A few months back I was invited to talk to a book club at the Santa Rosa County Library in Florida about The Fair Hope of Heaven. This library is in Seaside, and apparently Fairhope has a lot of fans in Seaside. (Seaside's developers are said to have made a number of visits to Fairhope when in the design phase.)
I was in Hoboken, where I now live, when I got the information that the book club in Seaside had read The Fair Hope of Heaven and wanted to meet me. I already had plans for a vacation in Fairhope for the month of February, so the talk was arranged. I had been through Seaside before but had only a vague idea of where it was in relation to Fairhope. I figured it was just a hop the other side of Pensacola, which is an hour's drive. Joan Head, the organizer of my excursion, arranged a night's lodging for me in the carriage house of her friends, Ralph and Ann Bogardus. (Ann said, "Joan calls it a carriage house. We call it a garage apartment.")
The talk was set for Tuesday after my arrival in Fairhope the preceding week. I was to spend the night in the carriage house, make my talk at 10 A.M., join Joan and the Bogarduses for lunch, and then drive back. Anticipating a drive of about two hours total, I packed and left in the late afternoon Monday. I drove and drove. Crossed the bridge to Pensacola beaches, drove through Gulf Breeze, Navarre, and on and on. I was sure I had gone too far. I pulled into a little Gas 'N' Go and showed the man behind the counter my directions. He shook his head and said I hadn't gone nearly far enough, that I was headed in the right direction, and just to keep driving.
It was dark. I was hoping to be there by 7 P.M. because Ann said that Ralph was making jambalaya. I always get antsy when I think I've driven too far, and that happens usually when I haven't driven long enough, so I knew this was just a much longer drive than I anticipated. Still, I wasn't clear about when to make my turn, so I pulled over once again. This time the man behind the counter knew nothing of where Seaside was or how to get there. Luckily, there was a customer in the store who told me I still had about 20 miles more to drive.
I made a turn at the appointed spot, then drove for a mile or two with nothing in sight, so I was sure I was going the wrong way. This time I went for my cell phone and called the Bogardus number. Ralph was friendly and told me to turn around. I did and came to the end of the road and realized I had been going in the right direction in the first place. Hoboken friends and acquaintances will recognize from my many posts about being lost in New York City and in Hoboken that this is becoming a pattern with me. I don't have the best sense of direction in the world, and, as a matter of fact, even when I'm going the right way I tend to think I'm not.
I found Ralph and Ann's house, and Joan was there with her husband Bob, all awaiting the jambalaya and a visit with the befuddled author. We hit it off as if we'd known each other for years. I spent a nice night in the garage apartment, wondering if I'd have anything to say about the book or about Fairhope when I spoke the next morning.
I needn't have worried. The book club was a very friendly audience. Most had read my book and loved Fairhope, finding its history very interesting. I was comfortable telling them about the book, why I wrote it, and answering questions about Fairhope today and yesteryear. Had my lunch and went back to pack for the return trip.
Now I was prepared for the almost-four hour drive, I shook hands with Ralph and Ann and thanked them for their hospitality and said, "If you're ever in Fairhope, come and see me."
It wasn't until I was about half and hour on the highway, with a Frank Sinatra CD playing in the car, that I realized I don't live in Fairhope any more.