Virginia Wastelander's Notebook
The Virginia Festival of the Book
Charlottesville, Virginia
March 23-25, 2007


Some trips start out stupid.

Get to O’Hare early, feeling prepared
unlike many trips—some free time,
not hours, but some. Kiss
Cinderella & hop out of the car
at United. Can’t get
the machine to spit out my tickets.
A United employee wanders by &
discovers I’m not flying
United—I’m flying US Airways!
It’s at the next terminal!
I have to hurry
and take the train!

To the airport train.
Over to
Terminal 2.
of bodies
stretching across
the entire building!
My flight leaves at 10:40, &
it’s already 9:45.
½ of the US Airways machines are
The line

I finally jump
out of line at 10:00 to cries
of dismay and hatred
from fellow travelers
and tell the US Airwoman
I need to get on a ticket kiosk
right now!
I hustle to Security
Almost out the door!

I get thru
Around 10:20.
to gate
There’s no flight
At F8!
I go to the monitor,
and it says the flight’s
on-time at F8.
The monitor down the hall says
the flight is out of F10!
I rush to F10.
There’s nobody at F10!
I go back to F8.
Now it says the flight is delayed
Till 11:20
at F10.

Fellow sufferers collect
at F10, when suddenly
we are told to hurry to F8.
We stampede to F8.
When it’s time to board,
they tell us the plane’s at
We scramble to F10,
but there’s no agent at the gate!
There’s no plane!

We dawdle.
We fret.

At noon,
there is a plane.
But the captain tells us
the ground crew has
put the luggage in the
wrong plane!

we board.
We’re all missing
our connections in Charlotte.
They tell us they will have
information for us in a
In a moment, they tell us
sorry—there is no information.

Plane lands at the exact moment
my flight to Virginia is
scheduled to take off.
But we’re in
a different terminal!
Tear thru
hordes of molasses-slow
crowds for about
97 miles and arrive
at an empty
The flight has boarded, and the
position is closed,
and I’m told to go find
a service desk
a cranky-ass woman
comes in from the tarmac
and yells, “What are you
doing here!”
I tell her
I’m trying to get to Charlottesville,
and she snaps, “Well you better get out on the
runway before the plane takes off!”
and throws open the door.
There are two planes to choose from
and I choose one and scramble
up the steps as they
slam the door and plop in a seat
hoping I’m not going to

We puddle-jump across
the Great American Southeast.
Me, and the world’s sweetest Navy wife
rushing to see her hubby
for the first time in two months,
and a happy grandpa coming home from a
cruise who tells me how
he rode the zip-line in Costa Rica
and crashed into the tree
and shattered his ribs and
had to be flown by
emergency Learjet to Miami
and paid $65,000
for the privilege, but that
wasn’t going to stop him
from cruising!
“I tell you—when they see your drink
is empty, they’re right there
with a bottle!”

At the Omni, my key cards
won’t open my door.
Maids take pity on me
and unlock the door for me.
I try to order room service,
but can’t find the menu!
I have to call the kitchen,
and they realize the hotel has put
brand new room directories
in all the rooms, but somehow
forgot to put menus in them!
Omni Doh!

I watch NCAA basketball on the tube
and talk scores and free-throws
w/ Cinderella on the cell phone.

Impossible to sleep.
i-Pod till


The CSPAN “Book TV” guy
calls at 9:00 to make sure
I’ll make it to my interview.
Good thing, too—I could sleep the day away
and miss my events.
Up. Grunt. Bad hotel
bathroom-sink counter Wolfgang Puck
and chemical white powder creamer coffee.
Iron my shirt.
Ride the glass elevator
into the rabble and yawp
of the book fair sale tables
at full pitch in the big lobby.

I find the festival sign-in table. I ask
the very un-Southern woman there
if I need to sign in with her or get
a badge or a welcome basket or
an info packet, or…?

“You need a ticket for this event,” she snaps. “Where’s
your ticket!”

“Excuse me?”

“You can’t attend events
without a ticket.”

I’m an author.”
“Author, eh?”

“One of

“What’s your name?”


She checks the color Sharpie-
drawn map of the sales tables
adorned with names
of mystery and romance
bookstore owners
and local writing clubs
and local authors
with weird-history and
Civil War ghost books
and says, “I don’t see you

“I’m not there!” I say,
knowing for sure I’m being Punk’d.
“I’m not selling books. I’m a presenter.”

“Presenter, huh. Which one?”


I have a flash of brilliance
And point to myself on the
poster. Right by
Charles Bowden.
“That’s me, see?” I say.

She peers at it,
Then looks back at me, unimpressed.
“That doesn’t look
like you,” she says.

I sneak away for breakfast,
then slink to my room to
put on my ironed shirt and jacket
so I’ll look sharp
for my execution—
I mean—my TV
interview, followed by my
10,000th frigging immigration

At City Hall, the CSPAN interview
is on automatic pilot: Boilerplate Urrea
Border Expert Bullshit Data Program
B-17c, Index X. Later,
Good ol’ Bowden will say,
“Somebody has to watch TV
at 3:00 in the morning.”

