Thursday, August 31, 2006

But Will They Buy It?

Two people are coming to look at my condo tomorrow. That's great! Maybe one of them will buy it and I can go back to being a hobo-editor/writer. For those of you who just cruised in via The Beat (thank you, Heidi, u r swell), my condo is for sale because my Dik-Dik On A Stik franchise has swallowed up my savings.

Am I Rich Yet?

Another impoverished writer that I know—one who lives in Berlin and met me in Austin in 1985—sent me three numbers.

"Now send me three. You play Lotto in New York and I'll put the six numbers in here in Berlin."

"But, Herr Berliner," I said. "The odds of winning Lotto are worse than being struck by lightning."

"So how is that different than trying to succeed in the careers we've chosen?"

Fair enough. I read up on how to enter Lotto (I had no idea) and went and bought a ticket. We didn't win--surely this was some kind of cosmic error, a mistake in the luck of the draw.

I wonder if our careers will continue to be similarly random.

Wednesday, August 30, 2006

Image Worth Repeating

Wikipedia definition of dik-dik: Dik-diks, named for the sound they make when alarmed, are small antelopes of the Genus Madoqua that live in the bush of southern and eastern Africa. Dik-diks stand 30–40 cm at the shoulder and weigh 3–5 kg.

They are also good on a stick. Above "photo" created by The Bucce.

Tuesday, August 29, 2006

Sold Out

If you are in Garden City, NY, and planned on buying my book, Stalking the Wild Dik-Dik, at Barnes and Noble, guess what? It sold out! Of course, Barnes and Noble Garden City probably only had one or two copies to begin with, so this isn't as amazing as it seems. Still, it's cool. There were two copies at Union Square Barnes and Noble on Friday.

Update: This from the friend who told me that Garden City B & N had sold out:
"I have no idea how many copies B & N had, but I got the last copy, which they had to go into the back to get. I think the lady thought I was looking for some softcore porn novel when I asked about it. The look on her face was priceless."

Good Advice

On the topic of marriage, someone told me that the best advice he'd gotten was to take a prospective partner camping for two weeks. He didn't heed it, and he's still paying for it.

Just think, it you go camping together, you get to see the following.

-Can s/he tolerate inconvenience, or is s/he a pampered brat?
-Can you act as a team?
-Is s/he whiny and complaining?
-Can s/he improvise with few resources?
-Will s/he lose her temper when you spend too much time together?
-Can s/he rough it with a smile?
-Will s/he blame the nearest person (you) when things go wrong?
-Can you still stand each other at the end of the two weeks?

This method doesn't necessarily work in reverse. I've had great camping experiences with two different men. My reaction to the tent collapsing during a huge storm was to laugh and enjoy it. But no one dragged me to the altar. This is not so bad, because I'm not big on marriage and tradition, but I do feel a little cheated that all good camping ever brought me was two trips to the altar... as Best Man.

Monday, August 28, 2006

Toast in Pajamas

I swiped a few jpegs of me toasting Yancey and his bride off of some personal websites. I looked like an idiot, especially next to the bride in her classy bride-outfit. You should see the ones I didn't post! In one, I had a scrunched-up face so I must have been talking about the time Yancey-vomit was washing over me during a scuba incident off San Diego.

Here is the start of the speech that I made. I didn't finish writing it, so it ends abruptly. I winged it during the actual speech, suddenly coming to the end of my notes and blathering something about a toast and many long years together. I'm not going to post the whole thing here on the main page, so click on "Comments" if you want to read the rest.

I didn't wear the bathrobe during the actual ceremony, so don't worry, Mom.

I called up Yancey the other day in a panic.

"Yancey, Me being in this wedding is a disaster. The shoes don't fit, I'm the Best Man and still not male, and the dress is messed up. It was too big, so the tailor took it in. Then it was too small. So he fixed it, but then he ironed it. And he used steam, and now there's red blotches all over the seams.

"Can I get out of showing up? What if I pretend I broke my leg?"

