Saturday, July 12, 2008

The travel writer hustle

Being out here in San Diego on the travel writer hustle is making my wife and me remember how and why we got fat when we were living in New York and this was what we did, all the time.

Last night, at Sally's - a destination restaurant attached to a hotel; you don't see that on every journey - the chef was brought out to meet us, and then the chef proceeded to trot out two generous tasting portions of three entrees in between our starters and the entrees we actually ordered. This made me very happy, because I got to taste the squid ink gnocchi with moonfish and the lobster pot pie that I had almost ordered. But it also made me fat - or it will if this keeps up much longer.

I understand the rest of California is in flames, North St. Louis is an open-air assault-rifle range and an improvised explosive device has some young person's name on it in Iraq today, which means the problems I am describing are not real problems. But a weight loss contest in the St. Louis American newsroom had me eating one "generous tasting portion" of one entree at every meal and learning to feel full afterwards. Portion control! It hath fled me! Travel writer hustle, thy domain is soft and evil!

Being on furlough from the community wars in St. Louis also has us talking about all of the other trips we have taken for stories I assigned myself when I was a travel editor. As a baby blogger, I will now use this as an excuse to hunt around on the Car & Travel website and archive some of those stories that are still out there somewhere.

I went to Scottsdale. I remember that trip; its real motive was to write songs with my former bandmate Matt Fuller, who drove over from Los Angeles. I see my travel feature doesn't mention the most remarkable experiences we had at the Four Seasons Scottsdale. The guy who drove our stretch limo golf cart when we were loading into our plush villa remarked that the last beat-up old guitar case he had carried had belonged to Mick Jagger. And, rather than go broke at the mini-bar (travel writers tend to get comped everything except the mini bar), we drove into town, bought some beer and dumped it with ice into the sink in the (gigantic, spookily swank) bathroom - just like two teeagers on a trip to football state.

I went to Phoenix and Tuscon, to cover Cactus League Baseball. The other motive there was to work on translating a Roque Dalton novel with a very special woman from El Salvador who knew Dalton's son. I got some odd poems out of translating Salvadorean Spanish in the bleachers at a spring training game in Arizona with a former Central American revolutionary, but our translation died on the vine.

I did a story about beer and baseball in Southern California that took me to L.A., Anaheim and here to San Diego. That was the year the Angels won it all, and I saw that brilliant team (and The Rally Monkey) in action. I blabbed about the Angels all summer, and no one listened. It's funny how when you were right all along, nobody gives you credit for that but yourself! This trip also gave me my O.G. (Original Gourmand) credentials with Stone Brewing, who were pretty much brewing a few cases of beer in buckets when I first met them. Owner Greg Koch treated me to a vertical tasting of Stone beers in his loft in Downtown San Diego, which must have went up a decimal point in value since then.

I spent a lot of time in Connecticut, because I double-dipped on those trips by gathering notes for New York Times features. My old Car & Travel stories about Connecticut seem to have been superseded on the web by newer coverage, but my foodie road trip with R. Oliver Sinclair Jr. is still out there, as is my junk-picking jaunt with The Parking Pal, when I picked up The Most Comfortable Chair on Earth, and my flight over Greater Hartford in a “genuine warbird” from World War II.

We visited some highly rated beaches in and around Clearwater. I am really not much of a beach bum. The motive here was to visit a dear old friend (and former high school sweetheart) in Sarasota, still known to me as Monkey. She met my wife and me (no hanky-panky in my travel-writer hustle) for dinner in Tarpon Springs, an odd little hamlet previously colonized by Greek sponge divers.

I went to Portland, Maine, again to see a friend, - Jess, the former manager of Maine Tourism. I remember eating lobster sushi with her. Travel writing occasioned a sea change, for me, in my relations with PR people. Journalists learn to be wary of the "flacks"; we spend all of our time pushing past them to get at the "real" source, someone paid to do something other than say positive things about whatever it is you are reporting on. But when you are reporting on good times and need some patronage to experience those good times so you have something good to write about, you need to find a competent (and fun!) PR person. Jess was one.

That gets me to "M" on Car & Travel's click-down directory of destinations by state, and we haven't even looked overseas, as of yet, but it's time to go meet the day and have some more subsidized fun in San Diego. Now why, exactly, did I give this up to go fight a bunch of lonely battles in St. Louis? W.B. Yeats cursed "the fascination of what's difficult," and whatever else one might say about travel writing, it ain't difficult.

1 comment:

Chris Connolly said...

Hello. My name is Chris and I'm a writer/travel writer too. I also used to live in SD, in Golden Hill, right by Balboa. I just started reading your blog and I'm digging it. I've been blogging away on some similar topics and I thought you might want to check it out.