LA Times Festival of Books: Adventure, Joy, and Distress

My introduction to the Festival of Books began as a herculean commute that soon resonated with joy and terminated in a frightful episode. A two hour slot awaited me for the Independent Writers of Southern California (IWOSC) Booth 131. After hiking with my wife, Joan, and two retrievers: Barkley, a Chocolate Lab, and Ginger, a Golden Retriever for an hour, I spent another hour in my garden, removed weeds, planted two peonies and a pink rose bush, and spread fertilizer throughout in an effort to rejuvenate a few flowers that had wilted.

At half-past noon, I gathered four new copies of my book, and marketing materials into a back pack, and set off to Costco for a fill up on gas. The line was atrocious but I breathed in peace and joy while I listened to KUSC classical music until my turn finally came. The traffic was horrendous on the 5 and knew by the time I turned toward the USC Campus on the 110, I would be lucky to arrive by 2PM at Exposition Park, when I was supposed to be in the booth. But, when I came to Exposition Blvd., the vehicles crept like a snail so I turned back in the lane to go to the next off-ramp, Martin Luther King Jr. Blvd. in hopes of a quick reprieve. Unfortunately only one car per light turned but at least I wasn’t behind fifty cars waiting to turn. My GPS said I should arrive by 2:05 not figuring time to find parking and walk to my assignment.

Travel on to Figueroa Blvd. was worse than ever. In ten minutes I finally came to a parking structure after by-passing lots that advertised $30! Unfortunately, the structure was private so I turned and departed and looked for parking meters on Figueroa. My car passed the USC Campus at the 3800 block and found a meter spot available, used my credit card, and for $2.00 breathed in one positive moment. Quickly walking back toward Campus I asked a college-aged person in a tee-shirt with a crew-cut I correctly sized up as a USC student, “Where is the quickest way to the Book Festival?”

“Straight ahead until you come to a gate. Turn right and go straight.”

“Thanks, friend.”

After what seemed an eternity, I found the Festival but the Booths were marked in the 500’s on one side and 700’s on the other. A spokesperson in a large stage with many people behind her looked informed and intelligent.

“Do you know where Booth 131 is?”

“We are 128 so it must be there,” she said pointing to my right.

I walked to the first booth but it was 141 and each one next was higher. I turned right and proceeded up a quadrangle and noticed a man with a straw hat and a badge. He directed me to 139 that allowed my arrival at 2:30.

Fortunately, two IWOSC members were seated and busy with the public. Covered with sweat, I introduced myself and apologized for lateness. They said they understood as I unloaded my backpack, arranged my promotional materials, and four of my books.

A number of interesting people arrived that picked up my depleted spirits from the hassle I had just experienced. One was a young husky man, Aman, from India. He placed a book before me that included the term “Hero” in large letters on the cover.

Hi Aman, “What is your book about?”

“My journey from poverty to an education and English competence. A publisher in Washington paid all my expenses, and sent me to the Festival to market my memoir.”

“You used the term ‘Hero’ on your cover. Did you discuss that with your publisher?”

"Yes, because  he wanted me to use the term to promote the book.”

“My book is also a memoir and some people referred to me as a hero, but I did not want to use that term, as after a critique by a creative writing professor, he suggested even if you deny you were a hero, you have planted that term and it would detract from the story. In my last chapter, the Afterward, I removed the sentence that said "I was no hero” but explained my advice to readers in this way:”

Once I found a path that consumed me with passion I aimed as high as I could. No matter what confronts the reader, my story demonstrates an ordinary person can survive major conflicts, disappointments, injuries, risk of death, and still flourish. If I could wander through that minefield and avoid a mortal blow, anyone with determination can find fulfillment. The indispensable ingredients are feeling enthusiasm for whatever path you choose, having a worthy purpose, and living your life to the fullest.

“I see your point,"  he said, "But my life and yours are very different. My people see me as a hero and that makes me glad. My book, like yours, inspires them.”

“Thanks for sharing that thought for I am sure you will stimulate many to improve and find a path.”

