I’m set up right now in a Starbucks on 57th Ave in New York. Starbucks are cool, but not as cool as I expected they’d be. The internet is not free. There are a number of smaller competitors across the land, like our own Alpina (and who knows what else) in South Lake Tahoe, that give you totally free internet. In addition, there are usually hot spots on virtually any residential street in the country, if you don’t mind cruising around to find one. There are probably security issues with any password you use under such circumstances, but it’s almost certainly paranoia to worry on that–after all, I came to them. It’s not like they were trying to trap me. Anyway, Starbucks thinks they’re making money off me as I sit here working and nursing a coffee. I suppose they are, but not via T-mobile.
The Mars Society conference went very well. I hadn’t known exactly what to expect when I arrived. The attendees were virtually all industry insiders. You could almost feel the vibrations their brains were sending out. There were also a number of marginal hangers on. You could definitely feel the vibes from them.
I set about trying to wedge myself in between these two extremes: odd enough to be noticed, but not to be automatically classified with those who have had what the Tappet Brothers call a “stupiphany,” a “brilliant” idea which fails immediately because of some obvious flaw.
The heat wave had driven me into hotels, and I lucked out by getting into a cancellation at the L’ Infant Plaza Hotel, which was the host site for the conference. It was truly serendipitous, for I’d never have been able to do as well had I not been there. I wore my newly created formal neck gaiters over a standard suit and tie. The effect was very much what I wanted.
The talk was scheduled for late on the last day of the conference: a formula for low attendance. So I produced and distributed fliers daily to build interest, and about 25 or so showed up. A good crowd for that time slot. I’d not had adequate time to fully prepare, so the slide show was rough–amateurish even–but the delivery went well, it was well received, and I sold my first 8 copies of the book immediately afterward. More importantly, however, I was invited to be interviewed on the Around Space TV program. Taping date is set for Sept 2. You can see some of the previous shows on the web at http://www.aroundspace.com. This can truly be a break out, depending on whether I’m lucky in my audience. DC is a powerful town, full of powerful people.
By the end of the conference the heat wave had broken, although the humidity hadn’t really let up, and I decided to go back to plan A for housing. The idea is that, by sleeping in the van on public streets I can pay for the trip. Main hassle, I expected, would be having to move every day to avoid drawing too much attention. I’m self contained in the van, so that isn’t a problem.
All was going fairly well, with me learning nuances of what to do and not to do as I became more experienced. For example, it’s best to find the spot you’ll spend the night early, but not to park there until late (neighborhoods, we’re talking here). You definitely don’t want the internet you’re piggybacking on to be in the same place as the bedroom for the evening–the glow of a computer screen is definitely an attractant.
I was daily riding my bike over to the University of Maryland campus to use their library to organize my follow-up from the conference. They have internet access even better than LTCC’s, for they must have about 80 machines for public use. One of the peculiarities of city parking is that some places are good for long-term parking overnight and some are good for days, but the two do not often overlap.
I had moved the van to day parking and had begun to go through every pocket of every suit looking for the contact number the TV guy left me when I looked out the window and saw a cop approaching. He was about 10 feet from the van right out the rear window near which I was working. I said “hello.”
It apparently startled the hell out of him, because his reaction was instant. Like a quick draw artist from the old west, he had his pistol in his hand in a flash, leveled right at me. It looked like a nine shot Glock semiautomatic or something like that: big with a very broad bore viewed from a very uncomfortable perspective. “Whoa, whoa, whoa,” was all I could get out, raising open palms for him to see. “Get out of the car,” says he. Hands raised, I unhesitatingly began to comply.
On the other side of the car, his partner looked in the window and saw me. Apparently not knowing anything was going on, he asked some innocuous question: something like “Good morning, are you having a good day?” My response, “I can’t talk right now, the other guy’s got a gun on me.”
By the time I was out of the car the first officer had holstered his weapon and was coming around the front of the van nonchalantly. My guess is that he was hoping his partner wasn’t any the wiser. Turns out I was doing nothing illegal, and they had no reason to interview me, let alone shoot me. Just some citizen’s intuition that I was borderline. The spot was near a bike lane and the residents were apparently suspicious of drug activity in the vicinity. Damn the citizen’s intuition! How could they have known I was very definitely borderline?
By the time our interview was over, the adrenaline of yet another near death experience (see the book) was beginning to make my elbows weak. I mentioned it to the cops and the one who’d drawn down on me tried to reassure me that I was in no danger. “I’m more disciplined than that,” he said with a George W Bush kind of half laugh. I thought about how disciplined he seemed a moment before, but said nothing, not wanting to upset him again.
I hope he’ll be known as “Quick Draw” for the rest of his tenure on the force.
You could help fund this journey and make encounters with nervous officers less likely. Once money begins to flow in, I promise to start acting more like a professional and less like an itinerant. Join CSiii by going to the web site ( http://www.to-mars.org ) and following the links.
Of course, if you’re a bit hesitant (and who wouldn’t be?) go to the site and check out “excerpts” and “a new marketing model” under books.
Next Time: Maryland back roads and motorcyclists defeat plan A again, old tire tree mulch, and the interview is set. Now how do I break through New York’s post 9-11 security structures?