Why touring gives me gray hairs

I am obsessive-compulsive about being on time. I freak out when I know I’m going to arrive late for an appointment, a dinner date, or — worst of all — a booksigning event. So I always leave myself a comfortable margin of time for travel, preferring to arrive at a store way too early rather than cutting my arrival too close to the appointed hour.

So you can imagine how uptight I was on Thursday afternoon when I got stuck in bumper-to-bumper traffic en route to my signing in South Portland, Maine. My event was scheduled for 7 PM. It usually takes about an hour and a half to drive from my house to South Portland. I left my home at 3:30, allowing myself time for a leisurely stop at McDonald’s for dinner. (McDonald’s frequently plays a large part in the life of the touring author. I make no apologies for my French fry addiction.) I was happily zipping down Route 1 when, just outside the town of Wiscasset, the traffic suddenly halted. A line of cars stretched ahead of me, all the way to the horizon.

No problem, I thought. I’d given myself an extra TWO HOURS to arrive at the store. At the very worst, I’d have to wolf down my dinner a little faster than I wanted to.

An hour later, my car had moved maybe a hundred feet. My stomach was growling. Any hope of dinner was fast fading away.

Yet another hour later, my car was still stuck in Wiscasset. Traffic had scarcely moved. Now I was panicking, because I knew there was no way I would be on time. As the minutes ticked by, I made a series of phone calls to Borders, each one more despairing.

“I’m stuck in traffic. I may be a few minutes late.”
Then: “I’m still in Wiscasset! I’m so, so sorry! I’ll be a half hour late.”
Then: “I’m still stuck in this (expletive deleted) traffic, in this (expletive deleted) town, and I don’t know when I’ll get there. But I (expletive deleted) well will get there.” (Well, okay. I didn’t really use those expletives over the phone. But I thought them.)

I told Borders that if customers had to leave, I would be happy to sign any books they left for me. I also said that no matter what time I arrived, I would give my talk, if anyone wanted to listen. I’d even stand on my head, anything to make it up to those forced to wait. I imagined my readers getting more and more irritated with me, muttering darkly that the author didn’t respect them enough to be on time. I imagined them walking off in a huff, tossing my books aside.

When I finally did arrive at the bookstore, I was 45 minutes late. I did not expect anyone to still be waiting around for me. I dashed into the store, bypassing the ladies’ room (which by that time I desperately needed to use) and headed straight for the events area.

To my amazement, customers were still sitting there, even though they’d been warned that the author might not show up till much later. “We talked about it among ourselves, and we decided you were worth the wait,” one of them told me.

It’s moments like those when I realize how lucky I am to have such wonderful readers.

Considering how unpredictable travel is, it’s amazing how rarely I’ve missed, or been late for, an author event. This is my twelfth national book tour. During all those tours, I’ve had my share of delayed flights, thunderstorms, traffic jams, and no-show drivers, but I can remember only two tours when I actually had to cancel events. The first aborted tour was halted because of 9/11, when I suddenly found myself stranded in Seattle for two weeks. The second interrupted tour was after I herniated a disc in my neck, and needed urgent surgery. (Although I confess I considered going ahead with the tour anyway, with a suitcase of narcotics in tow.)

My national tour for THE KEEPSAKE is just getting started. Airports are chaos, the weather is weird, and my bookstore events are lined up like a series of dominoes, just waiting for something to go wrong and topple the whole schedule. I just hope that all my readers are as patient and understanding as those customers in South Portland’s Borders Thursday night.

I’m trying my best to get to you. I really am.

20 replies
  1. maatlockk
    maatlockk says:

    If I were there I would wait too – even for only a glimpse.Or maybe a fangeek obsession thing, and I’d steal the empty carton of fries you had. I’d show them to my friends and say ‘Tess Gerritsen ate fries from this once!’

  2. john lovell
    john lovell says:

    The traffic delay on that Wiscasset bridge is what “the prettiest village in Maine” or whatever Wiscasset calls itself is what the town is best known for. And anyway, Camden’s nicer.

  3. GerritsenFever10
    GerritsenFever10 says:

    The weather is weird indeed. Try living down here where not one, but TWO massive hurricanes within the past two weeks have almost destroyed your state! Lucky you live in Maine where there’s just a bunch of nice weather and the occasional snow storm.

  4. Tess
    Tess says:

    Maine is nice that way. No dangerous animals, no poisonous snakes, and no really hair-raising weather. The worst we get is the occasional ice storm, which will take out your power for a while.

  5. joe bernstein
    joe bernstein says:

    Tess-are there really no poisonous snakes in Maine?We have some rattlers and copperheads in RI.
    And I’d not like to run into a moose on the highway!
    Camden really is a beautiful little town on a cove.

  6. Barbie Roberts
    Barbie Roberts says:

    Tess, I’ve wanted to meet you for a number of years now, so a couple of hours more wouldn’t make a difference to me. And when the waiting is being done in a bookstore, well, there is plenty to do to keep one occupied. And by the end of October, hurricane weather shouldn’t be a factor in NE Florida.

