This past weekend I attended something called the Writer’s Coffehouse New England. It’s just a little get-together of writers who want to spend some time talking about writing with other writers—or, at least, with other people who won’t roll their eyes when someone starts talking about writing yet again. It moves about, being held wherever the guys putting it on can find space: kind of like a literary rave, but without the music, dancing, casual sex, social abandon, drugs, and drinking.
. . . Okay, it’s really nothing like a rave, but we think it’s fun.
Anyway, though I have known where to find this gathering in the past, this time it was being held in a bookstore I’d never been to before: Jabberwocky Bookshop, on Water street in Newburyport. Newburyport is a small coastal New England town where on-street parking is a little like eggs from the Easter Bunny: they only show up once a year, and, honestly, if you still believe in them at your age then you have a little growing up to do.
I’d followed my GPS into town, and according to the little virtual flag on the little virtual map, I was quite close to the store, which was good; if you know me, you know that, try as I might, I’m almost never on time. For anything. My plan was to locate the shop, then zip off to one of the paid parking lots in town—hopefully there was one within sprinting distance for an old, out of shape dude who’d just spent the better part of an hour squeezed into one of those shoeboxes with wheels they call Mini Coopers. Even though I was in a bit of a hurry, I was driving somewhat slowly—in Massachusetts, no less!—craning my head about, trying to spot the shop; in other words, I was being the exact kind of person I never want to be stuck behind.
I was ignoring the various horns blowing behind me, as well as the driver who was hugging right to my bumper so he could offer me the old one-fingered salute—and from the things he was yelling about my mother, I can only assume he had mistaken me for somebody else—when suddenly I saw, right there by the side of the road, an Easter egg—I mean a parking space!
I darted into the spot—that’s one thing Minis are good for, darting—while lowering my window to wave to the yelling man. I was in even more of a hurry now, so I only waved with one finger. I shouted to him about a business transaction I had engaged in with his mother, and he drove off as happy as any Massachusetts driver can be. I wound up the window—and then sat there looking around for the bookstore again. I still hadn’t spotted the damn thing, but if I found the place quick enough I’d actually be on time for once! I stepped out of the car to gain a little elevation in my search—that’s one thing Minis are not good for, seeing over things—and that’s when I saw him.
There were quite a few people ambling about, but one of them stood out to me: a writer I know, Patrick, was walking down the street. Hey, I thought, he’s not from Newburyport! I’ll bet he’s on his way to the Writer’s Coffeehouse!
It occurred to me right then that one of the authors I grew up reading, Douglas Adams, had a character named Dirk Gently, and Dirk had a particular method of navigation: if he didn’t know where he was going, he never consulted a map or asked for directions. He simply got behind the wheel and looked for someone who looked like they knew where they were going; when he found one, he followed them. He called it his Zen method of navigation, and though he hardly ever got where he wanted to go, he very often wound up where he needed to be.
This is perfect! I thought. I’m technically lost, but there’s someone who looks like he knows where he’s going. Hurrah! Life imitates art. Thank you, Douglas Adams!
So rather than wasting any time asking the people around me for directions, I simply hustled after Patrick. And I had to hustle, because the man was moving with alacrity. With speed. With purpose. This, I reasoned, is a good sign. This is a man who knows what he’s about!
Patrick, it turns out, did know what he was about: he was about to be late. He’d never been to Jabberwocky Bookshop either, and as I strove to keep up with him he led me all the way around the block and right back to where we started from—I’d parked smack dab in front of the place as he walked past, and neither of us had noticed.
Oh, yeah, I recalled as we slunk in late, to take seats in the back. Adams wrote fiction. I’ll be damned.
Talk to you later!