Road trip to RT!

I just arrived back home last night from the RT Booklovers Convention in New Orleans. Last August when the hotel registration opened up, and even before the event registration opened, some friends and I had to make a decision about whether we’d attend. One of my friends is terrified of flying but she really wanted to go to NOLA. So someone–I’m not sure who, but it may have been me–suggested we drive. I’d done it before, with two kids in the back seat, so three adults should be able to manage it with no trouble, right?

Did I mention we all live in Canada, and it’s over 2,000 kms from where I live?

Over the past 8 months we’ve plotted and planned our route. Mary and I started out by driving from our homes east of Toronto to Amy Ruttan’s house 2 1/2 hours closer to the border. The next morning we got up at 4 a.m. and were on the road long before the sun rose. We got across the border with few problems, stopped at an American grocery store to pick up a few supplies for the road, and then headed south to Nashville. Well, that was the plan. Amy’s GPS decided our route to Nashville should be via Chicago instead of straight down the I-75.  Unfortunately we didn’t realize Mike’s plans until we were driving in Detroit’s rush-hour traffic. We didn’t see the I-75 sign until we were right by the cut off but there were three lanes of bumper-to-bumper traffic blocking us. It took us 45 minutes to get back on the right track. The GPS was quickly nicknamed Mixed-up Mike. (Although I had a ruder name in my head when I thought of him after that.) And that was when we discovered we’d forgotten Amy’s trip tik’s she’d printed off, so we had no maps as an alternative to Mixed-up Mike’s instructions.

Dan from Boot BarnWe pulled into Nashville around 7 that night, and stayed at the Gaylord Opryland Hotel right next to Opryland itself. Although there were cheaper hotels, we’d decided to splurge and stay at the luxurious hotel months before, fulfilling a dream Amy’s grandmother had always had. While we were unpacking I realized I’d forgotten my trademark white cowboy hat at Amy’s house. But really? What better place to pick up a new cowboy hat than Nashville, right?  We headed to the Opry Mills Mall, where I found the Boot Barn, and a lovely young man named Dan who helped me pick out a new hat. Turned out Dan is a Texan, originally from near Sulphur Springs. He had the most lovely accent–I could have listened to him all evening. And, like many people I met in Nashville is a songwriter, so considering Jake from my latest release No Accounting from Cowboys is also a songwriter, we had a good chat where I told him how I’d realized how tough it is to write lyrics that aren’t cheesy. As Dan said, it’s like having to tell an entire story in three minutes.

We headed out early the next morning, stopping at Alabama’s Welcome Center with its huge rocket (did you know Huntsville is home to the US Space and Rocket Center?) then carried on through to Mississippi and the Louisiana border. We’d originally programmed Mike to stop at Slidell since we planned to switch drivers there. All he had to do was lead us along the same highway we were on and stop. Instead, Mike decided to have to us take an off-ramp to another highway. At the time I thought it was strange, but I figured he was leading us to the center of Slidell which is just before the causeway into New Orleans. Nope. Mike put us onto a road leading back to Mississippi. And if anyone has ever travelled those roads, you’ll know that you can often go 20 miles without a way to get off the road. Did I mention I don’t do bridges well? Especially ones that have to go high enough to let sea-going ships go beneath? You know, the ones that tip you back in your seat so all you can see is sky and make you feel like you’re in a rocket about to take off? Yup, Mike sent me over one. Oh, I drove over it, white-knuckled, but holy hell, that was it for me and I wasn’t chancing another. So I, uh, may have used one of those emergency vehicle turnarounds illegally to get us turned around.

causeway to NOLA2Thank heavens Amy Ruttan drove over the causeway from Slidell to New Orleans — which turned out not to be as bad as I’d worried. It’s mainly flat, and while there was water on both ways, I didn’t freak out. But the sidetrip back to Mississippi meant we arrived in New Orleans as the sun set and dusk set in.

Unfortunately Mike wasn’t done with us–instead of having us continue straight along the 10 and getting us off for Canal Street, he instructed us to take a different off-ramp and took us through some areas tourists normally wouldn’t see. And eventually poor Amy had to drive through the French Quarter in the dark, with beer and daiquiri carrying tourists meandering down the streets.

But we arrived safely at the hotel, parked the van and vowed not to drive again until we had to leave. The trip home was much more fun, stopping in Memphis for a visit to Graceland and Beale Street, and it was made better because we didn’t listen to Mike much on the way back, other than to have him help calculate the speeds, since Amy’s van’s speedometer is in kilometers per hour where America’s roads are gauged by miles per hour…I think we all have memorized those calculations now… But next time? I’m bringing an old-fashioned map!

But as much as I love my fellow travellers, I’m glad to be home, in my own bed, with my own pillows. The dog sure was happy to see me too. The cat? Well, he’s more reserved in his joy…

And in a shameless self-promotion, while I was driving from Memphis to Ohio on Monday, I had a new book come out from Carina Press. No Accounting for Cowboys is book 2 in my Grady Legacy series —

Jake Grady loves Bull’s Hollow ranch and all the challenges and hard work it entails. But the past year hasn’t been easy—his father’s good name has been tarnished, and new financial problems are threatening to destroy everything the Gradys have built. Performing live under a stage name has become his escape, a way of blowing off some serious steam.

Accountant Paige Reynolds found Jake’s guitar-playing alter ego intriguing, but her connection with the real Jake sends her attraction into overdrive. When she’s summoned to make order out of the chaotic paper trail at Bull’s Hollow, he sets her world a-rocking—both in bed and out. But Paige has a plan; she’s determined to create her own path for the future, but is soon left scrambling for firmer ground.

Good news about Jake’s potential singing career is followed by the revelation of another family secret, one that has him questioning whether he belongs at Bull’s Hollow at all. But leaving the ranch would mean leaving his family…and Paige. How much is he willing to give up for a real shot at fame?

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Impossible to put down; No Accounting For Cowboys was filled with twists, turns, and secrets new and old making it another fine offering from author Leah Braemel.  ~ Slick, Guilty Pleasures Book Reviews

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