Saturday, 5/12/01 - In Indiana With Friends
Lisa called in the morning and said to heck with work, come on over. So after doing some laundry first, I headed over to her place around noon.
From Terre Haute to Bloomington was a breeze and a beautiful, scenic drive. Bloomington, like Austin, is set in a hilly, grassy, tree-lush section of an otherwise flat state.
Lisa took me to lunch at the same burrito place as my last visit, mostly because I insisted since it was delicious the first time. We sat out on the restaurant patio with the Berts, catching some afternoon sun.
Then we went to three independent bookstores in search of any book by Pam Houston. I had picked up her new collection of essays - "A Little More About Me" - at the Happy Bookseller in Columbia, South Carolina and finally got around to starting it. Her writing is fantastic, and I was anxious to pick up her two collection of short stories: "Cowboys are My Weakness" and "Waltzing the Cat." But none of the indy stores had any of her books.
We finally went to the local Borders and were able to find one copy of "Cowboys..." and one copy of "A Little More..." so I bought the short stories and Lisa bought the essays, opening the book randomly and reading from one of them and roaring with laughter. "See - she's great, isn't she! I knew you'd like her stuff." I told Lisa.
Lisa and I have a lot in common when it comes to writing. We both seem to come from a similar place as we write, and it was fun to talk to her this trip as writer to writer. (She used to work for me when I was running Cybergrrl, Inc. as the editor-in-chief of Cybergrrl.com). While she still refers to me as her former boss, I've never been able to get used to the fact that I was, indeed, her boss. I just think of her as a very good friend and a talented writer at that.
At night, we drove to the house of the lead singer for Lisa's boyfriend's band, The Cutters. He and his girlfriend arrived late from a family function, but we were all having a beer on their front driveway so we didn't mind. Then we all joined forces to set up a great dinner with hamburgers and hot dogs on the grill, a big salad, potato salad, and something called Chess Pie for dessert. The pie was some obscenely rich concoction of sugar, butter and more butter.
Conversation was fast-paced and funny, full of anecdotes and laughter. So this is what it is like to get together with a bunch of friends for a barbeque. I hadn't done that for such a long time.
Before bed, I started reading "Cowboys are My Weakness." The first story is called "How to Talk to a Hunter" and was phenomenal. I wanted to keep reading, but sleep took over as the Berts curled up closer to me to keep warm.
Sunday, 5/13/01 - On to Chicago 'Burbs
I emailed a Mother's Day greeting to my mom and loaded up the Apache to head for Chicago. A friend from New York City had moved with his wife to the Chicago area and after touching base with him, it was decided that I'd drive to the suburbs and stay at their house.
Alberto and Rosie have a warm, cozy house on a pretty suburban street in Glen Ellyn, about half an hour, traffic willing, from the heart of Chicago. They have two medium sized dogs - Zoe and Roxy - although they first told me they had small dogs which, when side-by-side with the chihuahuas, puts the term "small dog" into perspective.
They had prepared three different types of homemade tamales for dinner - something Alberto knew I'd have to love given my background (Mexican on my mother's side). I was in heaven! Then I joined them for their regular Sunday night viewing of "The Sopranos." After that, we watched the rest of the first part of "Blonde," the TV miniseries, and then it was off to sleep.
Monday, 5/14/01 - Signing in Chicago
I spent the day working on the computer and my plans to see some of the houses in the area designed by Frank Lloyd Wright was thwarted by a torrential downpour. By late afternoon, the skies had cleared but it was time to head into the city to get to the bookstore early for my signing.
We picked Rosie up downtown, then headed into the area around Lincoln Park, then hung out at the bookstore's cafe until it was time for my talk. The turnout was modest, but the women asked a lot of questions.
Afterward, a guy I knew from my music business days swung by to pick me up for dinner then proceeded to invite Alberto and Rosie and we were all treated to a delicious sushi dinner. Then it was back to the 'burbs for us.
Tuesday, 5/15/01 - Hot Road to Wisconsin
We left Chicago early to avoid the hot day that was forecast, but then it got hot faster than I'd expected, soaring to 91 degrees as we drove into and across Wisconsin, on our way to Eau Claire.
Long, hot hours later, I pinpointed the State Park furthest from Madison and closest to Eau Claire as the destination, and eventually followed the signs off the highway to find it. I'm sweating, the Berts are panting, the air is thick with humidity, the engine is emitting heat into the RV - it was all around an overheated moment, but not as hot as when I finally found the State Park (after passing it and driving another 10 miles then turning around) and there was a sign up. "Park Closed for Season." No way.
I later learned that the State Parks in the area mostly opened on Memorial Day which was still several weeks away. What could we do now? Any more driving at that point would surely mean an overheated engine. Then I noticed a small lake across the street. I parked the RV on the side of the road, got into my bathing suit, grabbed some towels and the Wisconsin campground listing, then herded the Berts over to a shaded area on the sandy shores of the shallow lake.
Then I picked up Chewie, carried him to the lake, waded into it and dipped him into the water. He trudged back up the sand to the towels, shook off, then proceeded to eat sand like it was candy. Then I grabbed Ernie who already knew what was coming, his eyes like saucers looking at me sideways, and I dunked him in the cold water, too. He pranced back to the towels, shook, then curled up, not wanting to admit that the cold water felt really good.
The next half hour was spent trying to make heads or tails out of the Wisconsin campground directory which I had picked up at the Wisconsin Visitor Information Center when I crossed the state line earlier. I had actually missed the turnoff for the Information Center because of construction on the road and actually had to take a 20 minute series of detours to get back on the highway to re-enter Wisconsin from Illinois, just to get a Wisconsin map and campground directory. Now after all that effort, I was reading an incomprehensible listing of campgrounds that only someone who knew the entire state inside out could decipher.
Without any luck finding a nearby campground, I gave up trying and decided we'd get back on the highway and just turn off at the next campground sign. The Apache engine had cooled down and so had we, so we got back on the highway heading North toward Eau Claire and kept a lookout for a campground sign.
As if by magic, a big KOA sign appeared shortly after, and I'm sure I cheered out loud. KOA Oakdale was a welcome respite from the burning road, and we set up camp, had our dinner and slept soundly with a cool breeze blowing through the wide-open windows of the RV.