"Scott already tried that one. It didn't work for him either," he said. "And anyway, it doesn't matter what you wear, as long as you show up. You can wear your pajamas for all I care."

Sunday, August 27, 2006

Wrong End of this Business

On July 9th, there was a New York Times article about the perils of choosing "travel guidebook writer" as a vocation. I know where the writers are coming from. They spent a lot of time talking about how much effort goes into researching and writing their guidebooks.

Here's an excerpt:

It's difficult to generalize about the pay scale for guide writing because it varies so widely, though most guide writers seem to agree that the wages are not enough. A writer working from scratch on a comprehensive guide to a country may get an advance of $100,000, from which a year or more of travel expenses must be deducted.

Wha--? $100k?? Who gets $100k? I am so totally in the wrong end of this business. We're talking more like thirteen cents an hour here.

Saturday, August 26, 2006

Souvenir Hunting in Catalonia

In 2004, I was living in Barcelona. My friend Jeff from Austin sent me an e-mail.

"If you see a George W. Bush caganer, can you pick one up for me?"

I did not then know what a caganer was, but in short order learned that caganers are ceramic figures that sit on the edge of Christmas nativity scenes. The caganer, for whatever reason, is mischievously taking a poo while baby Jesus sleeps in the manger under the watchful eye of Mary and Joseph.

The original caganer was a peasant sheperd, but caganers now include sumo wrestlers, Santa Claus, Dali, Satan, and Fidel Castro.

Right on Target, Kid

I was hanging out with some kids in Manhattan last night.

"Can we go to the Statue of Delivery tomorrow?"

This amusing interpretation of the term "Statue of Liberty" seemed fitting for the mascot of the City that Doesn't Cook at Home.

Thursday, August 24, 2006

The Book Is Out!!

Aunt Peggy just said that she got a box from amazon this morning and in it was...

Stalking the Wild Dik-Dik.

It's a little early but that's all right.

She liked it a lot, but then she is my aunt. I bet my mom digs it too. I hope lots of other people also like it. I'm scared. More scared than if a dik-dik were chasing me in Kenya. No, not that scared.

You can go get one yourself. Better hurry, I'm sure it will sell out as soon as the Warren Ellis Literary Army moves in.

Wednesday, August 23, 2006

More Photos from the Past

While I was scanning in photos, I came across these pictures of me, the Other Marie, and our friend Nancy. And of course, our close friends Cap, Spidey, Hulk, Wolverine, Thing, Dr. Doom, and Sue Storm.

Years ago, Marvel used to have pleasant holiday parties at a private club on Gramercy Park. Then, at some point, the money really started flowing and things got out of control. We changed our venue to the Grand Central Hyatt and had a karaoke machine, Captain America and Spidey ice sculptures, food stations featuring cuisines from around the world, and some kind of virtual reality video game thing.

Those days ended abruptly with the first Marvel bankruptcy. The next year the ten of us that were left gathered at Bob Harras' house to eat a few cookies. I'm kidding, but only just.

There were two things that all the parties, no matter the budget, had in common. One was costumed superheroes, like in these photos. The other was that no matter how tight the guest list, I always squeezed in my pals. It no longer matters, so I might as well reveal how I did this. Who is left to get angry with me? I was the editor of a high-profile Japanese comic book, so I just made up additional Japanese names and added them to the list of freelancers. Marie and Nancy don't look very Japanese, but no one questioned them at the door.

Shh. It's a secret.




Condo Update

It's up on Craigslist. Sounds nice, right? It is.

More Than A Decade

Babc0ck, me, Kraiger. The photos were taken 12 years apart.

April 22, 1994

August 19, 2006

Tuesday, August 22, 2006

Dik-Dik Postcards

My friend Jessica is drawing a promotional postcard for me for my book.

I would like to send cards (with DC Comics postage stamps) to all of you readers. If you would like a Stalking the Wild Dik-Dik postcard, please e-mail me your address with the subject line "Postcard" and your name/address in the body of the e-mail. My email address is mjavins(at-symbol)yahoo(dot-com).

