Written by
Hope Edelman
August 2009
Written by
Hope Edelman
August 2009
A RAINY DAY IN CHICAGO It was one of those "what was I thinking?" moments for sure. But we were on a mini vacation, and I didn’t want to stick to a schedule. Plus, it seemed like the kind of thing an author could easily do, a form of spontaneous artistry: walk into a neighborhood bookstore, introduce yourself to the owner or manager, and talk up your new book. Booksellers love meeting authors, everyone always says. So I figured, as long as I was in town, why not stop in some stores, prime the Chicago pump? I could do it on Friday morning, hitting a couple stores on our way out of town. No need to call in advance. Because everyone loves meeting authors, at any time of day. Right? Well, right. Except. Exceptexceptexcept. I somehow forgot to factor two crucial elements into this enterprise. One was that I would be traveling with two very short people, ages 11 and 7. The other was the weather. I chronically forget to check weather reports when I travel. So you can pretty much guess where this is heading. We left the hotel just before 11 a.m., which gave us a good couple of hours before a scheduled 2 p.m. conference call that I needed to do. We headed north on Lake Shore Drive toward Lincoln Park. I’d stayed up late the night before to prepare our route on Mapquest based on the recommendations of other writers and friends. A friend I’ve reconnected with on SheWrites, who now lives in Chicago, had recommended Book Cellar in Lincoln Park and also Women and Children First. My friend Jim, an attorney who lives in the Lakewood neighborhood, told me to go to Unabridged Books, where David Sedaris reads when he comes to town. And my friend Nicole, a filmmaker, suggested Barbara’s Books, the Oak Park store in particular. I was nothing if not prepared. Exceptexceptexcept. It started to rain just as we turned off Lake Shore Drive,and we were totally unprepared. (See above) Plus, how far west do you have to drive on Foster to get to Lincoln so you can take a left to get to Book Cellar? Really far, is the answer. They don’t seem to connect at all, is the answer. Mapquest, hello?? No GPS in the rental car, either, and by now the rain was starting to really come down. Bye-bye Book Cellar, scratched off the list. I hardly even knew you. We did find Clark Street easily, where we turned for Women and Children First. Miraculously, there was a parking spot directly in front of the store. I interpreted this as a good sign. The kids didn’t want to step out into the rain, so after a half minute of debate—is it legal to leave two school-age kids alone in the car on a street in Chicago?—I reasoned they were right in front of the store and I could see them through the window. They stayed behind for a backseat Nintendo DS orgy while I made a beeline for the door. Women and Children First is bright, cheerful, and completely geared toward titles that appeal to—you guessed it—women and kids. I scanned the titles on the display tables and immediately felt at home. The owner, Linda, was in a meeting with a sales rep, but the woman behind the cash register went to tell her an author was in the store. A-ha! Booksellers do love to meet authors. Linda came to the front and could not have been more pleasant. I told her about my book, mentioned a recent good PW review. She pulled out her event calendar to see if they had space for a reading in October. We settled on a tentative date. It was right about then that my older daughter, Maya, came marching into the store and, by way of introduction, shook the water off her arms and loudly announced, “Is there a bathroom here?” I need to mention that Maya’s of an age and environment where it’s uber-cool to wear clothing that clashes as much as possible. Plus, we live in Topanga Canyon, California, hippie capital of L.A. On this day, she was wearing striped purple tights, neon sky blue shorts, a forest-green suede vest over a mismatched T-shirt, big dangling plastic peace sign earrings, and a lime-green headband tied around her forehead, Indian style, that she Wonderknit herself. “Maya, this is Linda, the owner of the store,” I said. “Linda, this is my daughter, Maya. The one who’s in the book.” Maya quickly realized the faux pas, smiled sweetly and waved, and then started hopping from foot to foot, universal preteen language for, I need a bathroom now. I swear, anyone who thinks the life of a writer is glamorous really needs to spend a day with me. “Right over there,” Linda said, directing her to the back of the store, and then turned to me with a smile. “That kid’s got real style,” she said. *** Our next stop was Unabridged Books, which we found without much difficulty, although by now it was really pouring. The kids opted to stay in the car again, so I headed into the rain myself. Because I’d packed only open-toed shoes (again, see above) I arrived inside the store in the midst of my own personal puddle. A quick scan of the titles on the tables quickly indicated this wasn’t the place for me. Only one memoir in sight, and virtually no women customers or authors to be seen. There were, however, lots of supercool, hip guy novels. Total Dave Eggers/David Sedaris territory. Well, I figured, as long as I’m here—I might as well introduce myself and say hello. The manager behind the counter looked like a younger version of Sedaris, with funkier glasses and a perfectly cultivated air of friendly dismissiveness. (“Hello! Nice to meet you! Whatever!”) He perked up considerably when I abandoned the introduction part and told him I was looking for a new but obscure book, the title of which I couldn’t remember exactly. He had not only heard of it based on my loose description, but quickly and efficiently found the single copy stocked in the store. So I left with a good impression of Unabridged, even if I’m not anywhere close to their demographic. Onward toward the Kennedy expressway to get to Oak Park. I went to college in Chicago in the 1980s, and the drive was a total time warp, mainly because every other corner we passed had a memory attached to it, but nothing looked the same. Driving down Halstead Street, Biddy Mulligan’s blues bar looked way smaller than in once did. And what happened to North Avenue heading west? It’s now a strip of big-box chain stores. Oy. *** The drive to Oak Park was traffic, rain, traffic, rain, traffic, and took more than an hour. By the time we reached Lake Street in downtown Oak Park, it was nearly 1:30, giving me a half hour to park the car, visit the bookstore, and get back on the highway, just in time for the conference call at 2. Exceptexceptexcept. The kids were hungry. Of course they were—it was past lunchtime. Damn! I felt like one of those Roy Lichtenstein T-shirts, the profile of the anguished mother crying, “Oh my god! I forgot to feed the kids!” Okay, lunch right after the bookstore, I promised them, as we ran toward Lake Street for cover. As we were crossing the busy street Eden, my younger daughter, bent down smack in the middle to tie her shoelace, prompting me to run back and grab her just as the light turned green, an event that took about a year off my life and resulted to the doors to Barbara’s Bookstore swinging open to reveal a drenched, pale mother shouting, “You don’t DO that in the middle of a street!” Not even an iota of glamour here, people. Not an iota. The manager at Barbara’s was friendly enough, checked on the computer to see if my book had been ordered and then reported it was too early yet to tell. And that was pretty much that. By my estimation, I finished one for three for the day. Although the egg salad on toast for lunch was quite good, with everyone soon after dry and happy and packed into the car for the ride back. Conference call was easily delayed for twenty minutes. Clear skies broke through right around the Iowa border. Nobody OD’d on Nintendo, though it was close. The moral of this story? Next time, I’ll definitely call in advance.

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  • Jennifer Lauck

    Love, love, love this slice of truth--not a shred of glamour and yet bursting with life as mother/writer/teacher/go go goer!

  • Pamala Knight Duffy

    Thanks for recounting your adventures. Though it sounds like the rain and traffic were the villains in this tale. Good luck with your latest release.

  • Casey D.D. Nicholas

    Hope, I'm addicted to - weather nirvana! Let me know when you need a forecast!

  • Hope Edelman

    Ellie, you're so funny! I'll definitely take you up on the offer. We used the list I printed from your internet link to choose the stores to visit.

  • Beth Arky

    Don't give up, Hope. Spontaneous can be a good thing. And look what a great post you got out of it; fodder for your next book, or the one after it. Biddy Mulligans? Thanks for the memories! Beth