured in quiet places, growing and developing underground like endive or white asparagus until they reach a maturity fit for the light of day.

And here's to productive months ahead, as the days wane and light receeds early and I pull back into my more introspective writer side.

Sorry, I really can't tell you what I'm working on. But stick with me, and I will...

Saturday, July 26, 2014

Promotion? What's that?

True confession, from someone whose former career was in marketing and advertising: I am lousy at self-promotion.

I know I am hardly alone: Most writers I read or follow find it difficult to put the sales hat on when their natural bent is to retreat into the wizard hat of creation. Of course, at a certain tipping point of sales and word of mouth, your name is all the self-promotion you need. But getting to that point involves marketing yourself. In my opinion, the contemporary author most successful at self-promotion is James Patterson, who back in the early years, personally paid the big bucks to run ads for his books in the New York Times Book Review, and later, even television commercials. Truly, how often had you -- have you even today -- seen a TV ad for a book? But it works for him, and according to his (admittedly self-promotional) website, he holds the Guiness record for the most New York Times bestsellers ever. Love his books or hate them, you gotta admit the man is a master promoter.

Then there's me. Hah. A few months ago, I created a series of full-color bookmarks promoting my novels, after a particularly embarrasing experience at a local Chamber of Commerce event when my hairdresser of ten-plus years overheard my husband telling someone about the upcoming release of Choice.  She turned to me accusingly. "I never knew you wrote books!"

Epic fail.

There's modesty, and then there's being ridiculous. I now carry these bookmarks with me to hand out, sometimes brazenly, such as when spotting someone else reading her Kindle while waiting for the doctor. A few of my more indulgent friends (my hairdresser among them) have let me leave a little pile of the bookmarks in their places of business. And today, because it, I heard the nicest thing. Deb, who works for my chiropractor and moonlights here at the bed and breakfast, said one of Dr. Sue's patients spotted my bookmarks in the waiting room.

"I've read all of her books," the woman said in a conspiratorial whisper. "My favorite was Blood Exposure."

"She'll be so pleased to hear that," Deb told her.

"You mean you KNOW her? She comes in here?"

"Every week," Deb assured her. "I could introduce you."

"Really? Could you?"

Made me feel like a rock star. 

I tell you, it's the little things in life. Like being read. And appreciated. Which--who am I kidding!?--is far from a little thing. I am grateful for every reader, and doubly happy if they let me know, either directly or (even better!) via an online review, what they thought of the book.

All of which is by way of announcing that Blood Exposure has just been published in print form. My copies of it arrived this past week --woo hoo! See how nice it looks? It feels even better. (It's that tactile thing.)

Two down, one to go. I'll begin working on Net Stalker tomorrow. My goal is to have it out by Labor Day.

Then, hopefully, I'll do a little coordinated marketing of the three of them. Like--hello!--sending out an email blast announcing their availability.

And given my pathetic self-promotion skills, I'll gladly take suggestions. Anyone?

Sunday, June 22, 2014

Paperback writer

On a sultry September day in 1997 (yikes, was it THAT long ago??), UPS rat-tat-tat-tatted on our front door with a square fat box addressed to me. Tears brimmed as I pulled the books from the box. Here they were, my first published book, the first hardcover copies of A Butler's Life.

For about a week, I carried a copy with me everywhere. Even if I wasn't showing it to someone (anyone! The clerks at the grocery check out! The bartender at our favorite restaurant! The pharmacist at CVS!), it sat on the passenger seat of my car while I ran errands. On my bedside stand while I slept. On the kitchen counter while I prepared meals. Had there been a Facebook back then, I would have probably annoyed all my friends with my "baby" pictures.

Because my last three books have been released first on Kindle, I've forgotten the deliciousness of opening the mailbox to find the physical copy of my book. But two days ago, Choice was released in paperback, and I received the first copy in the mail. Woo hoo! I can TOUCH my newest work. Caress the nice matte cover. Riffle the pretty ivory pages. I'd forgotten how good it felt to heft the weight of words -- my words -- in my hands.

Released by CreateSpace, Choice is POD -- print on demand -- so it doesn't go against my priciples with regards to wasteful publishing. If it doesn't become a runaway bestseller (and of COURSE it will, right?) it won't be taking up landfill space. Each copy purchased will be wanted.

You can find it here on Amazon. It can be your next beach read! (I'm a little nervous about taking my Kindle to the beach, what about you? Sand, the potential of salt water...? Not so good. Paper -- better.)

I admit it, I have been carrying my first copy of Choice around with me. Showing it off, like a new puppy. In a week, I'll have copies for sale here at the B&B. And I'll announce it on Facebook. But I'll still try to spare you the baby pictures.

Sunday, June 1, 2014

The sense of touch, and an announcement

A while back I wrote that I believed the future of traditional publishing was in trouble. The future of the printed word has much to do with distribution channels (where and how do we get our books?) and with business models that, in my not so humble opinion, can or should no longer support waste. More and more of us are enjoying the ability to read on our tablets, be it a Kindle, iPad or other e-reader, and they are changing our experience in more ways than you might expect.

A classic example:  At our bed and breakfast inn, I meet a lot of guests who are fellow readers. We'll be comparing notes about something we've enjoyed and they'll say, "Oh, if you like Author A, you should try Author B!" And instead of making myself a note in my smart phone where I won't happen upon it again for months, I punch up the app on the spot and send the ebook, or a sample of it, directly to my Kindle. I have done this at bars, yoga studios, sandwich shops, cocktail parties, and book club meetings. It's another example of how social encounters can be enhanced by our highly-interactive technology.

Electronic books are the perfect medium for the reader who wants to test the water before s/he commits. Not only are many e-books priced well below the cost of the paper copy, you have the option of sampling the first couple of dozen pages for free.

But...many of us love the feel of the paper in our hands, the heft of the story in its physical form. An e-reader will never offer the same tactile sense of enjoyment. And let's face it...some books you just want to hold, maybe over and over again. There are some books on my Kindle that I have also in print form, just because I want to enjoy them again (and again and again) in both forms.

For those books and those readers, POD (Print on Demand) is the perfect solution. Order the book, they print you one, and it's in your hands within a day or two.

Think about it. Really, unless there is a book release guaranteed to be a bestseller (e.g., the last four installments of the Harry Potter series), why would a publisher need to have a half million copies available all at once? Every bookstore in the country knows whose latest book might trigger a run on inventory and how many their store might sell in a two-week period, and should be able to stock accordingly. We don't need warehouses stacked floor to ceiling with books waiting to be summoned (or not) to some outlet. We sure as hell don't need tables of remaindered books or worse yet, piles of books in dumpsters, their covers torn off to send back to their publishers as proof they were discarded unsold. As both a reader and especially as a writer, the mental picture of that dumpster full of paper gives me almost physical pain. The graveyard of unloved books is a writer's personal idea of hell.

So I'm going on record to say I believe the future should be in e-books and in Print On Demand titles. Stop the waste, already.

And with that said...drum roll...I am pleased to announce that Blood Exposure, Net Stalker, and Choice (all currently on Kindle) will soon also be available in print form. Your own copy, printed on demand. And if I can't sign it for you personally, I can send you a signed bookmark to add to the flyleaf.

Watch this space for more information, and look for their release about mid-June!