I won't sell your address to junk mail companies in exchange for new-roof funds.

Monday, August 21, 2006

A Night at the Opera

Lots of people seem to be moving to Portland at the moment. Okay, not lots of people, but some people I know have done this recently.

Jessica Wolk-Stanley & family moved to Portland from Jersey City. This is a real bummer for me, especially since Yancey left JC for San Francisco earlier this year. At this rate, it won't even matter that I am being squeezed out of my home because I won't know anyone in my neighborhood anyway.

On the bright side, now Jessica and her husband and kids can go see the Too Much Coffee Man Opera, which plays in Portland on September 22nd, 23rd, 29th, and 30th. My pal Shannon Wheeler had been mulling over the idea of an opera for years and I'm completely amazed that he pulled it off. And it's funny too, though I'm not allowed to share the libretto with you.

I cannot make it to Portland for the Too Much Coffee Man Opera, which isn't really surprising since I'm lucky if I have enough money for a MetroCard these days. But since most people have salaries and $401ks and stuff, it seems to me that the admission charge of $25/20 is reasonable. 'Specially cuz it's an opera, and that means you get to have some instant class.

Take yourself to the opera in Portland. Buy tickets here.

The Odds are Good, but the Goods are Odd

Among Yancey's friends who attended the wedding, there were only two single men.

Which one would you choose? The Marvel Comics artist (left, Pond Scum) or the Kubert School teacher (right, Kraiger)? I lobbied them both to pretend to be my date during the first dance. They were both game (they are like brothers to me, from a super-dysfunctional family), but in the end, it must be said that Michael Kraiger actually knows how to lead during a dance, while both Pond Scum and I are clueless on this front.

Sunday, August 20, 2006

On Another Topic Entirely

This just popped into my in-box from Ro, who drove back to JC from Princeton last night:

I was just driving down Jersey Avenue and there was a man in full
cowboy attire riding horseback. We live in a very strange place.

Slipping into History

I'm just a few hours from brunch, after which my Best (Wo)Man duties will end and I can go from being in part of a wedding party to being that girl coloring in her JC home-office, the Africa/Marvel girl who wore her bathrobe and slippers as she talked about Yancey eating fried bugs and vomiting on her during a scuba excursion.

There were the obligatory bits--the engagement party in Maryland last month, the bridal luncheon where all the other women knew exactly what to do while I was utterly cluess, then the rehearsal last night. The actual wedding* itself is a blur of me standing on stairs at Princeton U, of signaling Yancey's six-year-old niece, of the sudden thought that since steam damaged my dress, underarm sweat was going to produce an interesting kaleidoscopic effect.

I walked over to the reception to encounter the cheap seats, a table full of my wonderful freaky friends. The tables were neatly divided into the refined sort (representing the bride's end of things), the life-loving New Orleans enthusiastic sort (representing the groom's side), and then there was a lot of hair and uncomfortably shifting large-comic-guys-in-suits-and-wacky-consorts (plus Roberta) at the my-pals table.

The only person on the scene missin' was Turbo, my Aussie ex, a friend to these guys and especially to Yancey. Of all the men who have ever shared my life, Turbo was the only one who easily slipped into my goofy world, because of his appreciation for silliness and bad puns. Babc0ck and Jenn were there to hand me the bathrobe for my stunt, Kraiger posed as my date during the wedding-party-dance, and Ro--who has a bit more class than us and nothing to do with comics but we like her anyway--egged me on. The others--Darren and Dani, Czop and Jess, and Pond Scum--were too busy smoking and cracking jokes out back with Yancey's Louisiana kin to realize anything was happening. They also missed the Second Line Dance, a tradition where we all waved napkins and followed the bride around as she jabbed an umbrella up and down to the sound of a New Orleans jazz band.

I attended the after-party in fitted silk, leading the bride's mother to note that I owned something girly. I had to explain that I had two modes of clothing: old GAP-style with holes in it, and custom-made girly silk from a Hoi An, Vietnam seamstress. There's no in-between in my wardrobe, since there is also no money.

