LCC 2008 – Part 3/Suspicious Super Shuttle

The ride from the airport was, at least for the first 20 minutes or so, uneventful. The landscape was flat, covered with brownish gray scrub brush and patches of dirty snow. I could see mountains in the distance. I didn’t notice any immediate affect of the higher altitude, but my sinuses didn’t have much nice to say about the lack of humidity.
Lots of industrial complexes and hotels as we got closer to the city, Day’s Inns and Applebee’s territory. The driver exited the freeway (or do they call them ‘highways’ in Colorado?) into hinky looking industrial part of town, lots of chain link fences, graffiti’d brick walls, safety bars on windows and padlocked doors. The occasional bar, greasy spoon eatery (and one strip club) broke up the monotony of warehoused auto repair stores and parts manufacturers, but I didn’t see any people.

My mind immediately went to ‘this would be a great setting for a zombie movie!’ My mind often travels this path in its spare time, along with ‘if I were here when the zombie apocalypse hit, what building would be the most easily fortifiable and practical?’ Hey, I’m not the only one I know who thinks this way.
Before I could decide if I’d rather hole up in a bolts manufacturing company (totally surrounded by chain link) or Zeke’s Autoshop (solid sliding metal doors and next door to a Mexican restaurant that could be raided for supplies), a large car, Cadillac or Buick or some other big American gas guzzler (the old fashioned kind, before Humvees came into popular use – damn you, Ahnold!) pulled up next to the driver’s side of the shuttle. Both drivers saluted each other with a wave. Ours rolled down his window; the front passenger window of the Caddibuick was already open. Both cars reached a red light and a conversation commenced in a foreign language I didn’t recognize. Which means it wasn’t English, Spanish, French, Gaelic, Cantonese, Mandarin, Polish, Russian or Japanese. I don’t know all these languages, mind you, but I do hear them on a semi-regular basis here in San Francisco.

What I didn’t assume (using one of my barometers for logical thinking, which is ‘what would George Dubya NOT do’) is that the drivers were Islamic terrorists on a suicide bomb mission. Then, of course, my mind started concocting a South Parkian/Team America scenario in which it WAS a terrorist plot to destroy the Adams Mark Hotel and take out the mystery writers of America. Why? Didn’t matter. I was having fun picturing myself and the SinC members I’d met so far as Thunderbirds style puppets.
Meanwhile the stoplight changed to green and both cars moved forward about 20 miles an hour, conversation still going. I exchanged looks with my fellow passengers. This was kind of weird, not to mention potentially hazardous to our health if other cars came along and our driver didn’t start paying attention to the road.
They reached another stoplight and our driver picked up a white wrapped package next to him and tossed it into the passenger window of the Cadibuick. Eyebrows raised all around this time. “Some extra money on the side?” said the woman next to me just loud enough for us to hear. The driver was oblivious, still talking to his buddy as the light changed and they began rolling again. They reached a fork in the road and our driver went straight while his friend/business acquaintance drove off to the left.
I was dying to ask what it was all about, but didn’t quite dare as the super shuttle driver settled back into stony-faced silence. Chain link fences and graffiti gave way to a much more upscale downtown area and we reached the Adams Mark Hotel in short order. I got out along with the man in the backseat.
Heh. If he was another LCC attendee, I wondered which of us would use the incident in a book or story first.

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.