Readercon: The Voyage Home

The post from a couple days ago was introspective, pensive and maybe a little moody. I’m allowed to be that sometimes. Just because I express myself via satire doesn’t mean I can’t be serious when the occasion calls. I have an IQ in the 150s but still can’t understand why so many acquaintances, after getting to know me a little better, have said something like, “Wow, Bill, I didn’t know you were smart.”

(Still haven’t convinced my wife.)

Anyway, the best part of Readercon for me was leaving. Don’t take that the wrong way. I had a blast — an amazing, incredible, life-changing, stone gas — in Burlington last weekend. But the drive home was something special as well.

New Yorkers are generally supercillious and condescending toward their minivan-driving, suburbanite neighbors on Long Island. That is, until they need a lift home from Massachusetts. Suddenly, my Toyota Sienna was beginning to look like P. Diddy’s stretch to some ‘con-goers.

So I ended up driving four fellow Readerconians back to the Apple. Riding shotgun was my co-pilot, Kat Hankinson, who shared the drive up with me. Kat’s a former Deep Space Nine script assistant and an LI_SciFi crit partner. Behind us were a couple editors of some renown, Konrad Walewski (my roommate for the weekend, via Ellen Datlow) and Alice K. Turner, who is hosting Konrad while he’s here in the States. On the bench seat behind them was AM Lau, a paranormal romance writer and LI_SciFi alumna who is destined for bigger and better.

Ms. Lau is an amazing individual. Within the confines of our crit circle, she wasn’t exactly a shrinking violet but she was just, y’know, one of the crew. At Readercon, she’s like the mayor. She knows everybody through Clarion or last year’s Readercon or her frequent attendance at the Fantastic Fiction readings at KGB. There wasn’t one program participant, one big-name author or one big-name editor she didn’t know. She was in constant tweet mode from Thursday night onward. AM was invited to and showed up at every private party and sent me texts to let me know what was happening where and who had the best-stocked bar. And she writes as good as she shmoozes.

I dropped AM at her apartment in an outer borough, which is just a couple blocks from a subway station from whence Konrad and Alice got back into the City in about 10 minutes. Then I took Kat back to my home in Nassau County, where her car was parked, and she drove Ol’ Bessie, her econo-box with a quarter million miles of sentimental value on it (no exaggeration) home to Suffolk.

The high point of the drive home took place about an hour after we left the Marriott. We’d just turned off the Mass Pike onto I-84 and crossed into Connecticut. We were getting hungry and looking for a place to eat. Being neurotic, New York writers, nothing was good enough for us. When we were about to pass a rest stop, Kat asked if we wanted “Rest-stop food or exit food?” AM spoke for all of us when she selected exit food. We then passed a couple ramps, despairing that we didn’t see any blue sign with a knife and fork.

And then it appeared in front of us: in front of a largish A-frame building up on a hill, a sign read, “Food and Books”. I’d have thought I was hallucinating had Konrad not mentioned something about stopping there a couple years ago when he was riding along with John Joseph Adams. (Have I dropped enough names yet? I need more blog hits. It was so cool meeting Paolo Bacigalupi last weekend. And Peter Straub. Barack Obama. Robert Pattinson. Tila Tequila. Factory Jobs. Now Hiring.)

Too stunned to react, I drove past the exit, but U-turned at the next one. The place is called The Traveler Restaurant and it’s off Exit 74 of I-84 between Union, Conn., and Sturbridge, Mass. (860-684-4920). Established in 1970 (had to be hippies — who else would think of this?), it’s a restaurant that serves decent food and, for the price of a meal, they throw in three free books. Instead of formica everywhere, there are wood-paneled bookshelves loaded with volumes that were abandoned by estates or went unsold at garage sales. Pefectly good books. Also, as you wander around picking up your quota of reading material, you’ll also meet other book fans. Among others, we ran into Paul Witcover and his charming significant other, Cynthia Babak. (A couple nights earlier Konrad had brought Paul, Cynthia and dark fantasist Brett Cox by our room and introduced them — and me — to some Polish liqueur called Krupnik. Imagine honey mead spiked with a little Jaegermeister.) We also ran into sci-fi impressario Jim Freund. (Must drop more trendy names. Justin Beiber. Tony Hayward. Bristol Palin.)

Even with all those free books, the Traveler makes a little side money selling the ones they think are valuable. If something is a first edition in good condition or if it’s from a well-known author, they’ll sell it for five bucks downstairs in the “Book Cellar”. (get it?) If it’s a first edition from a well-known author, of course, it’ll be more than five bucks. They’ll get what they can for it.

So I went downstairs and looked around. (It took us an hour to get out of there. Every time one of us five would go down there, he or she would lose track of time and we’d have to send down someone else, who’d lose track of time. It went on and on.) I picked up the first edition of a book titled The Regulators. It was by an author the owners had never heard of.

Richard Bachman.

That’s right. I picked up a first edition hardcover in perfect condition, by Stephen King writing under his Running Man and Thinner pen name, for five lousy dollars! I’m sitting and staring at it in my bookcase at home right now.

I honestly don’t remember the remember the rest of the trip.

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