Wombathon Part II: Retrieving Judy or How Many Clowns can you Fit on a Ferry?

Picking up Judi on Saturday was much less of a Three Stooges routine. For one thing, it was daytime and much easier to distinguish faces without the glare of headlines coming up behind and next to me. Second, Judi had checked baggage so she had to go out on the Arrivals level – no chance for misunderstanding or misdirection from SFO’s bad signage. She called as soon as her plane landed and Lisa and immediately took off to go retrieve the next Wombat ‘package.’

The Queen and I had already been for a nice long walk up to West Portal and it was an unusually warm and sunny day for summer in San Francisco. We were pretty much ready for the Wombathon and now just had to make sure we got Judi checked into her hotel and then all of us down to the ferry in time for the 4;45 departure.

We didn’t see Judi when we reached Frontier’s Arrivals, so Lisa went to go look for her in the baggage claim area and I cruised around the terminals a couple of times. Traffic was light and so was representation by law enforcement officials. My third loop around, Lisa and Judi were waiting curbside, Judi looking exactly like she does in her icon. She greeted me with a big smile and while these might not have been her VERY first words when she got in the car, they were close: “I am ready for that glass of champagne!” My kind of woman. Judi was remarkably fresh and bubbly in appearance and spirits for someone who’d been on a plane as long as she had. I meant to ask for her secret, but got distracted by the need to pay attention to traffic.

We stopped at the Ocean Park Motel, a cute little retro motel four blocks from my house and also the oldest hotel in San Francisco (according to Lisa, who’s stayed there before). If you’re ever vacationing in the City and want a cute, inexpensive place to stay that’s near the beach, the zoo and a Muni line that’ll connect you to any possible public transportation you might need to get around SF, this is a good one.

Okay, promo for neighborhood hotel over.

Judi checked in while Lisa and I waited, studying Judi’s shoes in fascination. Pink suede with what had to have been 4 inch brown heels and a rounded toe, they were the perfect Barbie shoes. I told Judi this and she said, “What do you think one of my nicknames is?” And yes, fellow Wombats, Judi walked in ‘em like a pro. None of the ungainly, weight tipped slightly forward stride for her. She had heels and knew how to use ‘em. Lisa and I both favor flats or lower heels (I’ll go as high as 3 inch heels on very special occasions) watching Judi’s ability to navigate the terrain was akin to a non-dancer watching professional choreography. This was, of course, before the champagne…

(insert ominous music)

We stopped at my house to retrieve Dave and made it to the Ferry Building with 40 minutes to spare, bought our tickets at the kiosk out back by the docks and roamed around the shops inside to kill time. Well, I waited in line for the bathroom for 10 minutes while Lisa, Judi and Dave went exploring. I tracked them down at Book Passage, a more or less ‘literary’ bookstore which did not have a romance section. Judi was understandably not impressed.

We went out to get in line for the ferry. A long line snaked around the grounds and we eyed it in dismay. I went up to the last person in line and asked if this was the line for Sausalito. Happily, it was the line for Larkspur. The line for our ferry was over to the left and had about 15 people in it. We wondered aloud why so many people were going to Larkspur and why not Sausalito. A cute girl with short blonde hair streaked in front with shocking pink explained Larkspur was the hub for most of the ferry lines and all the tourists tooling around the city on rented bikes were now headed back to their cars.

Our ferry, scheduled to leave at 4:45, was late. We weren’t exactly on a deadline, but we knew John and the rest of the ‘bats would be at the Sausalito Yacht Club drinking without us. We also knew we could get beer and wine on the ferry and we were anxious to catch up with the rest of the gang. Judi’s feet hurt, no surprise. Mine hurt too and I was wearing flats. We wanted to sit down and have a drink, dagnabbit!

The ferry finally pulled up around 5:00. People with bikes began dismembarking. Then more. And more…and more…

“I think there’s a black hole i there” said Lisa. “Bicycles are being sucked through from another dimension.”

I swear, it was like a clown car. How many bicycles can fit on a ferry? This went on for 20 minutes. In the meantime, our line grew louder and the crowd more unruly. A group of older Southern women, Sex in the City’d out for the day, were the most vocal. “They’d better give us all free beers after this bullshit,” growled the Kim Cattrell wannabe.

“I think they’re just cycling people around the back for another round,” said Lisa.

Our blonde friend turned out to be a regular fount of knowledge about all things ferry related and entertained us during our wait. Then the topic of tornadoes and their attraction to trailer parks came up; she said it was because they were flat and there wasn’t as much resistance and something else to do with wind and mathematics. I dubbed her ‘Wiki’ for her great store of trivia and facts.

