Tue 24

Travel Diary: Day #1 (Melbourne, L.A.)

Writing [ Max’s U.S. Tour Dates ]

“Going anywhere exotic?” says the guy in the blue shirt. I’m startled because I have big weepy eyes and tear-stained cheeks and surely nobody talks to someone who looks like that. Yeah, so I’m a marshmallow. I’ve just said good-bye to my wife and baby girl and all I can think about is the way Fin’s little fingers curled around mine as she lay in her car seat. I haven’t spent single a day apart from her since she was born in August, and now I’ll be out of her life for eleven of them.

“L.A.,” I say. I’m leaving it up to him to judge whether L.A. is exotic. Under normal circumstances I’d grant that, but since we’re standing in line to check-in for a flight to… yes, Los Angeles, it’s kind of a weird question.

But talking to Blue Shirt makes me feel better. So does going through Australian Customs, because they’ve opened some barriers to allow you to short-circuit the enormous queue maze, only some passengers haven’t noticed, and they’re going back and forth, back and forth. This is amusing to watch.

In line I observe that the outgoing declaration form has a big notice saying “MAKE SURE TO COMPLETE BOTH SIDES OF THIS FORM,” but only on the back. I wonder how big a problem that can really be, people filling out just the backs of forms.

I have more than an hour to kill before departure, so I browse through the airport bookstore. A couple wander past me, talking in French. They sound very cool until the woman says, “<francais francais francais> Da Vinci Code.”

I buy an amusing-looking book called HOW TO RULE THE WORLD, even though I already have three books in my bag and know I will collect more on tour. In ten days I will probably be trying to figure out how to get my excess baggage home. At the bookstore counter I see the new John Grisham paperback; it’s called THE BROKER and the tag line is: “He broke the rules, now he must pay the price.” The Broker: he broke things? Worst. Tagline. Ever.

After an hour waiting by the gate, the Captain wanders out and declares that they can’t start one of the engines, so we won’t be going anywhere for a while. Seriously. We all take him at his word because he’s wearing a natty uniform. The Captain tells us how they’re going to steal a part from another plane to get us in the air, and the plane we steal from will get a part from a plane in Sydney, and… eventually, I guess, all the planes will be in the air except for one, and its Captain will be shaking his fist and swearing. Anyway, apparently this part can be fitted to our plane within the hour. One of the passengers says, “Take your time!” This gets a laugh, so he says it again, louder. Then he sits down, to, I hope, think long and hard about what he’s done.

An hour passes. I feel tired and bored. An announcement informs us that the part has been fitted, but now the plane is too hot from sitting out in the sun, so there will be a delay while they run the air conditioning. This strikes me as the kind of thing that could have been done simultaneously with fitting the engine part, but of course I’m not an aeronautical engineer.

A guy sitting in my eye line is wearing one of those inflatable pillows. Look, okay, if you’re on a plane, I guess the extra comfort is worth looking that stupid. But we’re still at the gate. He’s wearing an inflatable pillow at the gate.

It’s not a good sign that I’m this irritable this early.

We get underway two hours late. There are babies all around me, but for some reason I find them calming. I like that I can predict that the baby that’s making little crow-like caws in the back of his throat is about to go to sleep, and sure enough, he does. When the babies are happy I wish I’d brought Jen and Fin with me and when the babies scream I’m glad I didn’t.

We hit turbulence early, which puts most of the kids to sleep. It goes away, then comes back, and gets steadily worse for the rest of the flight. By the time we start our descent into LA I feel like I’ve just spent 14 hours on a carnival ride. The Captain says it’s the bumpiest ride he can remember in 30 years of flying. I feel a little pride at being there for the record, also nausea.

I’m nervous at US Customs. I always am, ever since a Customs Officer threatened to bar me from the country in 1999. When I told him I was coming over to do a book tour, he said, “I hear money.” I said, “What?” Again: “I hear money.” He just kept saying it. Eventually I worked out that he didn’t want a bribe but rather thought I was coming here to work—to earn a salary—and I was so relieved I laughed. This was probably a mistake. Because even though I explained quite clearly that nobody pays authors to do bookstore readings, he refused to believe me. Eventually—long after every other passenger had left and it was just me, Jen, and Customs Officers looking like they were just waiting for an excuse to probe something—he said, “I’ll pretend I didn’t hear anything about any book tour.”

Every trip since then it’s been no problem. This time is no exception, although the new US-VISIT program is running, which means I get fingerprinted (left index finger on the pad, sir, now your right), and photographed by a bulbous and somehow evil-looking little webcam. I think this is the first time I’ve ever been fingerprinted. It feels strange. What are they going to do with my fingerprints? Wait until I commit a terrorist atrocity, then make sure I’m not allowed back in? I don’t like that I can think of plenty of things to do with a giant fingerprint database if you’re a government wanting to increase your power, but not many if you just want to prevent terrorism.