Can’t find lunch.
The sandwich place I choose
Closes as I walk in the door!

Back to City Hall.
There’s Chuck Bowden,
inhaling cigs and sprawling
on a bench taking the sun,
and he spies me and gets up
and resumes a conversation
we apparently dropped out of
a year ago. I think
he actually starts by saying,

I settle in beside him and join
the perpetual Chuck info stream.
A woman comes out and says, “Do either of you
mind of I smoke?”
“Oh Hell!” Chuck rumbles.
“What do you think I’m doing
out here? I can take
all the smoke I can get. Hey,
do me a favor and blow
all your smoke on me!”
He pulls out his own cig.
He says, “Let’s go all the way
with this.
Got any cocaine?”

A woman recognizes him. And then
another woman recognizes me.
We stand in the sun,
Official Famous Authors,
Our Public.

200 people come
into the City Council chambers.
Chuck, Hiroshi Matamura, the last gentleman,
and me. People
right in front of us
prying open our books
and putting their fingers in them.
Grace and Clarke, posters to my blog,
share a minute
before we are called upon
to save the world again.

And we’re off! To the President’s
Residence at the U. Yet another
tent at another Prez Rez where writers
ogle writers. FANBOY THWARTED:
Urrea Searches for Lee Child and George
Pellecanos, But Doesn’t See Them
Anywhere—Hundreds Mourn.
Earl Hamner tries to get thru
the matrons to get some poached fish
in lemon sauce.

Off again! To the reading
with Lee Smith and Howard
Norman. Lots
of nice people in nice cars
taking me to places I have never been
in cities I don’t know.

I’m scribbling this onstage
as the audience files in
and fills the auditorium
with voices.
The room fills, and folks go
up to the balcony. I know
they’re here to see Miss Lee,
who is the rock star.

She was a go-go dancer
with a rock band called The Virginia Wolfs.
She’s so delightful and funny, you get drunk
just shaking her hand. Howard Norman
and I trade happy hugs. A good night.
We make a good team—though I think Howard
is more serious than we are. Miss Lee and I
seem to have the giggles. Bad, bad writers.
And somehow, the perversity of the draw
comes upon us and they decide to make
the reading-order alphabetical! What!
Howard and Lee open for me? Not right.
you know,
I’ll take the spotlight
Definitely a Jimi Hendrix at Monterrey
situation for me. If I hope to make
any impression at all on the audience
after Howard wows ‘em and Lee slays’em…
Well, I have to burn the guitar.
So I light it on up.

Good signing line: all Hummingbirds sell out.

Miss Lee and her pal
take me back to the Omni.
There’s a huge party in the lobby—
foxy Virginia ladies in tight slick satin
and a house band honking thru
“Play that Fonky Muzak, White Boah!”
Miss Lee’s going to have a drink.
We part with an amazing announcement
from the Smith camp: “I have
n aluminum wrist!” she says.

I’m going back to room 617
to have a party in the bathroom
and go to bed.


Russian room service gal
brings a tray of eggs
and asks, “May I come in
your room?”
Puh-leeze come on in! I holler!
She smells much better
than the eggs, and places the tray
on the desk and stands exactly
eight feet closer to the door
as I sign the check.
“Is hot outside,” she warns.
“I come to work at four-thirty.
Is already sixty-five degrees!”
I tip her $5
just for her

A nice man in a nice truck
takes me to the nice airport
in a direction I do not know
on roads I will never see again.
We have an uproarious time
in the truck.
The tiny airport is friendly
as hell. In the book store,
the woman behind the counter marvels:
“You found you a book!”
“Why yes I did!” I enthuse.
Kill Me, by Stephen White. I should have been
reading that on Friday!

Later, waiting at O’Hare for my bride to collect me,
I watch a sad couple in love. Cars and trucks and buses
roar past as they sit on the curb, big wheels missing their toes
by inches. The elevated train rattles above the cars, all
a noisy scene from Blade Runner. He’s got on a blue
O’Hare smock and a name-tag, and she
looks 24 from a distance—tight low-rider hip-huggers,
a little black top that’s almost a tank-top, blonde hair.
But you get close and see she has no teeth. Deep lines
in her face, that rough sandpaper cough and
skeleton-arms and legs. Chain-smoking.
Hair’s like greased straw. She has a white ball of flesh
sticking out of her bony arm, right at the vein.
She gets up and does odd deep-knee bends,
actually smacking her tiny butt
on the sidewalk. She stands and blinks slowly as she
looks at the trucks. She
leans forward at the slightest
angle off-plumb and starts shuffle-dancing.
Tweaker-love. Dying
of Chicago Concrete-Poisoning
on a glorious afternoon.
He puts his arm around her—it goes all the way
around her shoulders and rests on her veiny wrist
as they sit together and watch the cars
drive away.
Somewhere inside her, the angel
still singing.

My wife comes at last.

I am going home—
the most popular writer
in my own kitchen.

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