TOUR DIARY: AT LONG LAST, AUSTIN
David Rakoff is scared that he's about to be shot to death. I don't know this even though I'm seated right next to him. The murder of the acclaimed writer, if it happens, would be even more shocking for me since minutes ago he gave me a pecan that he found growing wild on a path often walked by George W. Bush. This came a few minutes after he and I seemingly presided over a session of the Texas state senate. Am I about to be splattered with the very finely developed brain of David Rakoff, so soon after, I think, becoming friends with him?
I am in Austin, Texas. It is the Texas Book Festival. It was started by Laura Bush.
There were writers flying in to Austin in great numbers for the festival and t-shirt clad festival volunteers swarming the airport ready to give them rides. There was a Live Strong convention happening simulataneously and volunteers for that one were picking up attendees as well but since no one ever accuses writers of living strong, confusion was not an issue. I was delivered to my hotel around 5pm and with little else to do until morning, went to the restaurant and ordered a big steak and a glass of red wine.
This was followed by one of my regular constitutional strolls around the city, down 6th street where every building is a bar and every bar has a live band and it's 6pm and every band is quite fond indeed of Stevie Ray Vaughn.
The next morning I woke up (which is normal) and went to breakfast at the Texas Governor's Mansion (which is not) but the governor was not there to join me for breakfast (which is normal) nor were many of the other big names at the festival. They let us tour the inside of the house but served us breakfast on the lawn since we are, after all, writers.
I was told that my event, a panel discussion with the estimable David Rakoff, would take place in the Capitol building itself. I figured that meant a conference room somewhere, possibly a hallway. But nope: we were in the senate chambers. Massive room, ornate decor, statesmanlike. Many folks coming to watch sat in the gallery but the senators' seats were also filled up with festival attendees as if they would vote on our funniness quotient. After an hour of warm reception and jokes flying about, we were escorted to our signing tent. Along the way, David found pecans on the ground and was told that they grow on trees in Austing. Delighted, he offered me one, which I gladly ate (how often do top-notch humorists give you pecans? you've got to carpe the diem).
At our table, there was a small stream of autograph seekers for David and a trickle for me. This, we consoled ourselves, was due to the Shea-Stadium-for-The-Beatles-like mob that was going bananas for Barack Obama. He had been in the House chambers while we were in the Senate. I never even saw him, whisked, as he was, from building to signing tent and then off to save the country or something. As David and I sat there, a man approached wearing a big parka (on an 85 degree day) and appeared to be reaching for something in his pocket as he looked straight at/through David Rakoff. It turned out to be...a book which was quickly signed and the fella dispatched with less small talk than normal. Turns out, David was convinced the man had a gun and that this would be the end of his life. He had made some disparaging remarks about the famously hostile Barbara Bush in his book and thought "aha, now that I'm in Texas, her posse has come to rub me out."
After the signing petered out, Mr. Rakoff, who I'm happy to report is a heck of a nice guy despite living in fear of assassination, walked with me to the C-SPAN BookTV traveling bus for my interview. You sit down, a microphone is clipped on, and before you quite realize it, you're on television. Or at least you will be. When they air it. And I don't know when that will be.
David was doing an event with Amy Sedaris later, giving me a chance to get her book signed for my wife (Amy is also very nice, it's okay to be a fan). Then I walked back to the hotel, was driven to the airport and my book tour was over. I flew from Dallas to Seattle in first class, the first time I had ever flown first class in my life. It was much nicer than the first time I tried chewing tobacco. That experience is chronicled in my book. Have I mentioned I wrote a book?