A tall doctor with a straw hat and blues eyes behind glasses with a military background, approached. “Are you a writer?” I asked. “Yes, and I have a finished manuscript ready for publication many publishers like, but I’m not sure who to use.” “Please look at ‘Writer Beware’ by Victoria Strauss. She exposes scammers every week on her excellent blog. I have seen many cases where publishers promise the world and keep taking money from disappointed writers who eventually complain and often file lawsuits to retrieve their losses from fraud.” “That’s an excellent idea.” “What is your book about?”

“Medical procedures I discovered while in the Arctic. What theme does yours cover, Dan?”

“From a pawn in the military to a civil rights attorney for the poor and powerless.”

“Let me look through the book. Does it have pictures?”

“Yes, and with forty chapters, I used forty pictures.”

“The publishers wanted to really raise their prices for more than five.”

“For me the price was worth it because in a memoir pictures reveal many changes in a child, teenager, young adult, and professional that enhance the story better than thousands of words.”

“I agree. Thanks, Dan.”

A tall handsome African American man with a two year-old child whose hair shot up a foot above her head in silky curls tied with a red ribbon, wheeled her in a carriage to our booth.

“What is your lovely child’s name?” I asked.

“Aisha,” said the smiling man in a blue sport shirt.

“Are you a writer?”

“No. I wanted to show my daughter what a book festival was like in LA.”

“There are many children’s books here and a strong interest in that field. I’m sure you will find many she'll like.” The child gave me a warm smile that lit up her face and mine with joy.

I looked at my watch and realized it was 4 PM and my car was only metered for twenty more minutes. Just then Ruth arrived with her marvelous nutrition book and I said, “Hi Ruth. You are just in time to relieve me. We are always either together at the IWOSC booth before or afterwards. Have fun. It’s an interesting crowd of readers and writers.”

“Thanks, Dan. Is this your water?”

“Oh yes, I spilled it just when I moved my backpack, Sorry.”

I sped off in the direction I thought was towards Figueroa Street. But no one could assure me I was headed in the right direction after asking five people affiliated with the Festival. Finally I spied what looked like a student who assured me Figueroa was straight ahead.

I arrived at Figueroa at 3700 block and remembered the last address number I had seen was 2700 on my way to find parking. These were very long blocks, the sun was beating down, and only ten minutes remained before my time expired. Hustling fast I made it to a sign I recalled that displayed “Felix the Cat.” That was at the 3200 block! Sweat poured down my face, my chest heaved, and my confidence waned. Finally at twenty past four I arrived at the 2700 block, turned right and went to an office opposite where I thought I had left my car. My car was not there. I panicked inside and wondered how this could have happened? After I entered the office, a man at a desk asked “What can I do for you?”

“I think my car has been stolen. I parked it just outside your office and now it’s gone.”

“Show me exactly where you parked it.”

A large grey van parked where I remember leaving my car and pointed, “Right there where the van is.”

“Are you certain?”

I looked again and noticed there were no parking meters on the street! “No I’m mistaken. Sorry, I was sure the 2700 block was where I parked but this can’t be right.”

Shaken, I looked at my watch and thought my car has probably been towed by now as it is a quarter to five. I started back on Figueroa to check each street and the first five also had no parking meters!! I was more than confused. Devastated, I worried that I might not find my car, it must be stolen. Sweating profusely, heart pounding, feet sore, and mind flustered,  I walked up to a grass field, laid down, leaned against the building, dialed my wife on my cell, and explained my dilemma.

“Relax, Dan. It’s the weekend. They won’t tow your car. So you get a ticket. Big deal. Just find the car, call me when you do.”

She was right. Then it dawned on me. When I originally saw the 2700 number I noticed there were no parking meters and decided to leave to use one as word had passed not to park where no meters were as they would tow those cars away. That made me realize I needed to find a cross street with parking meters. Slowly street by street I retraced my steps all the way back to the 3500 block where the first parking meters appeared. I was dumfounded and relieved when I saw my car on the street exactly where I had parked it. No ticket was on it. I could breathe slowly, relax, and realize what a fool I had been in such a hurry because I had not anticipated the enormous traffic problems at the Book Festival. My GPS traced a route away from the traffic and saved me.

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