My pals--including Darren in his bare feet--made it their business to dance until everyone danced. Dani got sick of walking in heels and threw them in the river. Pond Scum outlasted us all, holding up the bar into the wee hours as half-Mohawk comic-artist metal-head nightbirds clad-in-black will.

You know what? It was a pain, but the wedding didn't kill me. It was even kind of fun.

*I couldn't take photos as I was in the wedding, but Roberta sent me a few snapshots.

Friday, August 18, 2006

Wedding Prep

This is worse than when I couldn't operate the weed whacker. Turns out i am inep;oijt inepor inept at painting myt own nails. U woukd think that by the timer a girl is 40, she could paint nails. I already had to start ovr once so now I am dtermined not 2 use my right hand until it's dry. (There is a reasom i am "best man.")

I'll Have One of Those, Please

When I was supposed to be painting my wedding toenails last night, I slacked off and made a simple website for my condo instead.

By the time I was done, I was ready to buy it myself. What a nice place, I thought. I have committed the number one sin of real estate. I am emotionally, sentimentally, deeply attached to my property. I cannot bear the thought of selling it, and yet I cannot bear the thought of the downward spiral into debt and more debt. Just imagine if I were trying to sell my car instead!

Thursday, August 17, 2006

Scorecard: the Wedding

I'm Best Man in a wedding this weekend. It consists of five six events over three days in Princeton.

Here's what has gone wrong recently:

-the shoes don't fit
-my back is broken out (dress is low-slung sleeveless)
-the dress was too big
-once altered, the dress was too small
-when altered again, tailor ironed dress, and now there are red blotches all over the seams. Currently at cleaners
-cannot locate back-up dress, the one I wore on QE2
-and last, I am not male.

Small Taste of Kuwait City

I received this email this morning from my office in Kuwait:

Due to some Electrical works in our building our server and phone system will be down at 10:45 am.

It arrives a week late, as that would have made a rich coincidence when my DSL here in JC was out last week.

It seemed like the Internet was off more often than on when I lived in Kuwait. There was a fire in a communication tower. A move to a building under construction. An outage in my building. There are some things I don't miss by not living in Kuwait anymore.

But a little bit of Kuwait is coming to me. I am going to sign up for Arabic lessons today. The class is at Hudson County Community College, on eight consecutive Saturdays starting in September. I'm a little freaked out by it, because that means I am committed to not going anywhere during that time, which I'd like to do because Kuwait really is coming to me in December when I start a full-time job heading up Editorial in our satellite New York office. I wanted to get a trip in before putting my nose to the grindstone. Well, it's only $175 and if I drop the class before it starts, I get a refund on all but $15. Inshallah.

Update: I got my confirmation! I'm taking Arabic lessons.

Wednesday, August 16, 2006

News from the Block

I signed the papers this morning to put my condo up for sale for 4 months at $330,000. The market is flat, so I'm not sure it will do anything.

I'll be devastated if it sells, even though selling it is the only sensible course of action.

If I do sell, my hope is to wait 6-10 months and then buy a small house on the same block. A house with a rental unit, so that my costs are offset.

Cuz I don't want to leave the block. It's an amazing old-time community of stoop-sitters and interesting accents. It does get a little too personal sometimes. As Fran, the grandmother across the street, yelled this morning at Alba, another older woman who was visiting in her housecoat:

"That's what I hate about this block! Everything gets f*cking twisted!"

Fran then kicked a few things around.

That's a poetic way of saying that everyone gets in each other's business and rumors quickly take on lives of their own. In other words, it's a community where everyone gossips, looks out for each other, and interacts on a daily basis.

The other exciting events that have happened on 8th Street lately include:

-a parade that featured a marching band, Jesus, and the Virgin Mary.
-a flood in the basement of a building just renovated and purchased. (The firemen came. The owner was staring in horror in her nice shoes, so Alba popped out of her flip-flops and offered them to the owner, going barefoot in the rain back up to her house.)
-and Casey and Joanne did a survey of address plaques as they were arguing about whether to get numerals or a plaque for their new front door.

