The Last Few Weeks and Monday, October 15, 2001 - Getting Back In the Swing
Being back on the road and starting another booktour is somewhat of a relief. In a way. I spent a few weeks in Richmond, Virginia - the time I was supposed to be promoting my new book in New York City. During that time, I found myself spiraling into a dark place in my head, obsessing over the news at every moment, worrying about danger and destruction, debating about going up to New York City or not. My head ached constantly, my heart hurt. I stayed in my pajamas most of the day, only leaving the apartment to walk the Berts.
For a few days, I drove back down to Atlanta for a business meeting. Being in the RV for that time took my mind off of immediate world problems, kept me moving forward. I was able to concentrate on the road, driving, holding the steering wheel, getting to my destination. I-95 stretched out in front of me like an endless dream. On my way there, I stayed at the Anderson, South Carolina KOA which is the only woman-owned KOA campground.
Then, on my return trip to Richmond, I ran out of money. My credit cards had been pushing toward the max for months, and I had depleted my savings ages ago. I had just spent the last of my cash on gasoline to get to Atlanta. With the gas tank nearing empty, I pulled into a Wal-Mart parking lot in a small town in Georgia and called a friend. I had already borrowed a lot of money from my parents and didn't want to ask for more. A pride thing. I had to really think hard about what I've been doing, why I'm doing it, and what I'd do if I no longer had the means to travel. Where would I go?
After a few hours in limbo, I had enough cash in my bank account to put gas in the RV and get me back on the road. Heading north on I-95, I stopped for gas again, this time at South of the Border. I just had to stop there to take a picture and act like a tourist for a little while.
An hour or so later, I saw a billboard for the Ava Gardner Museum and decided to turn off and check it out. I always plan my travels so much - too much - and fill my days with work, trying to be productive and earn a living. I'm forgetting to have fun.
The Ava Gardner Museum was small, with a modest exhibit of costumes, movie posters and personal items, however I enjoyed the film they showed about Ava Gardner's life. Turns out she grew up a few miles from Smithfield, North Carolina, the location of the museum, and was buried nearby.
I was back in Richmond for a few more days and fell once again into a deep, purple funk. Finally, I made the decision to go to New York City to straighten out my apartment and go through my things. I would go there and face my fears. On Wednesday, I drove to the KOA in Westchester, Pennsylvania and a friend of mine rented a car, driving down from New York City to pick me up. I couldn't imagine driving the Apache to the city and also wasn't sure they'd let me in with flammable materials on board (a propane tank).
We took the route to the Lincoln Tunnel, giving us a clear view of the New York City skyline across the Hudson River. The Empire State building was lit up, but as I looked to the right, toward the end of Manhattan island, there was only darkness. The Twin Towers were gone. At first, I wanted to believe that the buildings were there but the lights were out. I finally knew I was seeing the emptiness with my own eyes. I looked away, saddened that everything had changed forever.
I spent the next few days holed up in my apartment, cleaning, throwing things out, packing boxes, organizing. On the day I arrived, the headlines on the NY Post read: "RED ALERT!" I couldn't bring myself to leave the apartment but knew I had to walk the Berts. I didn't want to walk around the block so the moment after they peed, I'd hurry them back into the apartment building. I just didn not want to go anywhere or see anyone.
I turned on the TV to hear that there was an anthrax attack at NBC studios. Suddenly, the weirdness was hitting too close to home. I desperately wanted to leave the city but knew that I still had things to take care of. Finally, I forced myself to walk the dogs around the block. Don't be stupid, I told myself. Don't be paranoid. As if on cue, jets screamed overhead. Of course they were Air Force jets protecting the city skies, but what if they weren't? I rushed back into the apartment, feeling frightened and foolish at the same time.
Later, I made my way to Fairways, a big food market on Broadway which was just a few blocks from my apartment. As I returned, I tried to memorize the streets, the buildings, the neighborhood, taking snapshots with my digital camera. I don't know when, or if, I'll ever return to this place.
On Sunday, I was ready to get back to the RV. As we drove out of the city at night, I tried to get a shot of the Empire State Building lit up in red, white and blue. It blurred in motion as we drove away. I was leaving New York City behind. Again.
I spent Sunday night at the KOA in Westchester, with darkness all around and stars in the sky instead of city lights. On Monday, I left in the morning for Pittsburgh. A five hour drive across the Pennsylvania Turnpike brought me to the Madison KOA where I had stayed the last time I was in Pittsburgh for my previous booktour. This time, it was the heart of autumn, and the campground was ablaze with turning leaves. Two hours after I arrived, I drove to the Waterworks Mall and the Barnes and Noble where I had my first appearance for my new booktour.
Just going on my booktour was a hard decision. I didn't feel that a regular booktour would be appropriate after the September 11th events. I didn't want to talk about my book with so much happening in the world. So I decided to facilitate town hall meetings where businesswomen could talk about how the events on September 11th affected them. The Webgrrls International organization agreed to host events for me in Pittsburgh, Philly, Baltimore, Charlotte and Atlanta.
I was nervous about the first event, not sure how women would react to the format. I began telling my story - of how I was driving to NYC on 9/10 and how I watched the events live on television at a campground on the morning of the 11th. Then I admitted to how scared and lost I felt, not knowing where to go next. Within minutes, the other women were sharing where they were when they heard about the crashes and how they felt. Fear, uncertainty, loneliness, depression. We all had similar experiences. Hearing other women's stories seemed to make me feel better. I think all of us felt a sense of connection and relief.
One woman who attended was Stephanie Spence, one of the businesswomen featured in my new book (PowerTools for Women in Business). It was great to finally meet her since I had conducted the entire interview with her for the book via email.
At the end of the event, I gave away some Macromedia tshirts and software (Dreamweaver), handed out some fliers from IBM and made sure everyone had a Webgrrls button. That took care of all of my sponsors!
I drove back to the KOA at night and camped out. I savored sleeping in the RV, surrounded by a velvety darkness, a sweet, cool breeze blowing through the windows, the moon and the stars shimmering. Why live in a city when you can be out here? Away from it all.