“Endings are hard.” That’s what my friend Eileen once told me. She writes sitcoms, but I find that her quote applies to just about anything. When I got around to writing about the final week of my book tour for They Only Eat Their Husbands, I was already home and couldn’t bring myself to finish.
The road trip itself was difficult to finish. As on many treks, I was tired but not ready to stop.
The road trip itself was difficult to finish. As on many treks, I was tired but not ready to stop. As with many stories, I knew it had to end, but wasn’t sure what it all meant.
Let’s see, shall we?
Before I left Los Angeles, I stopped at a trailer court in Paramount to visit my grandmother. While I was there, she told me she hadn’t been feeling well enough to make her pedicure appointment. Her toenails looked like something out of a horror film — you know, those thick, elongated, misshapen nails that scratch along the ground to let you know the devil’s spawn is chasing you. I offered to cut them. This required industrial-size clippers ordered through a catalog — she loves catalogs. I could barely cut through the tough keratin, and had to sort-of shave it. “These nails aren’t human, Mom. They’re like animal horns.” Demon horns. Sometimes love isn’t beautiful. Sometimes it’s kind of gross.
Mom’s toenails looked much better after I cut them, but she’d be horrified if I showed you a photo of her feet. So here’s her face.
The next morning, I met my grandfather for breakfast at Stox, a diner that he, Grandmom, and I used to frequent when they were married and I was a child, growing up in the sleepy suburb of Downey. Although I hope never to lay a finger on Grampa’s toes, we talk more easily than Grandmom and me. We whiled away a couple of hours laughing over my journey, his knee surgery, politics, and home improvements. He’d gotten a good deal on a carton of double-A batteries, which we put in the back of my car, already weighed down by more boxes of books than I needed — better to be weighed down than to run out, I’d thought. But I’d begun to question the wisdom of an overloaded Honda Civic Hatchback when I’d paid more than $4 a gallon for gas at a station in LA. Grampa must have guessed, because he pressed a wad of twenties into my hand. The old sweetheart can be gruff about rejected gifts, so I simply thanked him, hugged him, and drove away in my low-rider author-mobile.
I met my grandfather for breakfast at Stox, a diner we used to frequent when I was a child, growing up in the sleepy suburb of Downey.
With that, I was off to warm and breezy San Diego for an afternoon book party at the Bamboo Lounge. The party was arranged by a woman I’d never met in person, a generous friend-of-a-friend named Elizabeth. Our mutual friends were also on hand, David and Rose, a travel writer and travel photographer who sold their Denver home to tour America by RV. I instantly understood why they loved Elizabeth, a woman at ease with herself and the world. She’s a laughter magnet who gives as good as she gets, and during my reading the room filled with giggles and guffaws until I could barely talk. I love connecting with people through storytelling, and laughter is happy evidence it’s working.
Elizabeth is a laughter magnet who gives as good as she gets, and the room filled with giggles and guffaws until I could barely talk.
Afterward, Elizabeth and I went to her apartment, where we drank tea and discussed the memoir she’s writing about her journey to heal her scoliosis. At bedtime, she vacated her place and left it to me for the night. “I know how exhausting traveling can be,” she said, “and I thought you might enjoy having space to yourself.” She was right. I love connecting, but tend to get over-stimulated after spending hours with a lot of people. The silence was soothing.
I crossed the inland mountains to the desert oasis of Palm Springs.
The next day, I left salty sea air behind and crossed the inland mountains to the desert oasis of Palm Springs. Though I grew up in SoCal, I don’t remember ever seeing this place before, a shock of palm trees, second homes, and shops in the parched Coachella valley.
In Palm Springs, I stayed with my former news co-anchor from KTVA in Anchorage, now a radio talk show host and divorced mom with two tween sons. Katie plied me with whole grapefruit and fresh orange juice from her backyard trees, while we laughed about the crazy newsroom and complicated love lives we’d left behind in Alaska. Katie always made me laugh. I still remember when two of our coworkers called the cops on two illegal ice climbers, only to return to their car and find it smeared with excrement. “So, did you report a shit-and-run?” Katie quipped. But on this night I overheard her saying nighttime prayers with her sons, and their list of blessings included the tsunami-devastated Japanese and the road-weary author on their couch. I’d almost forgotten how unselfconsciously kind Katie is. Back when I moved to North Carolina to start a new job, she sent me a random card now-and-then with two or three dollars stuffed inside, for coffee or “whatever.” “I just think it’s fun to get money when you’re not expecting it,” she said. It was.
