I’m riding the bus through downtown Los Angeles. It’s packed, it’s hot, I’m wearing a suit and I’ve been standing since I got on 30 minutes ago. I will stand for the entire 90 minute trip.
Why am I riding LA Transit on a book tour for my big American novel release? Because I’m paying for everything, flights, hotels, food, beer, cabs, all of it is on me. I may be one of the few Edmonton/Alberta writers with a major US book deal, but in the US, I’m unknown and untested. My publisher is paying for nothing.
Well, not really. They are paying for my LA hotel. And it’s nice. Located in posh area of Westwood, the Palomar is a funky boutique hotel with free wine in the lobby everyday from 5-7 pm.
Unfortunately, the Palomar is 20 miles from the University of Southern California, the site for the LA Times Festival of Books. To get there I took a cab. $45 dollars before tip. Which explains the bus ride back.
The festival was great. It’s more of a book fair really, with hundreds of booths selling anything related to publishing. There are some great panels featuring great writers, poets and celebrities, all of it free. But I have no time for that. I must get a book signed by Mo Willems for my daughter. It’s hot, sunny and I’m wearing a dark suit. After 75 minutes in line, I get Mo’s signature on Knuffle Bunny, Too. My pits are sticky; my pale Canadian skin is sizzling.
Fortunately, my event is in a shaded tent. It’s an hour-long signing at the Mysterious Galaxy, a San Diego Bookstore. I’m signing with Michael Koryta, 28, with seven published books already. Nice guy, but I want to kill him because of his youth and talent. I sell about 10 books, which is good, and I later meet up with LA writer/filmmaker Stephen Jay Schwartz. We met at a mystery convention in March and bonded because our main characters have addictions. He’s an actual book festival panelist and sneaks me into the green room where there is free food and soda. Nice, but a Canadian book festival would at least have free beer. Since Stephen’s from LA, I ask him about taking the bus back to my hotel.
“No one who’s anyone in LA takes the bus,” he says. “But if you have to, don’t make eye contact and watch your back because you’ll be going through some sketchy neighbourhoods.”
But the LA bus in LA is no different than an Edmonton bus, except that it’s only $1.50. Nothing weird happens.
The weird stuff comes later. After showering, eating and phoning the family, I head to the hotel bar for a beer. I missed the free wine.
News breaks on the TV. Osama bin Laden is dead. No one leaves, we wait for Obama to speak. When he does, the patrons get up from their seats and gather around the TV. The bartender turns off the Muzak. A few take cell phone photos of the TV. It’s like the first moonwalk or some other awe-inspiring historical event. No one speaks, no one cheers. There’s just a hushed silence. The bartender does not turn the music back on. I finish my beer and go back to my room, setting the alarm an hour earlier than planned because I know airport security is going to be tight tomorrow. I’m heading to Vancouver.
Wayne Arthurson’s latest detective novel, Fall From Grace, is available on Amazon and various other online locations—plus, at good old fashioned book stores. His recent book tour in Canada and the U.S. is recounted in an exclusive four-part series for GigCity. Part 1 starts in in Los Angeles. (Read: Part II, Part III, Part IV)