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A Postcard from Tour: St. Louis
Behind the Scenes on a Typical Book Tour
St. Louis means Left Bank Books and the Chase Park Plaza Royal Sonesta St. Louis, a dressy red-brick pile of a hotel. The doorman meets my car, saying, “You may walk in that direction in safety,” and nods his head accordingly. “But,” he says, “do not set foot in this direction,” and nods to indicate a seemingly quiet street. He says, “Trust me. Or you take your life in your hands.” It’s deep after midnight.1
By now my clean underwear has given out so I dump the little hotel bottle of body wash and the little bottle of shampoo in the bathroom sink and run the hot water at full blast.
Welcome to the grind…
Disillusion someone today!
From my suitcase2 I pick out the stinking shorts, undershirts and socks, and drown them in the hot sudsy water. While they soak, I unroll bath towels on the floor. I prep the coffee make with water and fresh grounds. I return emails.
I haul the ironing board out of a closet and work a scorching hot iron3 over a dress shirt already drenched in sweat from past cities. This is how I wind down. It’s not the zero-to-sixty that kills you. It’s the going from sixty-to-zero. Car crashes or coming back to a hotel room after meeting a thousand people, it’s the rapid deceleration you have to watch out for.
Using a minibar split of red wine I gulp an Ambien or a Halcyon or Dalmane or any one of the tour-related sleeping pills. I hang the ironed shirt in the hotel closet and hope the stink dissipates.
Once they’ve soaked, I rinse the socks and underwear in cold water and wring them damp-dry. I go down on my knees and place each article on a towel, then roll the bath towels tight with the underwear layered inside. I wring each towel over the bathtub and unroll it to find barely damp-but-clean shirts and shorts. The wonder of Under Armour. These I sling over the shower curtain rod or hang from hangers in the closet. Tomorrow I’ll have clean underwear to finish the tour. I’m counting out Zolofts and aspirins and Lorazepams.4 I’m phoning the front desk for a 4:30 am wake-up call. I’m setting my phone to ring at the same time as a redundancy. Somewhere along the line I’ve ordered room service -- exactly the dinner you’d order while on Ambien – fried shrimp, Wontons with dipping sauce, barbecue curly fries with ranch dressing, a pot of chocolate mousse, a plate of dinosaur-shaped chicken nuggets from the children’s menu, and a suite of tiny cheeseburgers and hotdogs from that same menu all for a child not in evidence.5
I’ve ordered a cold turkey sandwich I can eat in the morning.
I arrange my dinner – waffle fries, wontons, desserts – in a semicircle around me on my 1100-thread-count Egyptian cotton sheets and through the haze of a Lorazepam I watch a documentary about Hitler’s skull as I nibble snacks and pills and sip wine. If lucky, I’ll get four hours of sleep. A driver will arrive at 4:30 to squire me to a 6:00 am flight. Chicago is tomorrow. Or Baltimore. Or tomorrow is Philadelphia, but I am ready. I am ready.
If I haven’t scared you away from the great glorious dream of writing…
People always ask, “What are you going to see while you’re in Milan… London… Indianapolis?” And with only a few hours in each city my lackluster answer is: the airport, the bookstore, the hotel room.
Nicknamed “the beast,” the massive tour suitcase is reserved for the photo props: the trophies or costume elements, powdered wigs, etc. specific for each book tour. Wedged among them is one Tupperware box full of bathroom kit (toothbrush stuff), and one Tupperware full of clean socks and underwear.
Always check hotel irons for scorched muck. Too often I’ve dragged a hot iron over a shirt or pants and found it smearing a previous guest’s burnt mess across my clothes.
And Imodium. Never, ever go on a book tour without Imodium so at the first rumble in your gut you can turn your bowels to stone.
This is the why of the Imodium.