I’ve just returned home from a week-long visit to Tennessee, where I did presentations at four middle schools and four elementary schools and one university.
Well, I’m sure about the number of universities.
I really like doing school visits—I like the kids, and the teachers and librarians do a fantastic job prepping the students for Author Day. It’s the traveling that kills me! I’ve shared tales from the road before, but I have a few more to add to my storybook of travel horrors. Or, more accurately, exhausting inconveniences. This time there was a semi-truck overturned on the interstate between Nashville and Knoxville. Add an hour to the two and a half hour trip. I kept reminding myself that I was inconvenienced, not dead, like the semi driver may very well have been. They were stacking the panels of the rig as we finally inched past. I don’t know what he’d been hauling, but the truck trailer seemed to be reduced to compact stacks of metal parts.
Needless to say, with two flights and a very long drive (through a time zone change, even) it was late night by the time I checked into the hotel.
But the next morning the travel was behind me and the fun began. Each school has a “host” who sees you through your day—or as this week shaped up, your half day with them. They pick you up at the hotel (a better guarantee that you will actually appear at the school and not get yourself lost in a rental car) and before long you’ve got your computer talking to their projection system and the kids are filing in, anxious to hear what you have to say.
Now, I have to hand it to the elementary schools—they get their students excited. The kids see me in the hall and whisper, Is that her? Or a brave one will be dispatched to ask, “Are you Miss Van Draanen?”
When I say yes, one of two things happens: They scamper off squealing, or they hesitate, then charge at me with a hug.
Who cares about a little travel delay when that’s the reception you get!
The middle schools usually come with a warning or apology from the host about the hour or the group. Depends on what sort of middle school it is. If the kids are 7th & 8th, they can be a little sleepy if it’s a morning assembly. Or a little chatty if it’s an afternoon assembly. Or a little, uh, distant. I mean, come on. It’s an author. How exciting can it be?
I love presenting to 7th / 8th – they may be my favorite group ‘cause they transform from sleepy and / or distant to engaged and laughing. My view is you just have to remember what it was like to be them. Jump around a little. Tell a story. Wake…them…up.
After my spastic presentation Monday morning, the 8th graders gave me a standing O. It started with the boys. The ones who’d sat at the back of the room. The ones who’d come in dragging. And then it spread forward and it about made me cry from happiness. There’s nothing like a spontaneous standing O from a bunch of eighth graders to set your mood for the whole week.
So the schools were great, but by the end of a week of three spastic presentations each day (well, I controlled myself a little at the university, so that one wasn’t as spastic) I was pretty exhausted and looking forward to getting home to my own bed.
The trip home started okay—my saintly host drove me the two and a half hours back to the airport, and fortunately there were no accidents or delays on the way. But when I checked in at the airport I learned that my flight was delayed because the original aircraft had been held up by bad weather conditions in San Francisco.
(SFO, you should just give it up. All over the country there are delays because of you We're tired of it! Wake up! You've got fog! It's not going away! Let San Jose have your business, already!)
Anyway, that was the beginning of the end. The flight got me in too late to catch my connection home, because I was on different carriers for each leg of the trip and the carriers had different terminals which required me to go outside, then back through security. By the time I’d reached the second terminal my flight had already lifted off. The next flight out wasn’t until 8 AM, so I was stuck at 11 PM at a ticket counter where I was told that people often spent the time waiting in a little cordoned off area of plastic chairs as I wouldn’t be allowed to go to my gate until 4:30 AM.
I guess I could have gone back to the first carrier and asked them to put me up in a hotel room, but I didn’t want a stupid hotel room or to get up early and endure possible flight delays and more security screening and airport food. I wanted to go home and was willing to drive the four hours to get there.
Unfortunately, Hertz wanted over $300 for a rental car.
Fortunately, Avis only wanted $30.
So I got on the Avis shuttle and was transported to the Avis rental car lot where I got a car, a map, and a bottle of tea and hit the road.
Tennessee time, it was almost 6 AM by the time I hit the pillow.
Still. It was a great week. There’s just something about the kids that makes all the travel headaches worth it.
Thanks for checking in – see you next week!