Wednesday, July 31, 2013

Murphy's Law and a Malicious GPS

I recently spent nearly a week in Tennessee visiting my parents and selling books—and golfing and ruining my left knee. At 11:00 am on Friday morning, I headed for Saugatuck, Michigan, for an art in the park where I was to sell more of my books. My Garmin GPS said I’d arrive at my daughter’s apartment, forty minutes north of Saugatuck at 8:22 pm. Yeah, right. What GPS ever took into consideration Murphy’s Law? Exactly…none of them ever do.

The obvious route was to take I-40 into Nashville and then catch I-65 north to Michigan. The Garmin, however was bound and determined that I take back roads for approximately 650 miles. I wholeheartedly disagreed, so each and every exit I passed, the annoying mechanical device recalculated my arrival time, and it continued to scoff at me, telling me I was going to arrive later and later. On the two-hour leg of the trip to Nashville, the Garmin let me know I had lost well over an hour, so inconceivably, just before Nashville, I decided to do as the Garmin said, thinking I just might miss the noontime traffic by skirting around the city. The Garmin is actually a demon, isn’t it? It was programmed by an evil, insidious, inhumane, sinister person, intent on ruining the day of any would-be follower who recklessly throws all caution to wind, correct? On my ninth turn and eleventh stoplight, I began to recognize that I didn’t “recognize” anything whatsoever and that Nashville was quite a busy city and that I was lost and my Garmin had no intention of finding me or saving me any time on my trip. It just wanted to toy with me. I checked it for settings that might possibly say “Expressways only” or some such thing. I swear I barely took my eyes off the road, but when I looked up, the twelfth red stoplight had mysteriously appeared and another car was comfortably sitting before it while I raced toward him at approximately forty MPH. I slammed on my breaks, swerved to the shoulder, and skidded to a stop exactly beside the law-abiding driver. I never looked to my left, but I’m certain the driver was glaring at me and making unnecessary gestures. I knew I was a careless idiot; I didn’t need any additional confirmation.

Well, I found I-40 (yes, the very road I exited) and drove the rest of the way through Nashville and onto I-65 north. My car brakes had begun grinding unmercifully after the near accident—until Louisville, Kentucky, that is. It was there that every car on the highway was taking a siesta. No cars were moving—at all—and the grinding stopped. Indefinitely. For some reason, no cars were getting off at the exit just ahead and to my right. When I eventually inched forward, I decided to head through another big city. I actually had very little faith in the GPS, so I took out my phone and went to the compass with the brilliant notion of heading north for a while and then slipping back onto the expressway ahead of the traffic jam. My compass said I was going southwest. I can now say with certainty that there was a Gremlin in my phone as well…so after driving several miles in what I was sure was the correct direction, I finally turned to the GPS device for guidance. It said turn left. Turn left. Turn left. Turn left. I kid you not—I went completely around onto the same road I started. If Louisville has a ghetto, by the way, I was in it. All roads were one-way streets. On the fifth left, I was directed to get on I-65 east, which I passed out of confusion, but I then decided in pure frustration to do as I was instructed by the evil device, so again I turned left, left, left, left, left, left—again, I kid you not—and it was on all different streets than before. I didn’t recognize a single one, but on the sixth left, the fiendish gadget told me to get on I-65 west. Yes, west. I did it. And somehow shortly thereafter was speeding along north toward my destination. 

My arrival time continued to climb as I burst back onto the expressway, certain that it would be smooth sailing, but within five minutes, there was no movement whatsoever. I saw flashing lights far ahead, but no cars were moving at all; however, there was an exit to my right. I was in the left lane, of course. After waiting twenty minutes with my turn signal on, the cars had moved enough for me to change lanes and I drove right into…a rest stop—even I had to laugh. But I passed about a hundred cars when I drove back out onto the expressway. When I finally passed the mangled car, burnt to a crisp on the side of the road, my Garmin said I was going to arrive at 11:00. I’d lost two hours and thirty-eight minutes at that point. 

