Friday morning starts with more room service -- two poached eggs, hash brows and thick salty lumps of Canadian bacon (I don't know what I've done to Canada, but it must have been bad to result in this). I'm off to Madison today and a little, teeny, tiny bit worried about the whole thing. For today means DRIVING!!! Room service breakfasting means I'm up and out extra bright and early, clutching a suitcase that gets heavier every time those security sods search it. This is what I get for buying all those twinkies and hot sauces in Iowa. I swear they're slowly tuning into lead -- my right arm's going to be three inches longer than the left by the time I drag the bloody case through my front door sometime Monday.
Checking in at Minnesota airport is a bit of a disaster, but a couple of hours later I'm dozing in my seat for the short flight to Madison. Making strange 'grrrrmph'ing noises and drooling. I'm absolutely knackered, so driving on the wrong side of the road in a hire car in a strange country with no idea where I'm going is going to be an absolute blast.
The lady at the Hertz rental place (Hi, my name's Irene and I'll be your car-hire-ist for today) gives me a handful of maps and a lumpy Hyundai thing which she assures me is aqua, but looks more like a petroly blue. And appears to have been driven by slobs the rental before me. The carpets and seats are covered with nasty brown stains, and there's a cigarette burn in the driver's seat, right where your arse goes when you're driving. I'm guessing it got there via: "Gee, will you'se look at dat?" Gestures emphatically out of the window with one finger, cigarette bobbing about between his lips. "Learn to drive asshole! Yeah, that's right, a'm talkin' to you, asshole! I'm talkin' to..." The cigarette tumbles, spinning end over end until it bounces off the beer-gut and wedges between the fat thigh and the seat. "AAAAAARGH SHIT! AAAAAAARGH! My ass! I'm burning my ass! My beautiful ass!" Or something.
The really good bit, the bit that fills me with confidence for today is the fact that the maps Irene gave me bear no resemblance to the ones downloaded and printed out from the airport. THIS DOES NOT BODE WELL. It starts off worrying as I pull away from the airport, settles down into a vague nagging feeling of doom as I follow the traffic into town, then ramps up into a full-blown BASTARD! as the difference between maps makes its presence felt ad I drive straight past the road I was meant to turn into. More swearing, then some cunning sliding across three lanes and horn honking brings me sweaty and shivering outside the Doubletree hotel. I'M ALIVE!!! Bwahahahaha! Take that American road system!
The hotel is OK as these things go -- my room has a lovely view of a car park opposite, and features The Badgerland Bar and Grill! Ha! Badgerland -- like a land for Badgers! Where Badgers rule the roost and humans are forced to slave in the inhuman mines of their badgery overlords! Or something.
In order to solidify my claim to the Rock-N-Roll throne I must do the ultimate Author Tour thing and wash out my underwear in my hotel bathroom sink. Ah yes, it's all glitz and glamour, I think as I rub milled French soap into my cheap-ass Walmart socks. The washing's OK, but the wringing out leaves me with sock blisters. Seriously, I kid you not. Christ knows what Wallmart makes their socks out of, but I'm guessing sandpaper.
From thence to '9XM –WHA, the oldest station in the nation' for a twenty minute interview on Tartan Noir and the roll of sock-washing in modern unpopular fiction. The producer's name is Doug and he's sporting an Aberdeen Football Club polo shirt with matching red shorts and plimsolls in my honour. But then he's Canadian -- maybe he's trying to make up for the bacon?
After that I go back to the hotel, fiddle with my damp underwear for a bit and try to get it to dry. I can't switch on the heating, because every time I do the fire alarm goes off. And it'd be embarrassing to have to explain to the Fire Marshal that he's had to scramble three trucks and a rescue helicopter because my pants are moist.
Mystery One is packed. Wall to wall fans and well-wishers, all eager to hear my tales of writerliness and touch the hem of my flowing beard. They hang on my every word, salivating with anticipation of the next sparkling anecdote... *ahem* OK, to tell the truth it's just Terri who owns the store, the clan Jordan (all three of them: Jennifer, Jon and Ruth) and someone called Bill, who only finished the book on Wednesday and is all keen and pleased to see me. So instead of the usual reading, then rambling Q&A thing that I usually do, the evening degenerates into hanging out and chattin' about stuff and things. Which is... odd.
Dinner comes in the form of a wee place that sells meat (a prerequisite of any dinner with Jon) and Spotted Cow Beer. The Jordans are a strange mix of nice and normal: Ruth, nice and strange: Jon, and Oh Holy Jesus What Have We Here Weird: Jennifer. She's funny, bizarre, clever, strange, pretty and talks at about three million miles an hour. Over dinner a nice man from Bleak House Publishing (who doesn't own a bicycle, no matter how hard you want it to be true) and I determine the reason for Jennifer. She either fell in a cauldron of Coke as a kid in Obelix fashion, or she is in fact a Caffeinated Ferret From The Future. Which explains a lot: the reason she talks so fast is that time passes differently for her and one of our minute in our world is probably about an hour for her.
For someone who eats like a bear, Jon's not anywhere as big as I would have expected. Not by a long shot. This is a man who orders the Big Boy Burger, then, just in case, asks for a big bowl of chilli as well. And wolfs both. Schloooooooooooooop! And then a couple of Red Bulls and a coffee as well. The Caffeinated Ferret From The Future looks on with envious eyes...
When dinner, beer, chatting and things are done we head outside to linger on a street corner. Waiting for Jon to go buy yet more Red Bull and cigarettes. The hanging about only lasts till some bloke in shorts wanders up and announces to the world that he's going to exercise his first amendment rights, which apparently are to announce to the world that he's a freak.
The Clan Jordan escort me back to my hotel, so I force them to accompany me into the Badgerland Bar And Grill. Well, you have to, don't you? It's Badgerland -- who wouldn't want to visit Badgerland? Anyone who's been there, that's who. The place is freezing cold, the air-conditioning turned down so low there are icicles forming on my beard. And the place smells kina funky as well. It's a scent Ruth identifies as 'oldness' and seems to be coming from the gaggle of septuagenarians at the bar, in their golf pants and polo shirts. Even Jen breaking wind can't put a dent in their smell of mouldiness. Nor can Jon's shotgun burps.
When the mouldy oldies start gettin' all rowdy, we decide to call it a night. I've a big drive ahead of me tomorrow. Well, not so much big as daunting. The bit in the middle will be fine, cruisin' down the highway with some tunes on. It's the bits at either end that worry the hell out of me.