Halfway through my book tour and I still don’t know what to say about my book. I’m happy with it, but it’s hard for me to look directly at it. Feels like looking at the sun. Each time I read from the book in public, I tremble and clutch the podium like I’m about to be swept away, but I’m determined to do my best because I’m so humbled and excited that people are showing up to see a guy they don’t know read from a strange book.
After I finish reading, people ask very good questions: “What’s your favorite place in America?” and “What’s the scariest place?” and “Why do you keep driving into the desert?” And because I ask the question several times in my book, somebody always asks: “So what does it mean to be a man in America?” I give a different answer every time.
After I run out of things to say and we shift into mingling mode, sometimes people introduce themselves and share their stories with me. Some people tell me stories of unexpected happiness and shocking violence on the road. A loved one they met along the way. A trip in the sixties that turned dark. Other people offer theories about what it means to be an American or they tell me about their own quests to find some kind of peace. Walking across several states. Belly dancing in the desert. Starting a library. Hearing these stories is the best part of this trip.
In North Carolina, a man asked if I agree that America is blessed. We discussed this. Three cities later, a photography professor said the traditional idea of manhood disintegrated in tandem with the neglect of our Main Streets. I met a woman in Brooklyn who documents the New Hampshire and Vermont border. In Michigan, a man spoke of an alternate nation of people living off the grid. In Minneapolis, an older woman quietly told me that she, too, was an only child. “I know how it feels,” she said. “Feels like you’re responsible for the whole world.” I never thought of it that way, but she said it in such an unguarded tone that it hit me hard and now her sentence will stay with me.
Sometimes people ask me to sign their book. At first I wasn’t sure what to write or where to put my signature or what type of pen to use. Somebody told me that I should include a catchphrase like “Keep on trucking” or “Drive on.” The first time I signed a book, I wrote “Hello Tom,” which I now realize was strange. While I was dithering over this, somebody hijacked my notepad and wrote the message in the photograph above. I appreciate the enthusiasm. Now I’ve got three Sharpies and I’m heading to Seattle tonight.
Nobody could smoke a cigarette like Linda Darnell.
Snapshots from my classroom.
Stories from the white spaces on the map.
A dub field of mid-century blues.
Love among the ruins.
Lonely gas stations and motel neon.
Her best friend was a little battery-powered radio.
He felt close to her while he drove, his insides vibrating like a teenage dream.
Somewhere Roy Orbison plays on a battered old radio.