There is a road that runs north through Indiana called US-31 that on a map looks like a wonderful shortcut to Grand Rapids, Michigan, but which a couple of kind customers in a gas station told me to avoid like a plague, unless I wanted to stop at approximately 400 stoplights and visit 35 small towns on my way through the state. I chose to heed the advice, but my Garmin was bound and determined for me to exit and use the most direct path. Each time I passed the suggested exit, the time recalculated to something later, until at midnight, I was still an hour from Saugatuck and an hour and forty minutes (barring a new disaster) from Allendale and my desired resting place. I had an unload/set-up time at 6:45 am on Saturday. I deducted that it was no longer sensible to visit my daughter, so I pulled off at an exit where I saw a Super 8 motel where I envisioned a nap and a shower for about $40.00. At the Super 8, a single room was just “$109.99 plus tax.” I slept in a truck stop.

My knee was aching, my car was full of crap, and I was so tired and frustrated that I basically cleared space on top of my folded-down back seats which I was unable to raise, laid down some blankets and pillows, and crashed for four hours. I woke up twice—the first time after a dream that I was speeding around an elevated expressway entrance and my brakes weren’t working. I jerked the steering wheel so I wouldn’t fall to my death and woke myself, dripping inside a sauna. Every window was fogged over and I was completely drenched in sweat. I opened the windows some and fell asleep only to dream I was being robbed at gunpoint at the truck stop, but I saved myself with a sand wedge from my golf bag that I used to whack the thief over the head. As I was plucking hairs off my wedge, my phone alarm went off, and I got to have my first experience in a truck stop shower. Thirteen dollars. But I showered, changed from my sweat-saturated clothes, brushed my teeth, and made it to my art in the park event right on time—nineteen hours and forty-five minutes after I left Tennessee. Thank you very much, Murphy. It was a frustrating adventure that I’ll never forget.

Thursday, July 18, 2013

The Things People Say

     “Wow, I’ve never met a real author before,” a very friendly lady said.
     “My guess is that you have,” I replied. “There are a lot of us, and most of us are just normal people.”
     I shook her hand, and she walked away without buying a book. I guess I convinced her I wasn’t so special after all. A little over two years ago, I was asked to be a career speaker at my former middle school—as an author. I had been a school teacher for over twenty years and a coach throughout my entire teaching career. When I got my nametag, it said: “Jeff LaFerney, Author.” I laughed. I wasn’t an author; I was just a school teacher/coach who had written a book.

     Three books later, and after more public speaking and career speaking opportunities, I now think of myself as an author, but I still don’t see myself as anything special. Maybe I don’t feel special because my own school district turned me away when I volunteered to be a career speaker at the building where I teach. Maybe I don’t feel very special because my own school district reprimanded me for abusing our school’s acceptable use computer policy when I sent out an email to my teacher friends telling them my second book was published. But I digress.

     What helps me accept that I actually am an author? Maybe I feel like an author because of all the great book reviews for each of my novels or because I’ve made money on each of the first three, and I’m well on my way with my fourth. Maybe it’s because of the bookmarks and posters and events I attend where people purchase my books. Maybe it’s because of royalty checks or news articles or blog posts or a growing author page. Or maybe…just maybe…it’s because I’ve managed to complete and publish four entertaining books. Maybe, however, it’s because nobody but an author trying to peddle his books would have conversations such as the following:

     “I’m writing a book too,” a middle-aged man with a full beard and mustache proudly said. “Well, I’ve been writing it for seventeen years, but someday, when I have more time, I’ll complete it.”
     (He’ll be on his deathbed telling people his one regret is he never finished his book.)

     “Congratulations,” a motherly-looking lady said. “I don’t read, so I can’t imagine someone writing a whole book.”
     (Well, thank you….Is that a compliment or a backhanded way of saying I’m crazy?)

     “I’m part of a book club,” another shopper volunteered. “It would be cool to have a published author talk to our group. Maybe you can give us a wholesale price and we can read yours next.”
     (I actually said yes to this, but I can’t help but wonder if I’m ever going to start making more than nine cents an hour on this hobby of mine.)

     “I have a great idea for a book,” a lady said. “Would you consider writing it for me?”
     (Sure. And I have a great idea for a little reader’s/writer’s getaway. Would you consider building it for me?)

     “You’re a writer? You must be rich,” a young boy stated.
     (Oh, yes, for sure. See above.)