More people with bikes came down the ramp. A young couple looked to be the last ones and everyone cheered as they cleared the walkway. Then another bicycle appeared from the back doorway and everyone groaned. But that was the last and finally we were allowed to board.

The four of us made straight for the bow and scored five prime seats (four for us, one for our new friend Wiki). Dave and Lisa took drink orders and headed to the bar while Judi and I relaxed and took in the gorgeous view of San Francisco Bay. Within five minutes the ferry left the dock and we were on our way to Sausalito and the Wombathon.

(I was going to make my Wombathon story a two-parter, but I’m being called by an outline that needs finishing, so…ONE more day!).

Left Coast Crime 2008 – Thursday/The Airport

I’d been to one mystery convention before; Left Coast Crime 1998 in San Diego.  I went as a performer at the request of my mom, who was one of the local organizers.  We had a skit involving Sherlock Holmes, Moriarity and Nancy Drew.  I played Nancy Drew, my husband Brian was Holmes, our friend Scott did a turn as Moriarity,  my mom was Hannah Gruen (faithful housekeeper for the Drews) and local mystery writer Alan Russell played Nancy’s boyfriend Ned Nickerson.  Heh.  My favorite moment was when Ned, sent off stage to do Nancy’s bidding, muttered ‘ball breaker’ in an audible impromptu bit of dialogue that nearly made me break character.

And that pretty much was it for my mystery convention experience until a decade later, when I decided to attend LCC ’08 in Denver.  This time, however, I’d be going as an author, not a performer.  I had my new mystery (okay, my ONLY mystery so far) MURDER FOR HIRE: The Peruvian Pigeon to promote, managed to get placed on a couple of panels and was invited to attend the New Authors Breakfast.  Pretty heady stuff considering the years  between MFH’s first draft and actual publication.  I very nearly didn’t go, however, because of the sudden illness of our kitten, Haggis.  As it played out, my little guy left us the night before my flight to Denver.  I was desperately grateful for the distraction and glad I hadn’t cancelled the flight.

Our friend Leslie (website designer extraordinaire) kindly offered to drive me to the airport Thursday morning, so I was spared the expense of a Super Shuttle ride and the alternative convoluted routine of taking the L-Taravel Muni car to Civic Center station, then catching the BART and backtracking to San Francisco airport.  Either one would have required me getting up far earlier than I’d have liked, especially considering how little sleep I’d gotten over the previous weeks.  Did I mention Leslie is an amazing website designer too?

Leslie dropped me off at the airport in plenty of time to navigate the security checkpoint.  Good thing ’cause my driver’s license had expired a month earlier (a fact I discovered when I handed over boarding pass and license at the first checkpoint) and I was suddenly singled out for ‘extra special’ screening procedures.   Luckily this did not include a body cavity search, although I did have to step into the air puffer booth.

The puffer looks kind of like a tanning booth, but instead of tanning rays, ‘the portal has a hood that captures the plume of heat that naturally rises off a person’s body; it then puffs jets of air which shake loose particles. The machine vaporizes the particles, gives them a charge, and measures how fast the ions are traveling. Using that speed, screeners can identify the presence of banned substances, such as explosives.’ I let out a little surprised laugh when the jets of air hit me and quite cheerfully submitted to the rest of the special screening, which involved the careful inspection of my bags.  The two security guards in charge of the procedure were friendly and courteous (perhaps because I was so cheerful about being inspected?) and repacked my bags more neatly than my packing job that morning (I’m sure my mom won’t be shocked at that).   After seeing a copy of my book, the male security guard asked if I was going to have a sexy airport security fellow in my next mystery.  I promised him I would and they sent me on my way with more than enough time to hunt down coffee and a chocolate croissant (forbidden wheat!).   I spent a contented 45 minutes reading a Charlaine Harris book, nibbling on the croissant and sipping an extremely good cappuccino while waiting for the call to board my flight.

The only point of stress was a slim margin for error regarding my flight times and my first panel at LCC.  My flight was due to land at 1:05 and the panel started at 2:45.  The Denver airport is about 30 miles outside the city of Denver itself and my budget dictated a SuperShuttle ride and they left every 15 minutes.   In theory it shouldn’t be a problem, but if my flight was delayed I might miss the panel.  I’d thought to get one of the organizer’s cell phone numbers before leaving, so at the very least I could call and let them know I might not make it.  I wasn’t too worried, but I was so numb after losing Haggis, things that would normally have had me on edge didn’t make much of an impact.  I’d either be on time or I wouldn’t.  Yup, I was riding a numb Zen wave from SFO to Denver.  I had a good book and a chocolate croissant and I was off on a new adventure.  Numb Zen was fine by me.