Sunday, November 20, 2011


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.

I think.

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!


Anonymous said...

"You've got fog, its not going away!"
Thats all I can really say...

Wendelin Van Draanen said...

Haha! I love you too! :)

sammy4ever said...

The thing about SFO and its fog... SO TRUE!
And the most disappointing thing is, SFO IS NOT EVEN IN SAN FRANCISCO.
I don't know, that just bothers me somewhat.
Hmm.... $300 vs $30... I wonder which one would be the better deal!
Haha, I love traveling stories. I don't know why, they just make me feel like I want to pack a suitcase and hop a plane to who knows where!
And I really really REALLY want to attend one of your presentations. You should post your tour schedules or something on your blog. "I'll be at this school in this state on this day"
And then I can find a way to get to that school in that state on that day.
I could enroll for a day or be a teacher's aid or something.
Seriously. I'll do it. I swear to Howdy I will.
I won't get too into it right now but there are several things that Sammy, Bryce, Evangeline, all your characters have said that always replay through my head.
Like for example "You want the glory, but not the sweat." Lance Reijden, Art of Deception. You have no idea how much that one line has changed my life. It completely altered my perspective and I apply it to all kinds of situations in my life.
You're the best!

bookworm said...

You have to love the little inconvieniences that traveling will throw to you. It'll keep the lister (or in this case, reader) interested in your story.)

Because how many bad travel experiences have we all been through? :)

As much fun as it is recounting it, it is NOT fun to experience it.

Thanks for putting a smile on my face. :)

Mel said...

That is some trip! I'm glad you made it home safe and sound (and just a touch sleepy!). What I'm curious about is how the university reacted to you? I know I'd probably be acting like those 5th graders you were talking about in my head for person, I'd just babble away at how much you inspire me and that it's such an honor to meet you.

Ah well. See ya next week!

AbaGayleb said...

I'm not in public school,though. Or that school, anyway. Try driving 12 hours to Michigan. 12 HOURSSS. D8<
It is NOT fun. Especially with 5 other people in the car. PLUS a fat dachshund. Overall, at least you had fun! The fog comment made me laugh :p
You need to come to AL, To a home-schooled group! :D

Yusa said...

Harsh trip. It reminds me that my brother (16) was recently coming back from england but his return flight ticket was messed up. They gave him a ticket with a flight that didn't exist. He had to take 2 more flghts and he was EXHAUSTED when he came back. Also i once had to wait 11 hours in an airport for a flight. *shudders* I love traveling to new places but it seriously can be a pain. :) I hope you eventually come to my K-8 school. I've been wanting to meet you forever!
LOve YOU <3 :)

I Love 2 Read 26 said...

You make me laugh! I had a total Sammy Keyes inspired outfit on Saturday: A sweat shirt, jeans, hair up in a pony tail! LOL! All i needed was a pair of high-tops! ;) LOL!!!! P.S. does the books ever say what color her high tops are? Just some random question that popped up in my mind lol again! Talk to you next week! :D

Yusa said...

I love sammy keyes outfits. so comfortable and ready for anything. not girly but just right. unfortuantly i can't wear that kinda stuff. My wardrobe is a little more.... restricted. Anyways hope you've got over your exhaustion. :)

Optimistic4ever said...

yeah, SF, just give it up already!

U r so funny! I loved the presentation you gave during your book tour in January! You rock!

Wendelin Van Draanen said...

I didn't used to dress like Sammy, but I sure do now. Well, maybe I used to dress like her, but not in "professional" situations--like doing school visits. I used to do the suit coat and slacks thing with boot-like shoes. But then one visit I drove 5 hours BEFORE SCHOOL to a middle school (it seemed easier than flying) (yeah, I hate flying) and I was so wiped out by the time I arrived that I said, forget it, to changing out of my Converse and into my bootlings. And here's where the big shift happened: I walked into the school and was greeted by the principal...who was wearing pink Converse! They'd made it Converse Day in my honor and a LOT of the teachers and a LOT of the students were wearing "Sammy shoes". I would have felt like an idiot in bootlings! So from that day forward, I just wear 'em to do my presentations. They make for much better jumping around :)

PS I actually checked in to wish y'all a Happy Thanksgiving and say that I'm thankkful for your presence in my life. Which I am! Sending thanks, Wendelin

AbaGayleb said...

I want converse because of Sammy nowwww. I have always pictured her with brown hair in a ponytail, a red t-shirt, dark blue skinny jeans, and red converse. They need Converse Day everyday! I'm thankful for you, and Sammy(:
I hope you have a great Thanksgiving!

Anonymous said...

i'm glad it was worth it, wendelin!!
question: what color ARE sammy's hightops?? i know they're green for awhile after her appearance as the Marsh Monster in Skeleton Man, but idk after that!!! and her journey to get new ones is around Snake Eyes, correct? oh whatever, i'll just HAVE to re-read the series to find out!! :D:D:D since you're forcing me.... ;)
happy thanksgiving!!! im so blessed that my FABULOUS librarian gave me a copy of SK and the Hotel Thief that one hot summer day in 2005!!!!

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Yusa said...

Ever since i read sammy keyes i've wanted converse and i wanted to learn how to ride a skateboard. Still haven't got either. :( Anyways HAppy Thanksgiving everyone!

Wendelin Van Draanen said...

Happy Thanksgiving to all y'all, too! Hope you have a gobbling good time. Finally tracked down some spiced peaches so we're set! (Always think about Holly / Runaway now at Thanksgiving time. Funny how the people in books become real in your mind.) What's your favorite T-day side dish?

I Love 2 Read 26 said...

Happy Thanksgiving! I have also wanted to skateboard like Sammy! I will accomplish that goal next summer :) I just realized i have been reading Sammy Keyes ever since 3rd grade. My 3rd grade teacher read us Sammy Keyes and the Hotel Thief, after that, i was HOOKED!! :) Your books always make me laugh! And my favorite Thanksgiving sides are cranberrys, stuffing, and potatoes! What are yours?