Furlough Tour: Day Six

It's possible that there is a time vortex on the New Jersey turnpike.

Bidding New York farewell, I left the city this morning with a carefully planned route to avoid tolls and make it to lunch in Delaware. That plan did not account for an hour at 8 mph, as the New Jersey turnpike continues to redefine "clusterfuck" for me. And this is driving at non-peak times, folks.

Somehow the three-hour drive to Delaware ended up being more like four and a half hours. Then I met long-time reader Meri Weiss for lunch, cementing the awesomeness of a tour that lets me meet people who have supported my work for almost a decade now and cheered me on through the internet. Meri, by the way, is awesome.

Then back to the turnpike, dangit, and more tolls. We're up to $60.50 in tolls, folks, and that doesn't include the bridge over the Hudson (I think) which is experimenting with mail-in tolls. You drive through, it takes a picture of your license plate and mails you a bill. We'll see if it catches up to me and my little rental car, or if Hertz shreds the bill and gives New York transit the finger.

Two wrong turns, an attempt to avoid tolls by taking an alternate route and two toll plazas that brilliantly force twelve lanes to converge into four without lines or guides in any way, and I somehow reached Baltimore three hours later than planned. This was disappointing, to say the least, because I had hoped to have some time at my former school, Bryn Mawr.

For those of us joining the show already in progress: my first two years of high school were at the Bryn Mawr School for girls in Baltimore. Then we moved to Tennessee. Though I did not finish at Bryn Mawr, the school kindly considers me an alumna anyway. I had been in contact with the school regarding the Furlough Tour, and dropped by to donate a few books to the library. (Not the naughty books. This is a school. I stuck to the PG books.)

I have not been back in Baltimore for twenty years. I returned briefly to watch my classmates graduate from Bryn Mawr, but travel costs and time have greatly limited my ability to tour or vacation here.

It was a surreal and emotional experience. I've said before that Bryn Mawr helped make me the person I am today, and people look at me like I'm nuts, because it was only two years. But they were two incredibly important, formative years. I was a very shy, bookworm-y girl in Massachusetts, and being at Bryn Mawr helped me out of my shell. I formed friendships that have lasted to this day. And Bryn Mawr kicked my ass academically, forcing me to stop coasting on my writing and actually work for my grades. I have no doubt that I would not have succeeded in college if not for that experience.

When we moved, I was not happy, and I told my parents so. Both my sister and I had found happy niches in Baltimore. What if we had stayed? What if I had finished there, if we'd never gone to Tennessee? My life would have been very different, to be sure. It's almost certain I would not have gone to the University of Memphis or the University of Tennessee. I would not have met the people there who have become so important to me. I certainly wouldn't have met my first husband, had my son, or met Jimmy. So there's no way I'd say it was a bad thing. I love my family, friends and the life I've built.

Part of me does wonder what kind of career I would have had, if I'd finished in Baltimore. A Bryn Mawr diploma might have sent me to any college on scholarship. I would probably still have become a reporter, certainly a writer of some kind once I got theater out of my system (as much as one ever does). What newspaper or magazine would I work for? How would my writing have developed? It might have sent my career in a very different direction.

I drove past our old house, and the pharmacy where I had my first job. (They still have a soda fountain!) I had to get downtown fast for dinner, but what-might've-been stuck with me for a while. This tour is about my fiction writing, and if I have any regrets on that scale, it is the amount of time I wasted in my youth not working on my writing, dorking around with unpublishable crap when I could have been practicing the craft. I didn't strive for serious, publishable work until well after I had a full-time job and a family. Anyone who has tried to juggle a writing career with a day job and a family knows how hard that is. All those empty days in the dorm room, I could have been writing and reading. How much more would I have done?

Then I remember that my son thinks my sneezes are funny. Or so he told me when I called and then sneezed in his ear three times. I remember how much Jimmy misses me, and they are surviving on hot dogs all week so I'd better get back before they come down with scurvy. I love my job, and I love my family, and I wouldn't have either if I'd stayed in Baltimore and gotten my Ivy-League degree.

We arrived at the coffeehouse and found that it was closing early. So we moved a few doors up on Thames Street in Fells Point to an Irish pub, which happened to be across the street from the filming site of Homicide: Life on the Street, one of my favorite older cop shows.

The Precinct.
The evening went very well, with plenty of reminiscing about the ancient days and bemoaning the changes in the Inner Harbor. I'd like to thank the folks for generously buying books, too. It's funny that Baltimore is turning into one of my more profitable stops, given that we weren't able to get a real event set up.

I'm staying tonight with my sister in her funky older townhouse in York, Pa. Tomorrow morning it's off to Virginia, then Charlotte! John Hartness and I are signing at The Last Word in Charlotte, N.C. at 7 p.m. Be there!

Missed Opportunity of the Day: My lateness meant I couldn't buy a Bryn Mawr notebook, because the Mawrket was closed. I wonder if they would ship?
Thanks: To Sheri Brandenberg Cobb for finding me in Fells Point and for saving all the silly letters I wrote to her in high school.