     “You wrote all these books?” a stunned, plump lady asked me. “You must have a lot of spare time. Do you have a job?”
     (First of all, I do have a job—a full-time one—yet I also manage to write books in all of my “spare time.” Secondly, do you always say whatever pops into your head? Maybe I should have asked her if she was pregnant.)

     “I always support local authors,” a kind gentleman promptly said as he arrived at my table. “I’ll take all four.”
     “Do you know something about them already?” I asked in wonderment.
     “No, but after I read them I will. I’ll let you know if I don’t like them.”
     (Should I change my e-mail address?)

     A man walked up and looked at my titles. “Do you like mysteries and suspense?” I asked.
     “No, I only read books about Vietnam.”
     “Fiction or non-fiction?” I replied, trying to be conversational.
     “No. War books about Vietnam.” (The look on his face made me wonder if I had food lodged between my front teeth.)
     “I mean real or imaginary?”
     “The war was real, dude.” (And then he looked at me like I was offering him a messy diaper. Needless to say, he walked away in disbelief at how stupid I was.)

     A lady strolled up to my table and scanned each of my books. “These are mystery and suspense titles,” I said. “And this one is a time-travel action/adventure.”
     She said, “I don’t read books. I can’t see.”
     “Oh,” I said. “You seem to be getting around okay.”
     “Well, I can see fine for that,” she snapped.
     (Maybe I should get audio books. Maybe she should get glasses so I wouldn’t be so confused.)

     “You sell them on Kindle? I’ll buy it from there.”
     (Oh, but of course. What are the odds that she’d hurry home and snap up my books on Kindle? 1:1,173,212.)

     “Are there swear words? You people who curse all the time in books ought to be ashamed,” a tiny senior lady said.
     “There are no swear words in any of my books,” I replied.
     “Who would buy them then?” she said as she smacked her lips together.
     (I couldn’t tell if she had teeth.)

     “Wow, I’ll take this one,” a college-aged guy said as he handed me one dollar.
     “They’re ten dollars,” I patiently responded.
     “Ten? Well, I only have two, and I need to go get a slushy.”
     (What if I would have sold him a book for a dollar? Could he have gotten a slushy for the other dollar?)

     “I’ll buy your book,” a young Armenian man said.
     “Would you like me to sign it for you?” I asked before he handed over the money.
     “Sure,” he said.
     “What’s your name?”
     “Pandukht.”(Or something like that).
     (While I signed the book, he walked away…never to return. That book ended up on my school bookshelf, a tax-deductible donation with a kind comment to practical-joking Pandukht—or something like that.)

     “Oh, Skeleton Key. I loved that movie.”
     “My book isn’t the same story, but I’m really close friends with Kate Hudson.” (I sometimes exaggerate.)
     “Ha, ha,” the woman said as she walked away.
     (I was shocked. Who doesn’t like my humor?)

     “Jumper! I loved that movie.”
     “Thank you. My son was the main character.” (I lied because my Skeleton Key humor went over like a ton of bricks.)
     “Your son is Hayden Christensen? Why’s your name LaFerney?”
     “Oh, we must be talking about two different things.”
     (Sometimes sarcasm works and sometimes it doesn’t. Well, mostly it doesn’t.)

     “My daughter’s a writer. Her stories are awesome. Would you read them and give her pointers?”
     (I was thinking if her stories are so awesome, she should read my books and give me some pointers.)

     “Are your books on audio? I listen to all my books since I can’t see.”
     “You’re not even wearing glasses,” I interjected.
     “It don’t matter.” (I hate the bad grammar of that sentence). “I can see far. It’s just the close things I can’t see. Like books.”
     “Can you drive?”
     “As long as I don’t have to read anything.”
     (Like your dashboard or road signs?)

     “Is your book in a bookstore?”
     “A few, but you don’t need to go to a bookstore because I have copies right here.”
     (She walked away, but I thought it was worth a try.)

     Oh, yes, I’m an author. The rampant rejection alone is undeniable truth, but writing my crazy ideas down and discovering people enjoy them makes me title-worthy. Yep…the things people say…both to me and by me is ample evidence.