In early March, I learned that my science fiction novel Collaborators had been named as a Finalist for the Lambda Literary Award. Much celebration ensued. (Feel free to do so yourselves at this point – a little celebration is good for everyone. Ready to go on? Okay!) Once the initial giddy high had subsided somewhat, the Big Question arose: whether to go to New York City to attend the awards ceremony. Many reasons to do so presented themselves. OMG how could I NOT? topped the list, followed by how many friends and relations I could visit and how long it had been since I’d had a face to face confab with my agent and my New York publisher. The reasons not to go began with I won’t win (I was right) and devolved into how can I possibly afford it? and my loathing for travel across time zones, the hideousness of the resulting jet lag, and that I always get sick when I do. I kid you not. The reason I didn’t run for a second term as SFWA Secretary was that I’d come down with bronchitis whenever I traveled beyond the West Coast. In the end, the reason that clinched my decision was the pterodactyl exhibit at the Museum of Natural History. I adore living in the redwoods, but museums are not exactly plentiful and anything paleontological generates a noticeable surge in endorphins.
Airline tickets, check. Phone calls to relatives, check. Place to stay in Manhattan with dear college friend, check! Dates with publisher, agent, and local friends, you bet. Although I typically live and work in old comfy jeans and T-shirts, I had the perfect dress to wear to the ceremony itself – a flowing silk caftan, tie-dyed in brilliant rainbow colors, a discovery from the UNICEF store in Pasadena in the early 1970s (silk endures – it’s worth the investment). As for the rest of the events – ack! I am so not a person who enjoys shopping (see above wardrobe). My neighbor surprised me with a late birthday gift, three colorful tops, all with pretty details at the neckline.
I loaded up the first-generation Kindle bestowed upon me by my early-tech-adopter daughter with Book View Café offerings, packed clothes and gifts and netbook, and hied myself hence to the airport. About the only good thing I can say about airports is that I am usually paranoid enough to arrive really early because you never know what problems may arise with security. The gods laugh at this, and cause me to be randomly selected for express passage or whatever it’s called. I didn’t even have to take off my shoes. The result was that I had plenty of time to write while awaiting my flight/s, this being the best way to screen out the sights and sounds of the airport. I still cannot understand why the seats in the waiting areas are designed to create back problems even in people with healthy spines, but they are. Maybe the interior designers are in the pay of chiropractors’ associations. I arrived in New York City with seven additional pages on my work-in-progress and figured that no matter what else happened, the trip was a success.
I had already determined that, regardless of my usual thrifty habits, I was going to take a taxi from the airport. I knew I’d arrive tired, hungry, time-disoriented, lugging a big suitcase, and unfamiliar with the public transit system. What I didn’t realize was that I was in for not only a comfortable, convenient ride, but a delightful conversation with a Bangladesh immigrant who swapped stories with me about our kids (his were still in college and when they graduate, he’s going back home, or so he says). I arrived at my destination convinced that New York is populated by interesting, friendly people. Of course, that’s no excuse for being unobservant or careless about one’s surroundings, but it’s a pretty good attitude to have.
I thought I had planned a long enough trip so that I’d have some time for relaxation, but I greatly underestimated the speed with which my schedule filled up. I tried, I really tried, to space out my commitments. Remember the bit about the gods laughing? So, for example, on my first full day in the city, I had a date to join my half-brother and his partner for dinner. This involved a morning of finding the nearest Metro station, obtaining a Metro card and map, checking route and determining that the quickest route way by bus, finding my way back to my friend’s apartment, etc. Public transportation in New York was an eye-opener for this resident of rural Central Coast California. You can get places, places that you actually want or need to go. Buses and subway trains come frequently. As opposed to our valley, where there is one, count ’it one, bus line that runs once an hour during the day and not at all late at night.
I had an interesting experience, rather in the same vein as my Bangladeshi-with-kids, while waiting for the bus. (Oh, and before I forget – it rained. In June. How is this even possible?) There was a little shelter with a bench big enough for three people. One space left. I sat down. An elderly woman using arm crutches approached. I got up and offered her my place. Yeah, I’m gray-haired and a bit gimpy, but I can stand perfectly well. Then the cool thing happened. The other two people offered me their seats. Go figure.
My college friend is a sociologist who coordinates research teams in the Sahel (studying the impact of community health care workers) and was also hosting a colleague from Burkina Faso. After they’d finished writing their grant proposal, he wanted to do a little sight-seeing. It seemed a shame to come all that way just to be penned up in an office. He very much wanted to see the 911 memorial and the Statue of Liberty. So I came along. The memorial was eloquent in its simplicity but crowded with tourists. We found out we’d come to the wrong place for the boat that goes around Manhattan Island, so we took the (free) ferry to Staten Island (and back) and got to see the Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island in passing. My father and uncle passed through Ellis Island in 1922.
All of this meant that I didn’t connect with my distant-cousin until late in the afternoon, and then in the evening, for a visit to the photography exhibit by her friend Paul Margolis on The Hidden Ellis Island. He’d been able to photograph the unrestored area – quarantine wards, maternity wards, the like – in 2002. Gorgeous, haunting images. I’ll wait right here while you take a peek. Done? Okay!
Monday, the day of the ceremony, arrived all too soon. Gabrielle Harbowy, who had edited Collaborators, had come to New York, so we met up (after one of the two times I got lost on the subway and had to take a taxi to get to where she was) and went in. Suffice it to say, it was far more glamorous than I’m used to, but I knew very few people there. Which was totally okay. It was an amazing thrill to see the cover of my book on the screen behind the stage. I didn’t win, but I knew that, so I wasn’t disappointed.
The rest of the week unfolded with no reduction in intensity, visits with New York publisher and agent went splendidly, and I did get to see the pterodactyl exhibit (oh my!) My friend, a couple of her friends, and I then decamped for New Hampshire, where I spent the first day sleeping.
Then back home where, alas and predictably, I wended my way through jetlag by turning into a screaming harpy for two days, dealt with various crises, and came down with bronchitis. Why did I think this trip-across-time-zones would be any different? As glad as I am to have gone, I am even gladder to be home. Pterodactyls have their place, but mine is in the redwoods.