On the Road Again

I feel as if I am the only person in the world who is not at Bouchercon this week. I had planned to attend, but a music law seminar in New Orleans which I need to attend to keep my continuing legal education hours current and which has traditionally held in August was inexplicably switched to September, butt-up against Bouchercon. So it is that as you read this I will be in my car, somewhere between Ohio and Louisiana.

I have not flown commercially since 1997. I never liked flying to begin with — when you get down to it, I have control issues — and between the hassles of transporting an unloaded firearm in checked luggage and the thought of a jihadist with a LAWS rocket in hand staring longingly at the silver undercarriage of my plane I made the decision to drive everywhere I need to go. I have never regretted it. I probably will never get to Europe, and getting to the West Coast to serenade Michelle Gagnon with “Happy Birthday” in person will take some planning, but folks who fly everywhere miss a lot. It takes me fourteen hours to drive from my front door to the French Quarter, and that’s with stops for gas, coffee, and draining the crankcase. Westerville to Cincinnati — I can see the house my father where my father was born in from I-71, just after I cross the bridge into Kentucky — to Louisville where I switch over to I-65. The next big crossroads is Nashville, with its amazing intersection of interstate highways right in the middle of the downtown. You best be paying attention to where you are going or you might find yourself heading to Memphis, Chattanooga, or, if you’ve really cocked yourself up, back toward Louisville. I figure that if I can traverse it successfully then Alzheimer’s Disease remains at bay. Less than three hours later I am in Birmingham. With luck and good fortune I stop for lunch with Michael Garrett, with whom I have been friends for a half-century and who was the first editor for a bespeckled, quirky-looking guy named Stephen King. After lunch or otherwise I dog leg down to I-59; south of Tuscaloosa, the state of Alabama slowly melts into Mississippi, which after three hours or so becomes Louisiana. Or so the signs say. Once the swamp starts it is hard to tell the difference. And strange things happen. On a number of occasions, mostly late at night or very early in the morning, a pack of wild black dogs will run onto the freeway south of Picayune, Mississippi and chase my car for a few hundred feet. I almost wrecked the first time it happened; now I toss Milk Bones at them. Eventually, however, the swamps and the dogs gradually give way. I take the entrance ramp to I-10 west and isn’t too long at all before New Orleans rises to the south like a fever dream, as close to a foreign country as you will find within the borders of the United States.

Each trip is much the same, and each trip is a little different. I’ve actually made friends with gas station attendants and waitresses along the way who know the names of my wife and children, even though I see them infrequently (the gas station attendants and waitresses, that is). I would have missed a lot if I had flown, and not just with respect to traveling to and from New Orleans. I’ve gotten speeding tickets in Liberty Hill, South Carolina, been propositioned in a Baton Rouge hotel parking lot at 5:00 AM by a prostitute in a cheerleading outfit, and crammed a Pulp Fiction week’s worth of adventures a few years ago during a road trip to Phoenix with Marcus Wynne driving with a trunk load of machine guns, knives, hand grenades, and other assorted and sundry weapons. For demonstration purposes only, mind you. When the country is passing underneath you at 500 miles an hour, you can miss a lot; on the ground, every mile holds a potential story.

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