It’s 10:30 Tuesday morning. This time today, I was checking in at Melbourne Airport. That’s thanks to the time difference. Yikes. For me, today is 43 hours long.

I catch a cab to my hotel and mess up the tipping. That is, I do the cab driver okay (I think: a little over 15%) but the doorman rushes my bag inside and I don’t tip him straight away because I think he’s going to take it all the way to my room, but then he disappears after depositing it at the check-in counter. Tipping is a nightmare for Australians: we don’t do it at home and don’t know how to do it abroad. It’s a cultural thing: to us, it’s insulting to offer someone such a small amount of money. I know, I know: for many service workers it adds up. But still, when I give someone a tip of a dollar or two I expect them to say, “Well, gee!! Thanks a lot, Mr. Big Spender! Think I’ll buy me a stick of gum!”

First thing I do after check-in is walk down the street and buy a phone card, so I can call home for less than $9 per minute. The second thing I do is call home. It’s 7 a.m., which usually means that Fin is waking up, and luckily her timing today is immaculate. I talk to Jen and then she puts me on speaker. I am informed that Fin is chewing on the phone while I’m talking to her, which I believe because I can hear little slurping sounds. It’s wonderful; I can picture Jen and Fin exactly. For a second I can even smell Finlay. Heaven.

I grab a couple hours sleep, then am woken by a phone that I prove too stupid to answer. There are buttons everywhere, and they all seem to default to “Hang up on caller.” This must be what old people feel like. Eventually I manage to successfully answer a call: it’s Jeff, my media escort, confirming that he’s picking me up at 8:45am tomorrow. Media escorts are people hired by the publisher to drive authors around and make sure they don’t get too lost or frightened. They’re like professional mothers. Jeff says we have an interview to do, then we’ll “hit some bookstores, grab some lunch, mix it up a little, have some fun.” Whoa!

Today is a travel day: I have no other official duties. I go for a walk, buy a T-shirt, eat my first ever Butterfinger bar (not impressed, sad to say), and go over what I want to talk about at my reading tomorrow. For dinner I meet Todd, a guy I started corresponding with way back when Syrup was new. Todd used to tell me horrifying and engrossing stories about his love life and now tells me horrifying and engrossing stories about his attempts to establish himself as a director. It’s a tough call as to which are more frightening. I feel glad to be a writer.

Now it’s 10 p.m. and I’m ready for bed… after just one more phone call, to wish my girls good night.


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Skyler Bartels (#1724)

Location: Des Moines, IA
Quote: ""You killed Zombie Flanders!" "He was a zombie?""
Posted: 6664 days ago

thats awesome and touching. thanks for sharing. it doesn't make up for the lack of midwest dates, but its a start!

good luck and have fun with your tour!

Ruth (#288)

Location: Bath, United Kingdom
Quote: "Only the insane have strength enough to prosper. Only those who prosper may truly judge what is sane."
Posted: 6664 days ago

Perhaps this is a very sad thing to say, but you've made my morning a great deal better, thanks Max :)

Nathan Shayefar (#1025)

Location: Berkeley
Quote: "Gladia"
Posted: 6664 days ago

Have fun in LA! I'm terribly curious as to where you're staying (obviously not an appropriate question due to security and such) just because I know the area around that tour stop so well, having lived there, for, well 18 years.

Good luck with the rest of the trip!

Machine Man subscriber Craig Barron (#1276)

Location: Leeds, UK.
Quote: "“Trust Elizabeth to get upset over a donut.”"
Posted: 6664 days ago

Thanks, it was the first thing I read today, and has started it with a smile on my face.... off out to buy Company today!

Good luck in LA, I found it a bit scary.

froggug sederty bungo-bungo!

Hobbie (#1359)

Location: Cornwall, England
Quote: "There was a little man in his hair!"
Posted: 6664 days ago

LA is Max's lady... or was she Sinatra's? Damnit, I'm confused...

So have fun. Yes. *wanders away muttering*

Narain (#824)

Location: Los Angeles, right between civilization and a desert
Quote: "NI!"
Posted: 6664 days ago

Woah, I was reading the comment three above, wondering if there was another fan in the LA area, then I realized that not only did I a) know him, but b) was going to the san francisco signing with him.

Anyway, whatever you have to say about my dear hometown I can understand (it is LA after all), but to insult butterfinger bars, never! In another age I would challenge you to fisticuffs, but you being a writer and me being a broke college student, I guess I'll just have to settle for endless slander on my blog.

If there is however one thing you should, nay must, do in LA, it is have an In & Out burger. I can only wonder what the rest of the world thinks of our fast food, but whatever your negative views on it, In & Out will fundamentally your perception of American fast food.

Luckdragon (#1116)

Location: Connecticut, USA
Quote: "Totally addicted to the online, all the time, never gonna go outside."
Posted: 6664 days ago

I love how you wrote the observations of buying the "HOW TO RULE THE WORLD" book right after you mentioned the Da Vinci Code.

I agree on the whole, "Butterfingers aren't that great" thing.