Never a dull moment on 8th Street!

Tuesday, August 15, 2006

Proof Positive

They're here!

And they look great. To a skeptic like myself, this is a pleasant surprise.

And below, the physical manifestation of all this work I've been doing.

"Hello. My name is Marie, and I am a workaholic."

Monday, August 14, 2006

Life in Hell

At Weherahena Temple in Sri Lanka, there are life-size models of the many tortures that might await sinners in Hell. And lots of visual story-telling too.

Sunday, August 13, 2006

Squeezed Out

You know all those stories about gentrification forcing people out?

How the big money comes in, how the families, artists, and writers who have made a neighborhood into somewhere the big money wants to live are pushed out by "progress?"

I am now one of those writers. My condo goes on the market tomorrow. I just left a condo association meeting where I learned I'll need to fork over a few thousand for a new roof. Even though we just got a new roof in 2003, even though an architect said the new roofing materials were fine but the execution was flawed and needs proper finishing. "Only $1,200," he said. "They didn't do the flashing and sealing right, and that part in the back needs rebuilding."

The others in my building--four of which recently paid triple what I paid, but that's no big deal because they surely make more than six times my puny income--just want a new roof. And "Just tear it up and replace it" isn't going to go away. That will be the solution to everything in this hundred-year-old Victorian. All the DIY-ers have moved on. Waiters, concierges, dancers, actors, small business owners, and graduate students have been replaced by suspicious accountants and paranoid internet professionals. "Why did you guys say you had a new roof?" "Uh, because we did." "And then it started leaking right after I bought?" "Well, yeah."

I'll have to borrow money. And then it will happen again. And again, each time someone sees a crack in a wall. And since I don't expect that Stalking the Wild Dik-Dik is going to hit the bestseller charts, I'd be going further and further into debt with no hope for a windfall. It certainly negates the cheap property taxes and monthly maintenance of the place.

I put so much into this place, into both the entire building and my individual unit. On Day One, Michael Kraiger and I were in here with my heat gun and Jon Babcock's circular saw. Yancey took a few minutes out of his illustration work to tear up the carpet, then Kraiger and I went at the old vinyl tiles with the heat gun. Then we set the saw depth at just under half an inch and scored the plywood. Pried it all up with a wrecking bar and then called the sanders. The lovely heart pine floor in the photo above was the result.

Turbo (my amazing ex, the only proof I have that not all my taste in men is bad) put even more into my place. But sweat equity doesn't count. Only money counts.

There are worse things than losing one's home. Heck, I've probably experienced three of the top ten worst things to lose in the last year alone. But it's just walls and doors and transoms and floors. Loss on this level sucks, but barely rates on the charts of worst things to lose. It's worse than losing socks or a wallet, but it's not my health, my sanity, or my jobs. I'll live.

I always felt guilty when I lived on Avenue B because my presence was assisting in the pioneering of Alphabet City for "The Man." I was broke, sure, but I was a white person who bought a condo in a neighborhood of minorities living in rentals. I watched as the neighborhood was gentrified, as the families were forced off the island of Manhattan, the squatters pushed out, and the artists and musicians all fled to Brooklyn.

Maybe it's karma. The gentrifier becomes the ousted.

Update: Jessica Del Forno is sending me the forms and we've agreed on a price and a commission. When I have time, I'll put up photos at a URL I own, It's heartbreaking, but it's the only sensible course of action.

Saturday, August 12, 2006

New House

I want one of these. It's small enough for Henry the Ford to pull. Maybe I can sell my apartment and live in my garage in a T@b instead.

Friday, August 11, 2006

Watch Out Where the Huskies Go

Dear Marie:

Do you happen to know any cheap ways to get to Antarctica?

-A soon-to-be world traveler


I went to Antarctica once, on the inaugural GAP cruise in February, 2004. It was a Quark Expeditions ship, before GAP bought their own ship. And while this does not make me qualified to call myself an Antarctica tourism expert, I do have an opinion. And I thought it cost a lot then at $3,000 plus frequent flyer miles. Now the same trip is up to $5,000!

