A Wandering Salesman I

20 03 2010

Snowy Baltimore

I tend to associate the “spring” in “Spring” with the word capricious. Winter is leaving but it doesn’t go away all at once.  Forward and back and back and forward, the sun shines more and the temperature rises then falls back again. Slowly, inexorably, we are now moving toward sunny skies and warmer weather. But like the random leaps of a goat, the capricious bit you see, it doesn’t get from point A to point B in a straight line.

Sunny Baltimore

I was in Baltimore this week. It was quite cool in the morning but Mr. Sun was shining and the temperature approached 70 during the day. How-some-ever, recall that not too long ago, that part of the Northeast was experiencing record snowfall. One storm alone deposited 26 inches on Philadelphia. So as I drove to call on one of my favorite distributors, I noticed the piles of dirty snow sitting in shady sections alongside the road, in residential yards, and in commercial parking lots.

Yes, spring was here, but ol’ pappy winter had not let go complete, yet. But this means yours truly is back on the road with Willie Nelson playing inside myownself’s pea-like and aged brain. On the road. I love traveling. Over 35 years plus of commercial travel I have stumbled through the weeds to view a fresh water spring beneath an old bridge in Waco, Texas. I visited Stovall’s Hot Mineral Baths before fire destroyed it.

The Ghost of Stovall's

One small yet splendid pleasure was an 80 mile side trip to Turkey, Texas, the birthplace of Bob Wills. The country road wound around and up and down on the edge of the Llano Estacado. Coming around a curve in the low but hard-as-my-own-head bedrock, there below and in front of me was the confluence of two rivers. They roared and foamed and must be why all else was stone, but in the V formed by them was a little farmhouse, and I was jealous of the people who got to live there.

Llano Estacado

Then up to the true caprock itself. It was flat and the purple sage waved in a strong wind that must have  been coming straight down from Canada. We got out of the car and looked north across the Great Plains to the horizon and it was so flat with that cold wind blowing in my face and the sage a-dancing around, it seemed one could see into forever. Great Mother of Pearl but what an experience.

The Ginkgos of Tokyo

And I went to Japan. The air smelled…different, alien—but alien in a good way—just not as expected. I always wondered if that scent in the air in early summer in Tokyo was from all the ginkgo trees. And the crows they were gigantic and spoke a different dialect from Texas crows. And the katydids had become “mimi’s” because that is what they said, “Mimi, mimi.” Woo hoo, it was just swell. And so was the country. My friend Masaaki and I hit a fabled little soba joint and sat there for hours slurping down first class soba, sashimi, whatever other tidbits the chef and owner deigned to offer us, and sucking up the best sake I ever had before or since.

The author boards a Tokyo train - "Dosdesukaden"

A young Japanese fellow came over and introduced himself and complimented me on my Japanese-like ability to inhale soba noodles, and could he practice his English? Masaaki and I finally hit the subway headed for Ueno station, but we were so drunk we missed our stop twice and kept having to get on the subway going the opposite way. A little Japanese schoolgirl, going home from a late night after-school class of some sort was the only other passenger in that car with us, and she slept when she could. And the train did indeed sing “dodesukaden, dodesukaden, dodesukaden,” as it clattered along the tracks, and I was in my own little Shinto heaven thank you very much Mr. Kurosawa.

In the Ginza

I will only mention my two weeks in China briefly for that trip requires its own  blog, and I’m not sure if attending the first World Tai Chi Festival on Heinan Island as a member of the U.S. Tai Chi team counts as business travel.

A Ramen Shop in the Ginza

Oh, and in Tokyo I ate a peach, well two peaches, actually, and after having one of those, nothing else for the rest of my life will count as a peach. And eating ramen at a joint in the Ginza where the ramen was flavored with miso and the customers ate with both hands, chopsticks in one hand and porcelain soup spoon in the other. But where was Tampopo?

In "Tampopo" the Master instructs his student

And the beautiful Geisha standing in the unisex restroom proffering a terry cloth towel after I washed my hands. This was whilst we were at Rocky Top in the Ginza where Masaaki and his bluegrass band were playing.

And now I am returning from Baltimore after presenting upcoming book titles to our distributor’s sales force, a bunch of mostly-young, really smart folks who love books and can talk about your product or the industry itself. And they have become friends and the smiles of reunion are genuine on both sides.

Then there is the travel within the travel. When I have to rent a car I am very fearful, having no sense of direction. I always get lost, the only question is when and how bad.

Let us not forget hotels. They are mostly good these days. In my youth, traveling publisher’s reps clued each other in on which place to stay in Amarillo or Lubbock. Who had hot water or even who had any water pressure at all. Today there are numerous fine places to stay at reasonable rates. Many have refrigerators, microwaves, and even small stovetops. At some future date I will write about the fine hotels in which I have had the pleasure to stay. And I won’t forget my friend Maria at the Holiday Inn in San Antonio.

Narita Airport, Tokyo

Finally there are the airports and the airplanes. Certain airports are like old friends and others old enemies. The old friends are best and I will mention DFW in particular. Going east from Seattle, many roads lead through DFW. I usually fly American Airlines and so wind up in the same terminals, A and C. My favorite is Childs Barbecue but Dickey’s Barbecue is very good too. This trip I discovered a new place, Tequilaria, owned by Jose Cuervo. They serve…tequila. But I also had their soft tacos which were fabulous. And DFW has wine bars, and a new fast food place that serves bison burgers. Oh, and very important, recharge towers have popped up all over the airport like chromium trees. The netbook and the smart phone must be fed, too.

And the planes: I used to have a running battle with the planes, what with small seats, scant legroom, bawling children…oy. But I have found that if I sit at the back and get a seat on the right side aisle, all is well. I like 31D on S80s. Today I am in 35D on a really swell 757, so much leg room, and it is somewhat empty, so the other two seats on my side are vacant, well, I could almost live here. Except for the squalling infant several rows up. Ai-ya, now there are screeching children behind me, too. But, that’s why God created iPods.

Home

So winter is done and my clock has sprung forward whether I like it or not, and I am returning home. Another good thing about travel, you get to come home. In the Egyptian by Mika Waltari, our hero, Sinuhe, has just returned to Egypt with his buddy Horemheb from a visit to the Hittites. Sinuhe exclaims, “Nothing tastes so sweet as the waters of the Nile.” “There’s no place like home.” Right Dorothy? But next week, I am “…On the road again, gee but it’s great to be on the road again…”

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5 responses

21 03 2010
Sharon Knaus

I thought that I was the only person living that had read The Egyptian and that was in Jr. High. I may still have my father’s copy and do have Waltari”s The Roman. Small world, huh?

21 03 2010
chadao

Yes, Waltari was a wonderful writer and I especially love The Egyptian.

22 03 2010
Deran

Waltari’s ‘The Adventurer’ was one of my favorites.

28 03 2010
Maria Villarreal

I have enjoyed so much your post. You are an inspiration for people like me that wish we could be a writer but we are not, at least I don’t have the talent inside of me.
It has been an honor seen my name in it as well, thanks for remember me my friend you are one of the must talented and kind people I have met during my life and my journey in the Hospitality industry. People like you make everything that I did and tried to do while I was at the hotel worth it. Wouldn’t change that experience in the world and who knows, I may come back one day! Of course with different goals and challenges.
Keep up this beautiful work.
P.S. My friend loved your book.

M.V.

28 03 2010
chadao

Thank you Maria. Finding friends like you when I travel is what makes it all worthwhile. I expect to be in San Antonio again in May or June but it won’t be the same without seeing your smiling face.

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