I love how even in commentary, you characterize internally with that guy who made that joke twice and sat down.

(Unrelated note, spent all last night reading Company in one sitting instead of trying to slog through 500+ pages of Crime & Punishment for English class. I love priorities)

Machine Man subscriber Katrina (#847)

Location: SF, CA
Quote: "Good sex is like good Bridge: if you don't have a good partner, you'd better have a good hand." -- Mae West"
Posted: 6664 days ago

awwww so cute. But yay to the In & Out. :) I hope you have fun on the west coast, 'specially SF and Seattle, my two home cities.

Machine Man subscriber Devin (#100)

Location: Los Angeles, CA
Quote: ""Toast sweat! It's the scourge of our time!""
Posted: 6664 days ago

As a Canadian who migrated south early in my life I'm always disapointed at American chocolate. Crunchies are always so much better than Butterfingers. Smarties better than M&Ms. And Wunderbars, well they're just awesome.

I wish, I were in L.A. right now - as that is the place I call home these days. I'm spending time in Florida for college and, well, I can understand why you're not coming as a part of your book tour. I'll just leave it at that.

Anyways, I hope you have a great time in L.A! If you were staying a day longer I'd have recommended some places to check out but it sounds like you've got a pretty full plate as it is. Good luck!

Phill Sacre (#1822)

Location: London, UK
Quote: "Computers are like air conditioners. Both stop working, if you open windows."
Posted: 6664 days ago

Max, you have an amazing ability to make every day life sound interesting and amusing... I hope that you find your time in the States as interesting as we will reading your travel diary!

In other news, my copy of 'Company' arrived yesterday. I've read the first thirty pages or so. I don't quite get why there's praise for "Jennifer Government" on the back, I think perhaps I'll get it once I've finished the book. Or perhaps American publishers always put the praise for your last book on the back cover of your current book, meaning that first-time authors have a hard time of it.

I'll stop rambling now...

Machine Man subscriber Adam (#24)

Location: Morristown, Indiana
Quote: "Why do I blog? Simple, because Max Barry blogs."
Posted: 6664 days ago

Wed. jan 25,2005


Well, while Max Barry is on tour recording interesting things that happen to him during his trip, I have decided to make a diary of my happenings.
Today, in my first hour class(themes in literature), we had to read Mary Shelley's Frankenstein. The assignment that we must do involves using the characters and making a broadway show idea, TV show, or movie. I came up with the new hit sitcom...Frankensteinfeld featuring stand up comedian Jerry Seinfeld as Victor Fankenstein and "Cramer(I am not sure of his real name)" as the monster.
Currently, I am reading an article in The Onion about Snowman protesting Global warming, while drinking from my zephyr holdings mug. Does anyone hear read The If not, you should. It is rather humorous.


John Perkins (#1915)

Location: Phoenix, AZ
Quote: "Nothing says love like cash."
Posted: 6664 days ago

I have signed on simply to add my recommendation to the list of In N' Out burgers. Personally, I enjoy the double-double animal style. The patty is grilled in mustard to give it that extra zing. Their shakes are also quite tasty.

Tim Harrison (#1918)

Location: Seattle, USA
Posted: 6664 days ago

The US-VISIT thing is indeed a very scary concept. One of Preznit Chimpy's boys' proudest accomplishments, I'm sure.

My entire immediate family now lives in greater LA and I wish they lived elsewhere, because now if I want to go see anyone I have to go to LA, the car capital of the world. Endless sprawl and asphalt under a warm blanket of polluted haze. Still, glad you're enjoying it. :-)

See you Saturday at Elliott Bay. I'm looking forward to having a voice to put with the words on the blog...

Rod McBride (#688)

Location: Gardner, KS
Quote: ""
Posted: 6663 days ago

They don't tip in Australia? I'll have my move finished before you're off book tour.

Yes, the only thing I took away from the whole post was the tipping part. Kind of like something in 'Company' I won't mention for fear of spoiling a fun book for the others...

Machine Man subscriber Xpovos (#958)

Location: Washington D.C.
Quote: "Time not important, only life important"
Posted: 6663 days ago

Hey, fingerprinting. Welcome to my department!

Rob (#2135)

Location: Manchvegas
Quote: "I can't think of anything good to say"
Posted: 6662 days ago

Max, Max, Max,

Every crunchy peanut butter fan knows that Butterfinger is foul. Go with either Clark or 5th Avenue. Although the latter is the best in my opinion. Keep up the blogs. It's too bad I can't get to the NY reading this time around. Maybe next tour, huh?

Collin (#2143)

Location: Michigan, USA
Posted: 6661 days ago

I work at Wendy's, a fast food chain, and have always wondered why people feel compelled to walk through the turnstyles even when no one is there and they could just walk up to the counter.

Some even take a step toward the counter, stumble a bit, and then backtrack to walk through the turnstyle anyway. I guess it's the same reason a bunch of people all try to walk through the same door and no one thinks to open the second.

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