So how does a would-be Shackleton or Scott get to Antarctica without having to eat his own huskies?

The easy way:

Fly over it on a day flight out of Australia. This obviously only works financially if you are already in Australia and can get the "cheap" seats. Prices start at (squirm) $900.

The cool way:

Get a postgraduate certificate in Antarctic Studies in New Zealand. This is one of my unrealized dreams, that due to its expense shall be filed away under "never going to get around to that." The study program lasts fourteen weeks and includes 10 days of camping on Antarctica. Wow. If you're Kiwi, Aussie, French, or German, it'll set you back $3k, which is less than the cheapest Antarctic cruise. But if you're me, it costs $7,600. Gasp. And you still have to pay for housing in New Zealand.

The normal way:

GAP and Tucan cater to "budget" travelers. All reputable cruise companies will be listed here. Rumor has it that you can show up in-season in Ushuaia and get a discount berth on a ship due to leave port immediately, though I know no one who has actually done this.

But to be honest, I was disappointed in the cruise. It felt a bit cookie-cutter, as I was shuffled here and there in a pack. It's Antarctica--there are rules about how tourists get to move around.

The way around this is to spend a little more and go on a trip that includes kayaking or camping. This is the only way to get away from the constant engine sounds--that of the ship, and that of the inflatable raft that zips you around. It's the only way to strike out on your own, because you're not allowed to go traipsing around unsupervised on land.

So, was it worth it?

I dunno. It was a LOT of money. I really think it would be incredible to go on the educational program or a kayaking/camping program. I'm not a hundred percent convinced that the mere cruise is worth the expense. If you intend to go anyway, fork over the additional $600 for kayaking and do it right.

Closest I'll get to the Antarctic Studies degree is the visitor's center.

Cultural Differences

Guess what they call speed bumps in New Zealand?

What in the hell is a "judder" anyway?

Thursday, August 10, 2006

His Royal Trekkerness

Check it out! King Abdullah of Jordan was once on Star Trek: Voyager. Too funny.

PEZ Paradise

There's a PEZ museum in Easton, Pennsylvania, only 68 miles from my home.

My mission is clear. As soon as I finish these 44 pages of Donald Duck, I must go to see these PEZ dispensers. (I'm not so excited about the Crayola factory next door. I've had enough of coloring.)

What, Me, Funny?

I needed an inker for a fill-in issue of the comic book that I edit. My pal Mark recommended one, and Bobbie corroborated the man's skill and reliability, so I dropped him a line.

Dear Inker Guy:
My name is Marie Javins and I used to be an editor at Marvel Comics and now am editing blah blah blah and so on.

He responded that he was indeed looking for work, but also that I had sent him a letter in 1994!

Dear Marie:
You may not remember, but you sent me the attached letter in 1994, when I was living in Huber Heights, Ohio.

I'd never seen the attached letter before in my life! But clever "me" had gone and made a funny little quip at the end. The gist of the letter was "Thank you for your samples, I got nothing for you, but it's always nice to hear from a denizen of America's largest brick home community."

And then I'd signed it. Except I hadn't. But I knew instantly who did, as did Mark and Bobbie when I told them about it.

Polly, you scamp. My assistant editor at the time had no doubt been going through the slush pile and was trying to amuse herself and the poor souls whose days she was ruining as she rejected their samples. She'd later gone on to a long career in writing some of the wackiest Marvel "Bullpen Bulletins" of the decade. She's currently employed as a successful freelance copy editor, except when she's touring with her band.

I wonder what else "I" wrote in 1994, while cutting a swath across the pile of submissions...

Tuesday, August 08, 2006

Sultan's Angels

This photo always makes me laugh. It's me, Nikki, and Didja in Darra, Pakistan, in 1998. We were on an 8-week Dragoman trip from Kathmandu to Damascus, and we visited a town where the primary business was making knock-off guns. The guy behind us is Sultan.

