Here's how it isn't supposed to go:
First off, I got my calendar screwed up. Craig Johnson was to appear at the Ohio Valley Book Festival in Huntington, West Virginia, on April 14 and 15. And I forgot to add whichever date my friends and I had all agreed on to my calendar, so that two days before the event I was reminded and then found myself scrambling for someone to cover my familial duties on the day in question. No coverage, no can go. But that worked itself out at last.
The 14th dawned bright and sunny, an absolutely perfect day for traveling. It's about a three-hour drive to Huntington, and we had allotted an extra hour, just in case. So I'm to pick everyone up - everyone being Carolyn, Linda, and Phyllis - at 9 am. Rush hour should have been winding down, and so what if traffic should prove a bit slow, I've got that hour we built in.
Only I used that hour. And then another one. I got caught up in the traffic jam created by an accident, and it took me two hours to travel two miles, before I could get off at the next exit and use a different route. I had my cellphone (emergency uses only!) so from time to time I let the others know what was going on. I was so bored and fitful while stuck in traffic that I drank an entire can of Pepsi (which should have lasted all the way to Huntington) and thought about calling Mike 'n' Mike in the Morning on ESPN to give my opinion on how best to crucify sexual-predators whose athletic prowess allows them to skate. I refrained.
As I exited the outerbelt and picked up SR 315, I found myself getting up to speed behind a pickup truck that had a trailer attached. On the trailer were bags of mulch and topsoil. When the truck driver arrived at his destination he would have found himself short one bag of topsoil, because it fell off the truck and exploded on the pavement directly in front of my car. Besides showering my car with dirt pellets, it nearly scared the Pepsi out of me.
And I couldn't help thinking, this trip is doomed. Doomed. I was not meant to go. But Carolyn and Linda and Phyllis all said they still wanted to go, even though I warned them we would miss half of the event.Actually I was worried that none of us would make it back alive.
When I left SR 315 and took to the streets, everything appeared normal. Traffic was flowing and I was rolling my shoulders to ease the tension of the last two hours. And I swear to you, this cop car came out of my trunk -- or perhaps out of some part of my personal posterior -- with lights flashing and sirens blazing, and this time it was a very close call controlling the Pepsi. And then of course, since I had broken no laws and the cop had secured his morning laugh, he began playing dodge'em through the four lanes of traffic ahead of me. Yes. Yes, I did think about what causes road rage. Yes, I did want to pinch his tiny head off. The big one, too.
But I finally gathered up the friends and we headed south, about two and a half hours later than planned. I had carefully mapped out our route there and back, pictures and directions included. But Carolyn, who to this day I still call friend, brought along a GPS. Now I've never used a GPS. Carolyn swore by its efficacy even while admitting to not knowing how to program it. She'd had her daughter handle that part. As soon as she turned it on, a prissy Englishwoman gave me a direction I already knew. And kept doing it.
And then came the fork in the road. I knew from my map work that I should stay on Route 23. That's the right fork, as well as being the correct fork. The prissy Englishwoman told me to go left, Route 35. Carolyn is saying no, we take 33. I'm going, no, not 33, that would take us well out of our way. Do we go 23, as the fallible human wants, or do we go 35, as the infallible English priss would have it?
And my mind is saying, if I choose 23 -- even though I know that's the way we should go -- and we are even one minute later than necessary for the event, I will not hear the end of this on the ride home. And hell, maybe the GPS knows something I don't. Okay, 35 it is. And that is when we found out that the GPS was possessed. The voice changed. The English priss was gone and some demon of a chipmunk had taken her place. This demonic chipmunk spouted nearly incomprehensible instructions even as it led us down a twisty-turny road to rival anything in West Virginia or Hell.
"Do you hate me?" Carolyn asked. I assured her I did not, but told her that if the GPS started spinning and throwing up pea soup I was going to pitch it out the window.
"Where are we?" Phyllis wanted to know.
"Ohio's version of Deliverance," Linda pronounced. And we would have all laughed except that she was so very right. The road was made up entirely of hairpin curves, gloom, and the occasional seedy mobile home. No people. Never saw one other person in the 35 miles we traveled on that road, and in my haste to leave it all behind as well as to get to Huntington, I may have treated my passengers a trifle roughly, slinging them around 15 mph curves at 35. Ever done that in a Kia? That suspension system was not built for that kind of usage, and the thing corners like a pig. But no one complained.Well, at least in Deliverance, Ohio, I didn't have to worry about oncoming traffic. There was none, and none behind me either. I would have turned on the radio but I was afraid all I would hear would be the theme from The Twilight Zone. Suddenly everyone was concerned about fuel. It wasn't a place to be stranded. On that matter at least I was able to reassure everyone.
After too many miles of wondering and wandering, we at last crossed the Red Sea -- scratch that, it was the Ohio River, and rolled into Huntington a mere half hour late. Meeting Craig Johnson did in fact make all the trouble worthwhile. But there was one more hitch. I handed Craig my copy of Dark Horse to sign, he dutifully opened it to the title page and announced, "This is already signed. It even has my drawing."
I was mortified. How did that happen? Where did I get a signed copy of one of his books? Where could I have got -- oh my word, I hoped he wasn't thinking I bought it on eBay! And Carolyn, whom I do not hate, came to my rescue with her far better memory:
"Toni and John [the owners of Foul Play] brought that back from Bouchercon for you, as a 'thank you' for helping with Michael Koryta's signing while they were away."
Yes! That was it! But I was mortified nonetheless. Otherwise it was a joy to meet Craig J. And perhaps he didn't intend to punish me, but I noticed that Carolyn got to try on his hat and I didn't.
We didn't use the GPS on the return trip. Does that surprise anyone? But I saw the memorial (at Point Pleasant, West Virginia) to the souls lost in the 1968 collapse of the Silver Bridge, then remembered the Mothman stories and was mighty glad to get home safely that evening.
Left to right: Linda, Carolyn, Craig, Phyllis, Naomi