Katie plied me with whole grapefruit and fresh orange juice from her backyard trees.
The next day, after her boss at KPSI/KPTR radio interviewed me about my book, Katie and I hiked a popular mountain trail in her neighborhood: the Bump n’ Grind. She posted a picture of us on Facebook, “doing the Bump n’ Grind” — joke-fuel for years to come.
Katie and Cara “doing the Bump n’ Grind” – joke-fuel for years to come.
But what I’ll remember most about that hike is the view of the private golf course below. The acres of lush grass surrounded by miles of dust was like something from The Outer Limits — as if aliens transported a slice of earth onto a dying planet. The course was empty. Katie said she’d never seen anyone golf there. Apparently, whoever bought the house and its attached course simply keeps watering that bright green hubris, waiting for the earthlings to come claim it.
The course was empty. Katie said she’d never seen anyone golf there.
I then spent two days driving across Arizona, luxuriating in the warmth of springtime in the desert. In Phoenix I stayed at a hostel, and in Sedona I couch surfed with a fellow writer I met on CouchSurfing.org. I only had one day in Sedona, but I packed plenty of alternative southwest flavor into one bite. Alone, I hiked around the Airport Mesa Trail for stellar views of Sedona’s red rocks, then wandered the Tlaquepaque arts and crafts village. With my couch-surfing host, I enjoyed mole and margaritas at a Mexican restaurant, live music at the Java Love Cafe, and a drum circle at the Oak Creek Brewery. Say what you want about drum circles, but if you want to get out of your head and into your body and heart, they work.
I hiked around the Airport Mesa Trail for stellar views of Sedona’s red rocks.
My final two stops were in New Mexico, where I gave travel workshops at the REIs in Albuquerque and Santa Fe. I spent both nights in Santa Fe, at the home of a girlfriend’s parents. I’d never met Jan and Kipp before, yet Jan said she felt like she knew me after reading my memoir — which tickled me. Kipp was still reading it. When he said that, I thought, “My girlfriend’s dad knows about my orgasm. Aw-kward.” He seemed willing to overlook it; they both treated me like family.
I stayed in the casita Jan had built in their backyard. It was nicer than a B&B.
I stayed in the casita Jan had built in their backyard. It was nicer than a B&B, full of beautiful local art and stocked with food just for me, including lactose-free milk. They showed me around town, too: the Museum of Indian Arts and Culture, Museum of International Folk Art, and Canyon Road arts district. My favorite stop was the folk art museum’s room full of miniatures from around the world. I guess I still like pretending to live in a tiny village almost as much as traveling to a real one.
I guess I still like pretending to live in a tiny village almost as much as traveling to a real one.
Jan and Kip attended my final workshop, though they’re seasoned travelers. I felt as proud as a child whose parents have come to her school play. Jan said she was glad I told people that a sense of humor was an important survival skill. She said that when she and Kipp took their son and daughter to India as kids, they all suffered culture shock and food poisoning, and at one point ran out of cash. “I was so naïve, Cara, so naïve,” she said. But wise enough to keep laughing. That’s one my favorite things about their daughter, Kimberly: her ready laughter.
Jan said she was glad I told people that a sense of humor was an important survival skill.
It’s also what I loved best about the book tour. After four weeks and 22 events in more than 5000 miles, I have no idea how the tour will affect sales. But friends old and new shared generously with me, and the greatest gift they shared was laughter.
How to end this story? Where it began, I suppose: home. For me, home is not so much a place, as a person. Back in Denver, my husband gave me a kiss, some chocolates, and a card that made me laugh. It featured a puppy wearing a Scottish Tam, and inside, it said just one word, which conveys the only meaning in this story I’m sure of:
Inside, it said just one word: “Hi!”