(Here's a short account of my travels between Heroes Con and Kids Read Comics - full KRC report to follow shortly.)
Time to leave Charlotte and make my way to Michigan for the Kids Read Comics show. Not having anywhere else to go once I leave my hotel, and having put off the moment of departure as long as I dared, I find myself at the Greyhound bus station waaaay too early. Fortunately, I have a book - Mad World, a highly entertaining biography of Evelyn Waugh by Paula Byrne - which sees me through the hours I have to wait. I attempt to find something vegetarian in the cafeteria that isn't disgusting - I fail miserably, and end up with what is possibly the worst cheese sandwich I have ever eaten. Next time I hear an American say the British can't do sandwiches, I will be prepared.
I buy a phone card and (after trying two phones that don't work) I phone home. Sylvie is giving the children dinner - Thomas is throwing his food around in an uncharacteristic tantrum when I call, and has just been told off. Thomas and I exchange a few incomprehensible words through his floods of tears and snot and I feel keenly that my absence makes me a terrible father.
More waiting, more reading. At last 6pm rolls around and we board the bus. I'm sat next to an enormous woman whose bulk makes the entire bus tilt to our side when she sits down. She and her two male friends - one to our side and one in front of us - talk loudly and raucously between themselves, the guy in front doing a repetitive hour-long riff on Scooby Doo and Shaggy being potheads, like he's the only guy who's ever thought of it. Eventually I manage to sleep, briefly. I awaken in the middle of a sentence by the guy on our right: "... solitary. I mean, they put me in solitary confinement just for that, man." I reflect that I may have some trouble going to sleep again.
We stop to refuel - both us and the bus, it seems - at around 9pm. It looks like the only option is a McDonalds, presented to us as if it's some sort of treat. I've managed to avoid giving any of their horrible establishments any of my hard-earned money for close to twenty years - not for ideological reasons or anything, I just think the food tastes like garbage - but I need something in my stomach. This seems to be the trip for breaking the habits of a lifetime. I order a Caesar Salad - the poor cow at the till asks me "Crispy of Grilled?" about six times before I realise it comes with chicken. I make involuntary horrified noises - one twenty-year habit I have no intention of breaking on this trip is my vegetarianism - and am duly presented with something that resembles a Caesar Salad not a jot. It's basically just a green salad. What the hell, thinks I - down it goes.
Back on the bus. I manage to sleep without half trying this time - Heroes Con has wiped me out somewhat. But it feels like I've hardly been asleep five minutes before we stop and we're all told to get off the bus while it's "serviced". I am to discover over the next few hours that this is to be a pattern - sleep, rude awakening, off the bus, sit in a station terminal, back on the bus. My only previous experience travelling by bus has been in Europe, where you just, you know, get on the bus and sleep until you get there. Alas, this is not to be.
Many long, weary hours pass. Many layovers in many places. I am occasionally gripped by an irrational terror that I have got on the wrong bus and am on a one-way trip to Nowheresville, but by the following afternoon I finally end up in Ann Arbor. Helpfully, the bus station has a big sign in the window giving half a dozen phone numbers for local taxi services. Unhelpfully, there are no telephones, just a telephone directory on a small shelf - a big space on the wall above it with a couple of wires sticking out where the telephone used to be. I head out to the footpath (sorry, sidewalk) and start walking, dragging my suitcase behind me, in the blind hope that I will see a public phone, a taxi or, failing that, the street in which my hotel is situated. At one point I stop at a Borders to buy a map - I mention the street I'm looking for and the guy tells me I'm practically on it. That's the good news. The bad news is that, once I get onto it, the hotel is about thirty blocks away. I start walking, confident in the knowledge that the worst-case scenario is that I'll get there eventually. Fortune smiles upon me - I see two taxis. I jump in one and (apart from one moment when I almost give the taxi driver a hernia with my suitcase full of books) all is well. I reach the hotel, unpack, send a couple of e-mails, phone home, shower, get some dinner (another salad from a burger restaurant, all that's available after dodging traffic on a pedestrian-unfriendly stretch of road) and sleep. Oh yes. Hitting that pillow is without a doubt the highlight of my day.