We have just returned from a nine-day trip in which we travelled to Stuart FL to spend a few days with family for the first time in almost three years, then drove to Orlando FL for the tiny (fewer than 50 attendees) interstitial International Conference for the Fantastic in the Arts (ICFA), then on to Portland for the Pacific Northwest Booksellers Association conference. 

After more than two years at home it was strange to travel. Even pre-pandemic I found planes uncomfortable and claustrophobic so I steeled myself for the five and a half hour flight in a mask to be almost unbearable. But it turned out to just be the same mildly sucky experience it always was, only with less food. Except, well, that’s not the whole story. Apart from the dearth of food it was actually a better experience. Everyone on that plane was kind, generous, thoughtful and polite. I was genuinely touched by the constant, unremitting courtesy of airline staff, passengers, and crew.

There again, we were flying from Seattle, and this city has been at its magnificent best during the pandemic. I was prepared for Red State anti-vax Florida to be a different kettle of fish. Except, well, again, I was wrong. The non-family and non-ICFA people were all friendly, efficient, and non-contemptuous of mask wearers. And of course the ICFA folks and family were wonderful.

At all three hotels we stayed at, the biggest pandemic-based difference was in the level of service and amenities: no automatic housekeeping; no room service; limited bar and restaurant offerings. This is partly a safety issue, of course, but I suspect it was also at least as much due to staffing shortages—every staff member we encountered was overworked. I found myself tipping very heavily because I wanted to lighten their load and I couldn’t.

ICFA, though tiny, was wonderful. It’s been 28 years since I last attended in person. The last time I was scheduled to go I had to cancel just five days ahead because my father died and I had to fly to the UK. So I had forgotten how lovely it is to just hang out with other writers by the pool, or sit with Kelley and a glass of wine on the deck overlooking the small lake where an alligator lay in wait for unwary seabirds and raccoons. I saw a lovely white ibis, and what I think was an egret. And of course that gator—probably only about six feet—was ever-present. I could wish it had been ten degrees cooler, but there was plenty of shade, turning ceiling fans, and ice cold beer.

Throughout the trip we had twice-daily updates about Charlie and George, including proof-of-life photos. More on that in the next blog post.

When I travel to a 3-or-more-hour-difference timezone, I often sleep too late that first morning to make regular breakfast hours and have to rely on room service. In Stuart (and Orlando, and Portland), that option wasn’t available this time—but it turned out the Florida hotels opened for breakfast until 11 am, and my breakfast in Portland was a public one during which I gave a presentation about Spear—so it was not a problem.

I was pretty tired by the time we got to Portland (I’m still tired). To get there in time we had to up at 2:30 am Pacific  time, take our wheelchair van to the rental place, get a shuttle to the airport, fly to Seattle, and, instead of driving home, drive straight from the airport to the PNBA hotel in Portland. By the time I had signed a zillion boxes of ARCs then met booksellers over drinks that evening I was fried. Then I had to be up at 6:30 the next morning in order to eat my eggs and sausage and give that presentation.

I think the presentation went okay. I suspect I was probably a bit too enthusiastic about tracing tales of Peretur/Peredur/Peredurus/Parsifal/Parzival/Percival through various regions and centuries and languages but I know at least two booksellers cried (hopefully not with boredom), and one (unfortunately) felt compelled to tell me how inspiring it is to see someone with my challenges (aka a wheelchair) being so brave and shining so brightly. Perhaps it was my fatigue—perhaps he wasn’t, in fact, trying to do the inspiration porn thing—but I suspect my lack of enthusiasm for his perspective was apparent.

Then it was a brutal 3-hour drive home in torrential rain. I’m just glad Kelley was at the wheel—I kept nodding out. The Portland-Seattle I-5 run is miserable at the best of times, but when you have fools driving pale grey cars (most residents of the PNW) who don’t put the their lights on and so disappear in the rainlight, and crazy people in Pontiacs driving a 100 miles an hour and abruptly lane-changing, all in a frog-strangling downpour, well, it becomes a bit of a knuckle-biter.

But then we got home and, ta-da! There was our wonderful new ramp! I had forgotten all about it. More on that in a separate post.

And, best of all, there were the Charlie and George—still alive, and only taking fifteen minutes to segue from terrified kitties thinking we were ghosts to grumpy cats indignant at being unceremoniously abandoned, without notice, by cruel and heartless moms, to the care of dangerous strangers.

Another fine surprise: many of our summer flowers were (and are) still in bloom. Usually they’ve given up by now, but we still have bright red-and-white salvia, red-and-purple fuchsia, red and orange and peach geraniums, petunias of all colours, a gold/orange vine flower of some kind, lots of purple salvia, and two different sets of million bells. I’m amazed.

But, yeah, I’m tired. If I owe you email it might take a few days. I’m hoping that Kelley and I can spend a lovely quiet weekend in front of the fire with wine and books and kitties, all happy to be home together.