We giggled a lot as we adopted a Charlie's Angels pose with these weapons of medium-level destruction. The locals laughed at us too.

I just scanned in another photo to show the reality of the situation--all our cameras and tourist junk are just off to the side.

Monday, August 07, 2006

Deadline Madness

Today one of my Donald Duck editors made the following observation:

Wow, I was looking over the pagination lists and you've got... ::counting:: ...44 pages due on Wednesday!

I really was much happier not counting.


More Ro Art

Roberta has gone and done more of that art-stuff that she likes to do. This one doesn't really exist; it's a proposal for a mural completed as part of a month-long fellowship program at the National Academy of Art.

I like how Ro's mural looks like a tangle of horizontal motion lines, just like subway trains. I wish someone with funding money would see it and ask her to put it up at the 77th Street 6 station for real.

I guess if that super-rich funding person were reading this blog, they'd have taken me to lunch already.

Sunday, August 06, 2006

Talent Deserving of Wider Recognition

My mother left this rhyme about my car on the Comments in the previous entry. As my loyal 1990 Ford has just transported me to Virginia and back over three days without complaint (and at 30 miles per gallon!), I thought it deserved center stage. (Please overlook the fact that the brontosaurus has been de-existed by scientists.)

The car known as Henry the Taurus
Is strong as an old brontosaurus
He has no AC
So it's hot in the city
But at least it's cool here in the forest.

In other Taurus news, it seems that Henry the Taurus was born in the Year of the Metal Horse. This means that he likes to roam.

I was born in the Year of the Fire Horse. My Berlin adviser has an astrologer friend who told him that us Fire Horse Tauruses:

"Cannot obey a system which other people have shown to work before, and always have to do it our own way. This is why the women are considered unmarriagable."

That explains a lot.

Friday, August 04, 2006

Ford Potluck

I'm getting a late start after editing Kuwaiti comics all morning, but now I get to go drive Henry the 1990 Ford Taurus to my mother's in Virginia, deep in the Shenandoah Valley.

Henry is an incredible car, acquired in 2002 in Torrance, CA, and named by Turbo the Aussie. Turbo and I bought Henry on my birthday (because Henry and I are both Tauruses, which seemed as valid a criteria as any when going into the crapshoot used car marketplace) for $903 after fees were paid by the seller. The seller had bought two cars at an auction by accident. Since he got Henry—who had been a steadily maintained fleet vehicle—for $400, the seller did all right by us.

We did all right by him too, as Henry took us across the U.S. for May, June, and July. The only problem was that we lost the air conditioning in Austin.

And Henry still doesn't have a/c, which is sounding really unappealing today.

I'd take the bus, train, or plane if there was a bus, train, or plane. But the only way to the middle of the Shenandoah Valley is by car.

Every time I drive old Henry anywhere, I expect that it's his last trip. I am always astounded that he makes it. After all, he's 16 years old, not young for a car.

I have AAA, the deluxe membership. I hope I don't end up sitting in a hot car by the side of the road somewhere in Pennsylvania, waiting for a tow.

Thursday, August 03, 2006

Dear Travel-Blog Woman:

Found a question in my e-mail this morning, one that I am asked frequently. I was writing back a long rant (hoping my editor isn't too mad at me since he'll read this and know my deadline was yesterday), when it occurred to me to post it for anyone who was curious.

Q: I’m in the process of getting ready to venture out for a 12-18 month RTW trip end of this year, and was interested in how you approached some of the sponsors on your site, and what assistance they provided you with?

A: The best advice I can give on sponsorship is: Don't bother.

I did score well on a few points, but I had to work at it and for the most part, free things are a mixed blessing.

To get anything for free or discount, you have to give the sponsor a reason to support you. In other words, what's in it for them?

If they simply get the satisfaction of helping someone do a cool trip, they might give you a small percentage off of a product in order to acquire your business. But that's it. They gain, you gain. (Except you don't necessarily, more on that in a minute.) The fact is that plenty of people take RTW trips, and simply doing it offers no incentive to anyone to sponsor you. There's enough people doing RTW trips to support several businesses that specialize, which can be a bit disappointing to those on their once-in-a-lifetime trip, which is of course, special to them and all their loved ones.

