On Friday morning, Ike woke me up. The gusting winds hurled something at my window in the Westin about 5 a.m. I looked outside to a sheet of horizontal, tropical storm style rain. But Delta Airlines insisted that it wasn’t affected travel, but advised I get to the airport early. I did, only to find that the terminal in which Delta Airlines resides had lost power. While Continental and Jet Blue also had no power, they were hand writing tickets and getting people out. Delta apparently had no backup system or had lost that, too. Literally two thousand Delta customers were stranded, myself among them.
After about four hours, an agent said that they could process people for a ComAir flight to Cincinnati. From there, I was booked to Greensboro, N.C. When I arrived, sweaty and hot, I had about 15 minutes to change in preparation for my ride to the author’s reception for Bookmarks, the Winston-Salem book festival.
When you go to any kind of event involving writers, you really never know what to expect. As a group of us stood around, politely quaffing our wines from a local winery, somehow the subject of freezers came up. Well, it was hot. One gentleman commented that he recently found a coon tucked in between the roasts and chicken parts in their freezer. I’m all over this. “Coons?
Really?” I asked.
Along with an author of mysteries and another of political thrillers was a fellow food writer named Sallie Ann Robinson. “You know, people think they don’t like ‘coon, but if they had mine, they would. I know how to make it,” she said. Does she feed people coon? “Well, if I feed someone something like that, I tell them, ‘taste it first, and if you like it, I’ll tell you what it is.’ “
Robinson has the credentials to back up this sort of extraordinary statement. She’s the author of Gullah Home Cooking the Daufuskie Way: Smokin’ Joe Butter Beans, Ol’ ‘Fuskie Fried Crab Rice, Sticky-Bush Blackberry Dumpling, and Other Sea Island Favorites. (Finally, someone with a title longer than mine!) The Gullah people of the Sea Islands of South Carolina have preserved ways of life and speech from West African slave culture and plantation times. So things like coon, squirrel, rabbit all makes sense. I cannot wait to dive into this book.
On Saturday, a battalion of culinary students were on hand to help me prep for my hour-long demonstration in the Food for Thought tent. But most of the prep had been done by Susan, one of the organizers. I found myself saying things like, “Open up this package of chicken and take the pieces out of there and put them on a plate.’ It went well, with a big crowd. It’s hard for me to cook and talk, though. I’m used to doing my stand-up author routine. At the festival, I was trying to do it but also remember the steps for the quiche recipe. It felt like rubbing your stomach and patting your head. But I did my recipes, told my stories and got off the stage on time. Afterward, I went to the tent to sign books. I had a dozen or so people in line, but immediately felt outclassed when I was sat next to a children’s author who who had a line of nearly 100 awaiting her attention. I think she writes about the adventures of a turtle.
Despite the tough time getting there, I genuinely enjoyed the festival. Winston-Salem is a lovely town, the people brimming with southern hospitality. I also got to meet Rue McClanahan – first when I nearly spilled her drink at the author’s reception, and later when we landed in the same elevator together at the Marriott and she graciously never mentioned it. She’s slower and older than the Rue that I remember, but then, so am I.
Later addendum: Nikki, an attendee at the Winston-Salem event, did a lovely write-up about meeting me on her fun blog Nik Snacks. She was deeply sweet, with a beautiful smile. Thanks Nikki. I enjoyed meeting you too.