Thursday, February 28, 2008

DAYS 26 AND 27

Grrrr. Phhhhht. Phirginnnn@@££****&**. Shhhhttttt@£*&!

Only Blogger's terms and conditions prevent me from using the real expletives. But more of that later.

A young woman called Betty - whom I will never know - saved our lives tonight.

Her cool, unflappable calculations in the face of extreme dysfunction, guided us through dark streets and uncharted waters to an on-ramp to the I10 West from Tucson to Phoenix. Roadworks had closed down eight exits and on-ramps to downtown Tucson in its desert valley setting flanked by purple mountains.

Without Betty we would have been hopelessly lost - our Google Maps printout worse than useless.

Betty is the name we gave to the lady whose voice animates our borrowed Tom Tom GPS satellite navigation system. A rubber sucker holds her to the windscreen. You tell her where you want to go, and the maps that appear are accompanied by Betty's soothing admonitions to turn left, stay on the left lane, and take the motorway.

She has a peculiar hybrid voice - largely English in accent, but with distinct American undertones. "Motorway" becomes "modorway".

She has been guiding us all around Phoenix and Scottsdale - vast distances travelled between hotel and bookstores.

Last night we had a hugely successful event at Barnes and Noble, where I was presented to the audience by my publisher, Barbara Peters, and everyone tasted and appreciated the Gaillac wines of Domaine Sarrabelle.

That in itself was a minor miracle. Without any means of getting the wine from California to Arizona, we borrowed a special wine-carrying suitcase from Susie and checked it in with our luggage at the airport - 12 bottles! The suitcase weighed a ton!! The guy at the desk grunted as he lifted it. "What the hell you got in this?" he growled.

I just laughed. As if it might have been very heavy underwear - or our dirty washing to date.

Then today we signed books at the Poisoned Pen bookstore and lunched at the nearby Cafe Zu Zu in the Valley Ho Hotel. A bizarre lunch punctuated by lookalike Bond villains circulating among the tables and wandering through the hotel lobby. Our attention was first drawn to them by a squat, oriental gentleman with moustache, dark suit and bowler hat drifting past our table.

La Patronne blinked at him and said, "He looks like Top Hat." I took one look and knew what she meant. "Top Hat" was always what my dad called Odd Job, one of the villains from "Goldfinger". Then more villains floated by - Le Chiffre, Jaws, Hugo Drax - furrowing our foreheads in deep frowns before all was explained by the appearance of a celebrity Sean Connery lookalike.

Actually, it wasn't a bad likeness. Although, perhaps, a little too plump.

So Bond was the lunch theme, bland was the food. Oh, well.

One interesting footnote. The waitress who brought our check was called Caress - her name printed boldly on a badge pinned to her left breast. Was it an instruction, I wondered, or perhaps an invitation. I didn't have the courage to ask.

Then into the kilt and off to Tucson. A 2-hour drive through the desert on the traffic-choked Interstate 10, a vast landscape of cartoon cacti and red-baked desert tinted green from recent rains. No rain today, though. A simmering 28 degrees centigrade, every horizon broken by the peaks of distant mountains, the sky enormous, blue, and cloudless. You could understand why those wagon train pioneers gave up in the end and settled in these baking, dry valleys. They stretch in every direction as far as the eye can see, and must have offered very little hope of the lush green promised land those hardy, early settlers had hoped to find.

Nowadays the pioneers are the "snowbirds" from the north and east in search of winter sun, parking up in huge, featureless RV parks with water and electricity, and the haute cuisine of the Arizona desert - MacDonald's, Wendy's, Denny's, Starbucks.

And finally, to the venue for tonight's event. The Clues Unlimited bookstore in Tucson. Except that it was closed. And dark. And there was no one there. A notice in the window advertised my appearance, with talk and wine-tasting. But the store was locked and empty. A Marie-Celeste sort of mystery.

Darkness fell with the setting of the sun. Some people gathered on the pavement outside, but there was still no sign of the owner.

A lady with a notice pinned across her chest approached us. The notice read: I have been sent by Sharon and Hibbard.

La Patronne nearly split her sides laughing. This was the sister of a good friend, Sharon Williams. We had dined with her and husband Hibbard only two nights earlier in Sacramento. But as we introduced ourselves to one another on the sidewalk, it became clear that no one was coming to open up the store. I called the store's telephone number with my cellphone and heard it ringing in the shop. It was 7.20 pm. The event should have begun at 7pm. I left a curt message, and we decided to gift the wine to Sharon's sister before we left to begin the long drive back to Phoenix.

It would be impossible to take it with us. The wine carrier had already been FedExed back to Susie in California. Sharon's sister said she would wait there with the wine until a friend she was expecting arrived. We thought it might be a little dangerous leaving her on her own on the sidewalk with six bottles of wine, and she accepted our offer to walk her to the car with them. She smiled and patted her purse. "I normally carry a handgun," she said. "And I've had training in how to use it. But I haven't got it with me tonight."

We decided it was time to take our leave of Tucson.

And so we began the long, depressing drive back through the dark, guided by Betty, clueless as to why Clues Unlimited had advertised my event, then failed to open up for it.

There may be some perfectly plausible explanation, some tragedy, some unavoidable circumstance. So until an explanation is forthcoming, I reserve judgment. And my expletives remain (for the moment) deleted.

Grrrr. Phhhhht. Phirginnnn@@££****&**. Shhhhttttt@£*&!

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Wow what an odd non event in Tucson!!! Would like to hear why that didn't happen Xiong, mean while TC of yourselves and I will talk to you soon.