If you have a website, they'll only gamble on you if you can prove that you have a built-in readership, a professional site, and a compelling reason for them to bother. I produced a glossy press kit prior to MariesWorldTour, and when I launched this, there was no such thing as blogging software. Now of course there are hundreds of travel sites out there and plenty of RTW blogs, all competing for attention.

So assuming you have a great outlet, such as a professional website with a few thousand readers, or a magazine that is guaranteed to publish your work, or a cable TV show, and you produce a glossy press kit, you could perhaps get such things as:

-free or discounted travel products
-free or discounted outfitter trips
-trips at cost

But beware the freebie! I had some incredible trips and some disorganized nightmares, but when someone gives you something free or at a substantial discount, you are stuck in the spot of being beholden to them. Really high-end publications won't even allow their staff to accept junkets, but realistically, at my level you must accept freebies unless you just want to watch people leave on safari and then try to imagine what their trip is like. But you're stuck then. Say the trip sucks. Well, morally you have the right to say so. But realistically, can you do that? You will have met some nice employees for the company, people who treated you well and understood your mission. Now can you really go out and say "This company is a disaster?"


-I had a phenomenal canoe/camping trip in Zimbabwe. Wrote a positive article about it. Everyone was happy. This was with Zambezi Canoe Safaris.

-I went on a disastrous safari in Botswana. The vehicle was inadequate, the staff clueless, the itinerary vague. I abandoned the group and left early on the public bus. Three of the other five clients left a day later. In this case, the marketing director of the company had bent over backwards to help me. Now what to write? And I don't even want to say who it was with, because maybe they are usually quite good and this was an exception.

And on the product front, if you wouldn't buy it without the discount, don't buy it with the discount. It's dead weight, something you have to carry on your back. I got one of those chicken-wire covers for my backpack. Did I ever use it? No. In the end, I gave it to my pal Lynne to take home for me, and I never thought to get it back from her. It's probably still in her storage unit in Slough.

JetCityJimbo once said it best after he'd gotten a substantial discount on a trip-gone-bad.

"In the end," he e-mailed, "they paid me NOT to write about it."

Tuesday, August 01, 2006

Once A Queen

Speaking of cool postage stamps, I picked up this King Hussein and Queen Noor one in Jordan in 1998.

King Hussein's unfaltering commitment to humanitarianism, compromise, and consensus is known throughout the world. But I didn't know much about Queen Noor until I started reading her autobiography.

Queen Noor was educated at Princeton and was part-Swedish, part-Lebanese, and all-American before she met King Hussein. Her education was in urban planning so she was able to put this to use, first at a job in Iran and then later in Jordan where she happened to meet one of the world's most eligible bachelors. She helped institute dozens of development programs in Jordan. For years, she lobbied hard for better understanding between the US and the Arab World.

I was interested to read that after her miscarriage early in their marriage, King Hussein couldn't face the trauma. He could face the responsibilities of the world and could help others, all while handling the stress of developing Jordan and concurrently negotiating with the entire world, but he just couldn't handle personal grief. He shut it down and moved on to more global issues.

I'm still in the middle of the book, where she talks about the Iraqi invasion of Kuwait. She wrote about the numbers of refugees arriving in Jordan. Nearly 3 million people all totalled. Many of these had been working in Kuwait--Filipinos, Egyptians, Pakistanis, Palestinians, etc. One of them became Queen Rania. She attended high school at the same school as a pal at my Kuwait office.

There is a new Queen, but that doesn't mean Queen Noor is out of a job. She still gets to be Queen, not King-Stepmother or something like that. King Hussein's mother was still Queen when Queen Noor was Queen. When you're Queen of Jordan, you get to stay that way. Which is good for Jordan, because Queens work pretty hard there and there's plenty of work to go around.

Obligatory Dead Sea float with Marie, 1998