  7. GerritsenFever10
    GerritsenFever10 says:


    I’m thinking of moving to Maine ultimately, what do you pay your nurses up there (I don’t expect you to just know that, I happen to know that Maine pays pretty well)? That will ultimately be my decision maker because I don’t want to move to another state that pays its health care workers like Louisiana does!

  8. rizzolifan23
    rizzolifan23 says:

    i would’ve waited!
    hell i almost drove 10 hours to get to your fertile mind signing. whats 45 minutes?
    hahaha hoping to see you when your within an hour or two of the Jersey shore

  9. Mary Duncan
    Mary Duncan says:

    Well, having just seen you at the Fertile Mind, and having a wonderful time speaking with you, I knew you were beginning you whirlwind tour the next day. And Wiscasset sucks for trying to get through with any time constraints. It’s just a natural bottleneck.

    I was doing a signing in Bar Harbor on Saturday afternoon. We all know Bar Harbor traffic, so we left 2 hours early. Only there was no traffic getting there, and there was even plenty of parking close to the Celtic shop that was hosting me. The only traffic in town was buses taking all the tourists from the cruise ship from the UK that was there around to all the sights. So you just never know. But I’m like you and cannot be late for anything.

    Good luck on your tour!


  10. Jude Hardin
    Jude Hardin says:

    I’m usually 15-30 minutes early for everything (blame it on my military years), but sometimes I think it would be nice to be in a place where time doesn’t matter.

  11. putney1968
    putney1968 says:

    Are we talking about Maine–as in New England? Your story is as bad as my worst traffic jams ever. But those happened in LA and Cape Cod on a Friday. I guess living in the tundra of Minnesota has some advantages after all!

  12. Abe
    Abe says:

    Good Morning, Tess,

    I can’t vouch for Maine traffic, but the traffic here in NYC is even worse. You can be crossing the corner on the green light, and here comes a speeding cab right at you. Traffic here is like a game of pinball. The cars are the paddles and you’re the ball. If you’re lucky to get across alive, you’re lucky. If not, always make sure your life insurance is paid up. I hope I’m not trying to scare you out of your NYC visit, Tess, it’s just a way of life over here. Don’t even get me started about the subway…..
    Anyway, I, too, give myself ample time to get somewhere. Even if it’s only 5 minutes away, I leave 1/2 early. I’d rather be early than late. So what if you’re late. The best things in life are always worth waiting for. Enjoy your tour.
    oh, BTW… there are McDonald’s on every other street in midtown Manhattan, so you will be able to get your fix on.

  13. Kyle K.
    Kyle K. says:

    I love New England! I want to move pack as soon as I’m able to… *sigh*

    Good God! Did you ever find out what the cause of the traffic was? (I just almost made a tasteless joke about someone possibly dying, but don’t want that kind of karma if someone did!) And we all love you, Tess! We know you’d never be late for any other reason THAN a good one! You’re not the kind of person to just say, skrew it, I don’t feel like going anymore. You notice how long we all waited around for you to come back blogging? Yeah, you probably wouldn’t be able to get rid of your fans even if you wanted to… 🙂

  14. lwidmer
    lwidmer says:

    My lord, I got palpitations just reading this. I’m the same – I can’t be late. I just can’t. My world just spins out of control and my head wants to explode at the mere thought of it. My husband, who is habitually late, comments on my incessant need for punctuality, but when we have to be somewhere on time, guess who drives? I’ve started telling him the movie starts ten minutes earlier than it does just so we won’t have to run to the window, get the tickets, run to the theater, find a seat in the dark….

    I was once five minutes late for a client meeting in Manhattan (thank you, New Jersey Transit), and I was an emotional mess. I had called the client. She was fine. I had to suck it up and behave as though the sky wasn’t about to fall. 🙂

  15. mchastain
    mchastain says:

    I am the same way. My mom always told me if I’m 15 minutes early then I am on time. If I arrive on time I am late. I’d wait around to meet you!!

  16. joe bernstein
    joe bernstein says:

    My wife was always late when we were dating. I am a fanatic about being on time.I married her anyway.It’ll be 38 years this December,so I guess it worked out:)

  17. wy82331
    wy82331 says:

    Hi Tess,
    I live in a very small town in Wyoming; to my knowledge we aren’t famous for any specific food. I just wanted to comment on your latest SUPER HIT, THE KEEPSAKE, but couldn’t find a specific place to comment on it. So anyway I will here; The book grabs you from page one and doesn’t let go until the last word on page 349. So you can stop all the worries about the upcoming events and book signings for I am sure they will go great and you and all your fans will be on cloud nine. Wish that I could meet you but will have to settle on just reading your wonderful thrilling books.

  18. Cade13
    Cade13 says:

    I was there and admittedly was curious as to why you didn’t show up/were so late and a bit concerned, I actually thought I showed up too early or something. I was thinking to myself “did she cancel or have any problems, etc etc.” You definitely did seem ready to kill someone when you finally arrived (nothing like sitting in traffic jams in random places in the middle of nowhere like Wiscasset) but you did well with your presentation and it was fun to see you and say hello again, I’m just glad nothing more serious happened and/or you didn’t have to cancel! Sorry for my delayed posting, just typical of me, unlike you I think I’m always late to something.


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