RWA 2013, Part 2: Baptism by Thunderstorm


Rain in Downtown Atlanta, photo by callison-burch

Contrary to the ’70s popular song, it does rain in Southern California.

But not like this.

Dumbfounded, I stood in the lobby of my nice, just-slightly-offsite hotel and stared out the sliding glass door at the rain bucketing down from the overcast Atlanta sky.  At the trees lashed by furious gusts of wind. At the bolts of lightning that occasionally flashed overhead.

It hadn’t looked like this an hour ago. I wasn’t sure it had looked like this even half an hour ago. (Memo to self: when you’re staying in a place where the weather is almost notoriously unstable, don’t go anywhere without looking out the window first.)

I was a five minute walk away from the conference hotel, where I was due to participate in a group signing within the next half-hour. In this weather, it might as well have been five miles.

An effort to raise the hotel shuttle driver and ask for a lift to the signing proved fruitless. Flustered but determined, I pulled on a plastic raincoat, grabbed my umbrella, and ventured out into the storm.

Within two minutes, my umbrella had turned inside out, my dress was wet from the thigh down, and my stockinged feet squelched in their sandals. My glasses, streaked with rain, were all but useless for visibility purposes. Buffeted by the wind, which was driving the rain sideways, fearing I’d be knocked flat on my face any second, I took refuge in the foyer of the restaurant next door.

My mind raced furiously, trying to calculate how much time I had to arrive at the signing; whether I had time to change into dry clothes before setting out again (don’t be ridiculous, my subconscious retorted, Outfit #2 will get just as soaked as Outfit #1); whether I could just ride out the storm and show up a little later–or not show up at all, since my absence would probably not even be noticed in a room full of authors (most of them far more well-known than I) and fans.

Call it gumption, stubbornness, or insanity, but I rejected the last idea almost at once. Committed was committed. This was my first signing ever, and I wasn’t going to blow it off, no matter how bad the weather was or how obscure I was. Come hell or high water–and Atlanta was currently providing plenty of both–I was going to that signing. And as close to the scheduled time as possible.

I couldn’t tell if the rain had let up at all, maybe infinitesimally, when I braved the storm again. The wind was still gusty, the precipitation pattering steadily down, but I was already so wet I didn’t notice if I was getting any wetter. My top priority was finding the safest, dryest way to get to the conference hotel.

pedestrianbridge_0110Fortunately, I knew about the skybridges, the enclosed walkways that linked several of the main downtown hotels, including the conference hotel. But which one was closest? I squinted and squelched my way across the street to a business plaza that had a skybridge that led somewhere (the person in charge of security had been somewhat less than helpful about that when I’d asked earlier). But I figured if I took the bridge I might at least end up in a place I recognized, and I could navigate the rest of the way from there.

And so it proved. Even a little better than expected, as I’d thought I might end up in the hotel next door. Instead, I found myself on the atrium level of the conference hotel, the very place where the signing would be held. And there was time for a brief stopover in the restroom to remove my rain gear and tidy myself just enough to eliminate the half-drowned-rat look. Umbrella and raincoat hastily folded and put away in my tote, I hurried into the ballroom with minutes to spare, found and took my seat. My dress was still sopping, the skirts clinging to my legs like sheets of fresh papier-mache. But my cardigan was fairly dry, so I draped it over my knees and pulled the skirt down to cover it. At least I had a bit of insulation now.

And I’d made it. I’d arrived–and on time (barely), at the place where I was supposed to be. That was a victory in itself. And I also had one hell of a “war story” to tell, to anyone interested in listening!

Then the doors opened, the people poured in, and I proceeded to be very busy for the next two hours. Even when you’re not signing many books yourself, you end up watching those who do–what they say, how they conduct themselves, how readers react to them. In all, it was a learning experience every new author should have–though I recommend skipping the thunderstorm part, if you can! (Apropos of which, every now and then, a rumble was heard or a flash was glimpsed through the window blinds. But by the time the signing was over, the storm was a distant memory.)

Recent events have had me reflecting on this experience–not nostalgically, but perhaps philosophically. Because there will always be storms, whether literal or metaphoric. Always things you can’t control, but which affect you anyway.
And when faced with those, sometimes the best you can hope for is a quiet place where you can ride out the storm until everything calms down.

But when that’s not an option, all you can do is fulfill your individual obligations, soldier on, and try to chart your own course through the storm–until you come out the other side, to the place where you’re supposed to be.Rainbow_At_Maraetai_Beach_New_Zealand

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