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Thisbe Nissen: Tour Diary

Preliminaries - Day 1 - Day 2 - Day 3 - Day 4 - Day 5 - Day 6 -
Day 7 - Day 8 - Day 9 - Day 10 - Day 11 -Day 12 - Day 13 - Day 14 - Day 15 -
Day 16 - Day 17 - Day 18 - Day 19 - Day 20 - Day 21 - Day 22 -
Day 23 - Day 24 - Day 25 - Day 26 - Day 27 - Day 28 - Day 29 - Home Diary - July 25 - July 26

Day 11: Iowa, Minnesota, and the Law

Who knew you could get Krispy Kreme doughnuts in Iowa City? But there at the gas station on Market and Dubuque... Chris drops me at the airport to pick up my rental car on his way to Frontier, the herb farm and botanical garden where he's working for the summer. I have a moment of utter panic when I realize the car they've given me has a CD player and no tape deck, and I rush back inside to change vehicles. Four days of driving with no music isn't something I'm prepared for.

It's a beautiful day, and getting hot, the way summers here are. I am zipping along to some Indigo Girls, thinking about how the way U used to sing along with them in high school and then way I do now. When I was seventeen, writing letters to J., listening to that tape over and over again, like those words somehow said everything I needed to say. And I hear the words now and they still mean something, a lot really, yet I listen with that critic in me. I'm embarrassed -- like at a bad undergraduate poetry reading -- and yet I'm so moved at the same time, remembering, "I am intense, I am in need, I am in pain, I am in love..." How ridiculously melodramatic and juvenile it sounds, but when the guitars are screaming there alongside, I'm gone, carried, so much a part of that emotion.

Which is when I get pulled over for my very first speeding ticket ever. 75 in a 65 zone in northern Iowa. The cop is nice, doesn't keep me long, acts more like he's just stopped to inquire where I'm going and wish me a safe trip. I feel that sense of disappointment in myself the way I have at other firsts: first cavity (age 23), first parking ticket (also 23), that spelling test in Mr. McCandliss' second grade class when I spelled "Wednesday" wrong and felt that my wrongness had dirtied me somehow. And maybe that's the life of perfectionism I've been fighting for a long time. So I get my first speeding ticket, and I don't cry, I don't pull off at the first exit and find a mailbox to post the check and be rid of the physical presence of that ticket in my car. I just drive on. And after a time I put "La Cage Aux Folles" in the tape deck and when my tears come, it's not even related to the ticket, they come where they always come in "La Cage..." They come when Albain sings "I Am What I Am," he starts out so softly, slow, and by the time he's come to "Your life is a sham 'till you can shout out loud I am what I am!" he's belting his lungs out and the tears are pouring down my face. I lose it again, as I always do, during "Look Over There," for "When your world spins too fast and your bubble has burst, someone puts himself last so that you can come first..." and again during "The Best of Times," because any song that says carpe diem, anything that says grab on right now and live as hard as you can, I can't help what it does to me: "...so hold this moment fast and live and love as hard as you know how, and make this moment last, because the best of times is now..."

I arrive an hour early for my Minnesota Public Radio interview and sit working on my tour diary in the lobby while I listen to a call in show about the McVeigh execution, which makes my project here feel so fluffy I have to put it away and just listen awhile.

The interview, which is so casual I hesitate to even call it that, is lovely and painless, and I'm on my way soon, navigating the way to my hotel before the tornado I've heard warning of actually strikes. There is lightning in the sky. I follow my MapQuest direction to a T and see signs for hotel parking so I drive through, burrow underground a few levels and park the car, haul all my stuff out and follow the signs pointing towards "Hotel Lobby." At the front desk they have no reservation for Nissen and the clerk asks if I have a confirmation number. I whip out my handy packet of itinerary info and show him the confirmation number, certain he's only giving me a hard time because in my cut offs and sweaty tank top I don't look like I could possibly be staying at such a classy hotel. "You're staying at the Grand Hotel," he tells me. "Yes," I say, "Is that not where I am?" "This is the Hilton," he says. He draws me directions (and it turns out MapQuest was WRONG: I should have taken a right on 2nd, not a left, only there's no right turn allowed on 2nd unless you're a bus or a bicycle. More on that later.) and I trek back underground to retrieve the car. And then it seems as though I'm just not meant to get to this hotel which is somehow on a one-way street that is only two-way for busses and bicycles. Which is just to say that I drive in circles for fifteen minutes on one-way streets unable to figure out how I'm supposed to get to this hotel which I can see, but can't pull up to. Finally I find a parking ramp and ditch the car, and as I'm looking around dazedly a man asks me if I need help and I start telling him my saga and it turns out that he too is going to the Grand Hotel and he'll show me the way. I am only mildly suspicious when "the way" leads through an underground tunnel. That's the way they do things in Minnesota, I hear.

I make it. The hotel room is fully stocked with Aveda bath products and I'm a sucker for Rosemary-Mint shampoo. I really am easily won over. Emma Richler has arrived today also; Matt Klam's not expected until tomorrow. Emma and I make contact and go have a drink in the hotel bar where an insufferable man tries to be friendly the way insufferable people try and makes fun of Emma's beautiful British accent in the process, and you just want to say, did you think we'd like you more, want to stay and chat with you if you imitated her accent? Some people you just want to sit down and ask: what were you thinking, exactly? Meanwhile, there's a freaking hail storm going on outside. It's nice to sit and have a beer, Emma sipping her glass of not-so-fine red wine. I've heard wind from my public radio interviewer, Stephanie, that there's a sushi bar in the hotel, and I talk Emma into going there, where she won't eat eel, but ventures into seaweed salad, tuna, yellowtail, salmon and roe. We talk of book touring, and of ourselves a bit, hoping we're not asking each other the same annoying questions that are being asked of us all day by interviewers. Once again, wasabi is a salvation and restorative, curative wonder.

By the way, that drink that Jim Behrle fed me at Brookline Booksmith: Rescue.